• The Laughspin interview with Felipe Esparza

    You likely know Felipe Esparza as the dude who won it all in August, 2010 on what was likely the last season of Last Comic Standing ever. He was in great company, as the final five comedians were Tommy Johnagin, Roy Wood Jr., Myq Kaplan and the late Mike DeStefano. In winning, he grabbed $250,000 and a talent deal with NBC. Perhaps most importantly, however, his visibility rose tremendously.

    And now, the Los Angeles-based comedian will star in his own one-hour stand-up special, They’re Not Going To Laugh At You on Showtime— premiering tonight at 10 pm ET and running through Jan. 23 (full schedule here). You’ll be able to access the special On Demand from Jan. 25 to Feb. 21. And you can already pre-order the DVD version, which comes out on Feb. 28.

    We recently caught up with the busy comic to chat about the new special, how Last Comic Standing has improved his life and why he’s trying to become a vegan. Check it out!

    You won Last Comic Standing in 2010, and then you go on this massive tour with the other finalists. I’m curious how your professional life has changed since you went on that tour with all of those great comics.
    Oh, it’s changed a lot. I’ve had more shows, more than I’ve ever had in my comedy career. If you look at my schedule, you’ll see I’m booked for at least seven shows next year already. That’s something I never had. I’ve never been booked ahead of time. I never had a booking agent, I worked on my own. There are more opportunities. People who saw Last Comic Standing, like young film students, people who are graduated in film, they like putting me in their films for some reason. I was in three independent movies last year.

    Wow, that’s pretty great. It seems like a show like that would be a pretty impressive learning experience too, to have that amount of shows one after the other, to work out material on camera. Did the Last Comic Standing experience teach you anything about the craft of stand-up comedy?
    I’ve been a comic since 1996. I’m a veteran at doing stand-up comedy in dive bars. I’m a veteran dive bar comic. But as far as television, I’m new at that. I’m a rookie. I learned how to put a set together for television while on Last Comic Standing. I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to grab your best material and put it together into a comedy set. I would just choose subjects and do it onstage. That’s what I learned. I didn’t know how to put a set together.

    I imagine those lessons would be pretty applicable as you were working on this special for Showtime coming up.
    Yeah. This one was hard. I had to memorize three different twenty minute sets. Normally, if I have to do 30 minutes or 20 minutes at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, I wouldn’t even think about it. I wouldn’t even look at my set list, unless I was working on a new joke. But for the whole hour, I had to pace myself onstage. Slow down. Enunciate. Breathe. Don’t talk too fast, don’t get too excited onstage. When I’m onstage, I get too excited, and I start talking too fast, and I start mumbling. When I was a kid, I had a speech impediment, growing up. When you have a speech impediment in a low income house, there’s no such thing as a speech therapist. My dad would just yell at me to get it right. I would just be scared, and say “Okay!” Every once in a while I get too excited and I go back to my thing. Breathe in, don’t do it too fast. For my one hour special, I wrote it down, I rehearsed, I practiced in front of the mirror. I did everything I could.

    How long did that rehearsal process take you?
    I did the special last March, of 2011. I was practicing some of the jokes on the road. I did a run through of my one hour at a club, at a dive bar that I go to on the east side. It’s called the Sunset Room in Hacienda. I went in there at eleven o’clock at night and they had an open mic. The show ends at 10, and I got there, I went up at eleven, and did one hour and a half, just trying to work out material. That was before the show.

    Before that, I didn’t get a chance to practice the whole hour, I would just do twenty minutes here, twenty minutes at the Laugh Factory, twenty minutes at the Comedy Store. The night before was a Monday – I remember it was a Monday. I went to that club, the Sunset Room, and I did the whole hour and a half. They were not laughing. Some people were not laughing, they were talking through the show, and they were heckling. I ignored all that and just went through it.

    Felipe Esparza – Hamburger Helper
    Jokes Joke of the Day Funny Jokes

    That’s an intense amount of time to be doing a set in a dive bar.

    So what can viewers expect content-wise from your special?
    The true life reality comedy of Felipe Esparza. I tell all my life. I talk about things that happen in my life. The jokes that I said are the jokes that won me Last Comic Standing, and the jokes that I’ve been doing for the last five years. Some jokes I’ve been doing for the last two years. It’s material that I’ve been doing over the years, but that I’ve been developing. Some jokes, I listen to what I did on YouTube [from several years ago], and I listen to it now, and I say, “Wow, I can’t believe I put that out there. That joke wasn’t even constructed.” [laughs]

    I suppose that’s hindsight for you!
    The hard part is next year, when I have to go back on the road with new material. And everybody will have heard the one hour, so it’ll be a struggle to come up with another one hour set. I expect a lot of bombing.

    Part of the fun of the profession, I guess.

    Your comedy focuses largely on your everyday, personal experiences growing up in Los Angeles and the surrounding region. Have you ever found that audiences who maybe aren’t as familiar with that region and with that body of experiences respond differently to your comedy?
    Yes. Some places, like in the Northwest, everybody gets it. From Washington all the way down to San Diego. And then Idaho all the way down to Texas, they get me. But once it starts going to Mobile, Alabama, I have to talk slower than I normally do. I can’t talk about stuff like gentrification because they don’t know anything about that over there. When I talk about, like, “I know I’m not a tough guy, but I’m sure that I could beat up everybody who shops at Trader Joe’s.” And when I go to the Midwest, they might not have heard of Trader Joe’s, so I change that joke: “I know I’m not a tough guy, but I’m pretty sure that I could beat up everybody who eats organic foods and has tight jeans.” It becomes a whole different joke.

    Oh, and a lot of places also, like when I walk into the room, like in the Midwest, when I get up and start talking, they get everything I’m saying. I look at the audience, and there’s usually at least five Latinos at every show. But once I leave the West Coast, if I’m in Missouri, St. Louis, there’s usually five Latinos at every show. Those five Latinos are the loudest five of the whole room. Their laughs are loud.
    When I was in Minnesota, I saw so many Mexicans and Middle Eastern people at my shows. And I said a joke about them. I said, “Wow, if you’re Mexican, and you live in Minnesota, you can stay. You made it that far, you passed go, you collect $200.”

    You mentioned gentrification – thinking about the contemporary political climate that we’re in, have you felt any pressure or desire lately to delve into social and political commentary in your comedy?
    Most of the stuff I talk about, the politics, the topical stuff, is like Herman Cain and the 9-9-9 plan. It should be the “Bye, bye, bye” plan. Stuff about illegal immigration. People always ask me, “Felipe, what do you think about immigration?” Well, you’re asking the wrong Mexican. I’m already here. I talk about that stuff. They say that illegal immigrants are doing jobs that most Americans don’t want to do, and I say, “That’s not true, because most Mexican Americans, African Americans, whoever – they wouldn’t want to do it either.” I used to say that the War of Iraq is still going on – the British are helping. The Mexicans want to help, but they need a ride over there.

    That’s certainly been an important issue lately with Obama pulling the troops out last week.
    Yes. My girlfriend and I were talking about it, and she says that some of the troops have been gone for like two years. She was saying we’ll have a baby boom in September, like nine months from now.

    Oh yeah, I guess that’s true.

    I hadn’t thought about that.
    My girlfriend, she’s helping me be Mexican vegan for the past four months.

    That sounds like it’d be pretty tough!
    That part about new material – Mexican vegan. Oxymoron.

    More power to you. I’m a full-blooded, love meat kind of person, so I can’t even imagine doing it.
    Oh my God, you should see our little one. The little guy just came in here – he says, “Mom, I don’t like this stuff, I love meat!”

    That would be me.
    “I want a hot dog mom!”

    Not tofu?
    No, he don’t like that shit. He says “I don’t want that vegetable stuff, that rubbery seitan.” No, he don’t want that shit.
    That’s fantastic. Final question: you’ve made a name for yourself in the stand-up world, and have also delved into TV and film. Are you hoping to get involved in other creative comedic stuff, like writing or directing or anything like that?
    I plan on writing a couple of movies and producing them. I have a couple of movie ideas about me growing up, some other stuff my girlfriend and I are working on. And writing a book.

    Felipe Esparza – Grab Any Paper
    Jokes Joke of the Day Funny Jokes

    Very cool. What would the book be about?
    I don’t know! A book about me rising to the top of Last Comic Standing, growing up in the housing projects, watching my friends die when I was 14 years old, 20 years old, leaving all that behind. The impossible dream.

    I think there would be a huge market for that, people want to hear about those stories.
    My story is kind of like The Blind Side, except there was no white woman helping me out. It was just me and the cops.

    For more info on Felipe, you can check out his official site at felipesworld.com.

    Carrie Andersen

    In addition to writing for Laughspin, Carrie is a graduate student in Austin, Texas, where she researches popular culture, new media, music, and social movements. When not reading or writing in any official capacity, she spends her time playing the drums, watching crappy TV, and eating copious amounts of tacos and barbecue. She also blogs sporadically at carrieandersen.com.

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