Comedian Felipe Esparza—who will be headlining at the Cap City Comedy Club on Feb. 20 through 23—grew up in the diverse Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. It was a place that resembled a fortress because of its barred up windows and doors. Esparza tells Red River Noise that in elementary school they often had to stay in for recess because there were shootings nearby or suspects on the loose.
“We would be locked up for hours,” says Esparza. “As a little kid, you don’t realize what’s going on, so we would be just indoors joking around. I remember in second grade, some of the other kids would tell me ‘you’re pretty funny, like a comedian,’ but I didn’t think much of it then.”
Later, comedy came back into his life when he was hanging out with friends and they listened to Bill Cosby’sTo Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With for the first time. Esparza related to that comedy album because he shared a room with his brother and remembers the conversations and incidents that would take place there. He memorized that album entirely, but that didn’t inspire him to pursue a career in comedy.
In junior high, he related to the material on Richard Pryor’s That Nigger’s Crazy album because he also grew up in the projects. Then there was the time some of the neighbors were hanging out, doing drugs and listening to Eddie Murphy’s comedy, all while Esparza thought, “Who is this guy? He’s hilarious!”
Over and over, comedy kept appearing in his life, but it never occurred to Esparza that he could make a living out of it.
“In rehab we had to talk about our feelings, and every time I would share mine, it would come out as a punchline and everyone would laugh.” Felipe Esparza on discovering his comedic voice.
It wasn’t until after a stint in rehab that he realized comedy was his calling.
“In rehab we had to talk about our feelings, and every time I would share mine, it would come out as a punchline and everyone would laugh,” says Esparza. “I guess maybe it was my voice or the way I say things, but everyone would laugh.”
Once Esparza got out of rehab, he did an open mic in Hollywood at a place called the Natural Fudge Cafe—a healthy food restaurant that also endorsed and encouraged talent of all sorts.
“I remember my first time performing I didn’t know how to dress like a comedian so I went in there dressed as an ’80s comic,” says Esparza. “I didn’t even have my long hair, I was bald! I looked like Uncle Fester doing comedy.”
There, Esparza met and networked with comedians like Alonzo Bodden—season three winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing—and Jamie Kennedy—known for Malibu’s Most Wanted.
“I wanted to be Felipe Esparza,” says Esparza. “That was my goal. I just wanted to be successful being me but I didn’t know how to do that.”
Eventually, Esparza earned a spot on season seven of Last Comic Standing in 2010. He went on to win the competition, establishing his career as a stand-up comic. A year later—and after hogging up several hour-long shows at open mic competitions— he performed his first one-hour special for Showtime.
“My one-hour special was my favorite moment in my career because it was all my material that I had been working on for years,” says Esparza.
“The problem is [television producers] don’t know how write for Mexicans on television without being stereotypical. Just put me in there. Just pretend I’m white and don’t crack any jokes about my culture.” Felipe Esparza on being Latino and auditioning for acting gigs.
Now, Esparza is busy trying to work on his acting career or as he says—getting better at lying. In an effort to get more national exposure, he is auditioning for shows like Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show and the CBS hit sitcom Two Broke Girls as a new waiter, cook or maybe a love interest…if he shaves.
“The problem is [television producers] don’t know how write for Mexicans on television without being stereotypical. Just put me in there. Just pretend I’m white and don’t crack any jokes about my culture,” says Esparza laughing. “It’s not hard to write a part for a Mexican. Just write him in. What we need to do, is just start sneaking into movies,” he says jokingly. “If it’s a Star Trek movie and they call out Captain Kirk I’ll just show up and say ‘What’s up fool?’ or on X Men I’ll show up as a fat Wolverine.”
Despite a tough audition process, he has appeared in several films. Esparza starred in I’m Not Like That No More—based on his comedy—alongside comedian and actor Paul Rodriguez. In Taco Shop—set to release this year—he improvised all his lines as a brain-damaged ex-wrestler, so hilarity is likely to ensue.
Aside from auditions and touring, Esparza is hard at work writing a new one-hour special possibly titledBroken English—”in reference to my father,” says Esparza laughing. This all-new, never-before-seen material will be performed here in Austin in preparation for this new special.
“This time my comedy will focus on how I got to this country and how I was raised,” says Esparza. “For example, as Mexicans we can’t help it that we’re overdressed for everything. We can’t help it that right now I’m wearing dress shoes at a soccer game. Do you know why we dress like this? Because my dad never told us where the hell we were going after church!”
Esparza’s experiences and the way he was raised have shaped him and his comedic career in ways that his audience can relate to. He has accomplished many things in the entertainment industry by simply being himself.
“If you’re going to be a comedian and you’re Latino, read a lot and be original,” says Esparza. “Don’t do George Lopez jokes; get your own jokes.”
Felipe Esparza will perform Feb. 20 through Feb. 23 at the Cap City Comedy Club, located at 8120 Research Blvd. All shows are for ages 18 and up. Tickets are on sale now for $9 general admission and $13 reserved seating. His comedy special They’re Not Gonna Laugh At You is available on Netflix.