American Bank Center: Selena Auditorium
Saturday, September 28th, 2019
Tickets start at $38
Interview by Kat Ramzinski
Every reality show on TV has the same predictable nature. It’s going to be “better than last season,” with a crazier cast than the year before. There will be “more drama” and the winner is painfully clear within the final three episodes. If the audience votes, the producers will probably figure out a way to shock people with loopholes by bringing back old contestants, or adding someone in. This can be said about everything from The Bachelor, to the Slutty Housewives of Slut County, and even America’s Next Idiot.
Every once in a blue moon however, a watchable reality show will breed competition that conjures up tears from viewers, or even elation over advancement of the “underdog”. The 2010 season of Last Comic Standing was one of those rare moments in TV when I personally was PUMPED. I was pumped for many reasons…first of all, a few fellow comedian friends of mine were finally getting a shot at television success. On a personal level, this season meant a hell of a lot to me. Several of the finalists were unbelievable, with strong backgrounds in comedy, writing credits for brilliant shows, and very few of your typical “hack” premises. They were a unique blend as well, consisting of a sharp-tongued vegan, a single-mom with a few words for her ex, a loveable road comic that rarely sees home , an ex-heroin addict with aggressive jokes and a heart of gold….and then. Well, and then there was Felipe.
Felipe was always a personal favorite of mine. From the second he flipped his crazy curls around and began to spout one liners like an excited kid who wants to tell EVERYTHING he heard on the bus to his parents, I knew Felipe Esparza was hilarious. He had a rapport with the audience, a comfortability that could have just simply been sheer terror. He seemed so innocent, and not once, not ONCE, did a single joke fall flat. With his thick accent and a penchant for slang, he quickly become a favorite of the judges as well as the audience.
Felipe Esparza grew up in East L.A., and lived the typical life of a struggling comedian. For 15 years he continued to rock stages all over the west coast. Finally, it was his turn to stand in front of millions of viewers and do what he does best, be genuinely funny. Felipe Esparza’s win was a shock, and NOT because he didn’t deserve it, but because to me, he was the underdog. I remember thinking, “If Felipe wins, then this will be good TV, and I’ll have nothing to bitch about.” The look on his face brought this writer to tears. It was glorious, especially because this was a comedian that rode up to the audition on a bicycle, loved his mother, and wanted to help his community. Felipe picked an incredible season to win as well, in that 2010’s LCS featured the late Greg Giraldo, and the ingenious Mike Destefano, two comedians that will be forever missed.
The great thing about interviewing someone like Felipe, is his honesty and ability to translate on print. The man is just so….fucking….funny.
VENT: What was it like growing up in your home? Did your family encourage your comedy or did they have an alternate path they thought you would choose? Tell us about the first time getting onstage.
FELIPE: My family didn’t encourage or discourage me but my dad wanted me to find a job and stay in it my whole life. He’s still upset I left my job at UPS years ago. He said “don’t you know, you could’ve been a driver by now?!?!”
My first time on stage I was so nervous. I made the mistake of telling my mom. She said, “mijo, don’t be nervous, no one there is gonna laugh at you”… So I used that as the title of my first hour special on Showtime. It’s called, “They’re Not Gonna Laugh at You”. (also a play on the phrase that the mom says to Carrie in the movie Carrie)
VENT: How long did you perform comedy before appearing on Last Comic Standing? What was the experience like as far as true competition? Did you feel like it was a predetermined type of thing, (did you expect to win), or did it come as a complete shock?
FELIPE: Before Last Comic, I had been doing standup for 15 years. I didn’t want to try out this last time because I had tried and gotten rejected twice before. So I decided to go by myself and rode my bike to the audition. It all worked out thus time! Like I said, I didn’t even want to try out. I knew I was funny, but I didn’t think I was going to go that far.
It was like a job. I treated the experience like going to work and got into a routine, each week we had to turn in 3 minutes of tv friendly material. I worked very hard to choose the right jokes that I thought would appeal to everyone. It was like breaking up my act into lots of little acts every week. I think the show made my overall act even tighter.
VENT: Tell us about your charitable work with the anti-gang movement in your hometown. You spoke about it on Last Comic Standing a bit. How did they react to you winning the competition? What was it like going back home afterwards?
FELIPE: Before winning I wasn’t doing much charitable work. It was one of the questions they asked everyone. But it got me thinking. I wasn’t going to buy a car or a house, but the first thing that came to my mind was donating to Homeboy Industries. At the time, I knew Father Greg and his organization (Homeboy Industries) was hurting financially. I had just done a small fundraiser a couple months before for them after I heard they might close their doors and lay people off. But that man (Father Greg) saved my life and led me to the place where I realized comedy was what I wanted to do with my life, so I felt like I had to help somehow. They were extremely happy when I won and they were all very supportive. My neighborhood was very happy and my mother is now like a famous person over there since she was on a couple times.
VENT: Would you consider your jokes to be built from true-life experiences, or would you consider them a more observational type of humor? Tell us about your writing process. Do you carefully construct your material, or do you prefer to feel a room out and Improv a bit?
FELIPE: My comedy is both from experience and observational. I don’t ever sit down and write but I always carry a notebook or enter notes into my phone or iPad, etc. when I think of something that might be funny. Then, I try it out later at small comedy shows in local bars, etc., where I can get a feel for how an audience might react to the material. Then when I feel like it’s ready, I’ll add it to my act in a bigger show or on the road to see how people in other parts of the country react to it. I keep adding to my act all the time.
VENT:Now that you’ve hit the road, is life different than before your LCS win? Do you stay in touch with other competitors? Are there any crazy stories from the tour that you can share with us? What are your future plans?
FELIPE: Life is very different now that I’m on the road. I’ve never been on the road this much before. It’s nice to finally have dates booked throughout the year well in advance now! No, I didn’t stay in touch with the other guys, although I run into Myq Kaplan sometimes. We mostly went our separate ways after the tour. I probably would’ve kept in touch mostly with Mike Destefano – we got along great during the tour. Unfortunately, he passed away right after, which was very sad. Going forward, I hope to do more movies. I’ll keep working the road and hopefully have another hour special in a year.
VENT: Last question…. Who are your biggest comedic influences? Is there anyone you dream of performing with?
FELIPE: My biggest influences are Paul Rodriguez, Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield. I’d love to be in a movie with Eddie Murphy one day.
It’s been a decade since the Vent started promoting and booking Felipe in Corpus Christi and we are always glad to see him tour through. Let’s help make this show a success and keep the quality comedians coming.