Felipe Esparza isn’t your typical comedian. From his signature hair style, to his Mexican accent, he’s managed to make quite a splash in the comedy world. He was the winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, season 7 and he’s been touring the US about 3-4 weekends a month ever since. But despite being known as a funny-man, Felipe’s life has had some dark times. Although he’s fought some tough battles thus far, he’s managed to harness those memories and turn them into comedy gold.
Felipe says he’s pretty much always wanted to make people laugh.
“I wanted to be a comedian since I was a little kid. My friend had a little record player, and we heard Bill Cosby. I thought ‘man that was funny.’ So I memorized it, and I wanted to be just like him! But not anymore…”
He grew up east of Los Angeles, in Boyle Heights. His neighborhood was riddled with gang activity, with anywhere from 8-10 gangs in the area by his estimates. And like the people he grew up with, he messed around with selling crack, trying to make a little money here and there. At the time, he smoked weed a little bit, had tried PCP, was drinking a lot, but had still never tried crack… even though he was selling it.
It wasn’t until his brother had been shot by police that he felt like using crack for the first time.
”He didn’t die but he was injured for life. I was so sad about it that I tried crack, and that was it. Maybe I actually used his shooting as an excuse to try it, but that’s how I tried it for the first time.”
He never intended on being in a gang, but in his neighborhood, it was basically forced on you. One day he was “jumped” into a gang, simply because he was hanging out with them too much. He was dubbed ‘Batman’ because he always wore Batman shirts and things of that nature.
After a PCP-filled night at a drive-in movie theatre, where they watched The Terminator 2, he had a run-in with the friend of another ‘Batman’. This other Batman’s friend wanted to fight Felipe because Felipe had beaten up the other ‘Batman’.
“I can’t fight… I may be 6’1”, 270 lbs. But this is just for looks… This is just armor. It’s a shield to hide that I’m a big pussy.”
As he was getting choked out by Other-Batman’s friend, he decided to bite ½ of his ear off. This was pre-Tyson v. Holyfield, so Felipe feels a little like Tyson stole his bit (double-pun intended). While going full-on Ozzy Osbourne with the guy’s ear, he also pulled off his belt and settled the argument for now.
After the fight, the recently de-eared gentleman decided not to press charges. Not because he really was a gentleman, but in Felipe’s mind, it was because he probably wanted revenge. This is where crack came into play. He used crack, “out of paranoia”. This was he could stay awake, Just in case the 1&½ eared man came around.
After spending some time tweaking pretty hard, Felipe was approached by Father Gregory J. Boyle, S.J. Rev. Boyle is the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. He took Felipe’s loaded pistol, and checked him into a rehab.
The Next Chapter of His Career
It was in rehab that Felipe was made to create some goals for the first time in his life.
“A really nice Irish guy named Tim came up to me and asked what I really wanted to be in life. I told him I wanted to be a comedian. So he told me to write down 5 things that I wanted to accomplish in life. So I wrote down: 1- I wanted to be a comedian, 2- I want to be happy, 3- I love the Olive Garden, so I wanted to go to Italy. And I could think of anything else.”
The year that he spent away from the “wrong crowd” helped him get his priorities in order, and start on his path towards the spotlight. He says that there can be many ways towards sobriety, especially since addiction can be so different for different people. But for him, what’s helped him the most is throwing himself into his work and staying busy. Another big contributor is his openness and honesty.
“Later once I started my podcast, I really started being honest about those times in my life. Being open like that brought in a lot of listeners and new fans who started telling me that they were helped by my openness about my past. I didn’t expect that. At first it’s embarrassing, something you think you should be ashamed of. Now I look back and realize how lucky I am that I’m still alive.”
As for other comedians-in-the-making, Felipe has a little advice:
“Don’t try to be successful. Work on being funny. If you’re funny, start tightening up your material. Go up on stage as much as possible and no matter what kind of stage it is. One might be a famous comedy club in Hollywood and the next gig might be a backyard party with a mic and an amp. That stage time is so important in becoming a better comic. Once your sets are strong and you start building a following, just keep at it, promote yourself, and connect with your fans. But don’t stop writing and building the material that made people like you in the first place. I like doing TV and movies, but I know that if that stuff goes away, I’ll always be doing stand-up. Always.”
Felipe has recently self-produced a new stand-up special, that’s “very personal”, with release dates TBD (you can catch his first special: They’re Not Gunna Laugh At You on Netflix). He also just sold a sitcom idea with fellow comedian/look-alike Dustin Ybarra to ABC, which should be filming their pilot in the next few months. And from what Felipe’s said about it, needless to say it’ll be hilarious, so stay tuned. Listen to his life-saving podcast What’s Up Fool? on iTunes, Soundcloud, or any other podcast app. Check out his website for updates on release dates and tour dates. Make sure to follow him on Instagram @felipeesperanzacomedian, and Twitter @funnyfelipe for your daily-dose of humor and to keep yourself sane in an insane world.
About The Author:
Brice Natter enjoys spending his spare time in the beautiful Utah Mountains. When he’s not expressing himself through interpretive dance, miming, or abstract cross stitch, he’s hiking, shopping, and most definitely eating. Find him on Instagram at @biznattch.