Comedian Felipe Esparza returns to Spotlight 29 Casino with a brand new act – Hoops Hype
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Nothing is off limits for comedian Felipe Esparza, including going hard after the date fruit. He took a jab at the popular, oval-shaped fruit of the desert during a previous performance in Riverside County and got quite the response from the locals.
“I got a lot of boos because I was making a lot of jokes about the Date Festival,” Esparza said during a recent phone interview. He’s preparing to return to the desert to headline Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Sept. 3.
“Forget what you saw on Netflix or HBO,” he added. “It will be all-new material and part of a new act I’m working on.”
The 46-year-old comic got his big break in 2010 after winning NBC’s reality competition “Last Comic Standing.” Since then, he’s started his own podcast, “What’s Up Fool,” and has released comedy specials on Showtime, Netflix and HBO. His latest Netflix special featured an English and Spanish version, which was exciting to Esparza, an immigrant from Mexico who grew up in Boyle Heights.
Comedian Felipe Esparza is coming to Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Saturday, Sep. 3. (Photo Courtesy of Supersonix Media).
Comedian Felipe Esparza is coming to Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Saturday, Sep. 3. (Photo by Rafael Cardenas)
Comedian Felipe Esparza is coming to Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Saturday, Sep. 3. (Photo by Troy Conrad)
Comedian Felipe Esparza is coming to Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Saturday, Sep. 3. (Photo by Frankie Leal)
Comedian Felipe Esparza is coming to Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Saturday, Sep. 3. (Photo by Adam Rose, Netflix)
Comedian Felipe Esparza is coming to Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella on Saturday, Sep. 3. (Photo by Patrick Waymore, Netflix)
He’s also starred in several television shows and a few films with some of his comedy idols such as Rob Schneider, Paul Rodriguez and Eddie Murphy. Following his success on “Last Comic Standing” a dozen years ago, he said he’s dedicated his spare time to acting classes.
“A lot of comedians like to sit there and smoke weed, and I do too, man,” he joked. “But, I always tell them if you have $60 to spend on weed every week, you have $60 to spend on acting classes.”
Before heading to Coachella, Esparza talked with the Southern California News Group about acting, the state of comedy and finding inspiration for jokes. He’ll return to Southern California later this year with shows scheduled at Humphrey’s by the Bay in San Diego on Nov. 4, Irvine Improv Nov. 10-13 and Ontario Improv Nov. 23-27. The following conversation was edited for space and clarity.
Q: You were born in Sinaloa, Mexico. What are some of your memories from living there?
Esparza: I remember eating this fruit they don’t have in America called guamúchil, which tastes like gum. It’s delicious. I remember that it was so dusty that a water truck would come by at night and wet the streets. When we would go to the movie theater, I remember there was no ceiling. The whole movie theater was made out of cement, even the seating.
Q: What was it like coming to America? Did it meet your expectations?
Esparza: I was little when I came, but I remember noticing that the movie theaters here had a roof. I thought they were very elegant and nice. We used to go see Cantinflas at the Million Dollar Theater.
Q: When did you first notice that you were funny and could make it a career?
Esparza: In second grade! No, I’m just kidding. I think it was after high school I realized I could do this. I just didn’t know how and know where to start. We used to listen to Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Paul Rodriguez and I would memorize everything they said.
Q: You mentioned some comedians that influenced you. Were there any others?
Esparza: Paul Rodriguez, Eddie Murphy and George Carlin were all people I listened to growing up. Now I get to work with Paul Rodriguez.
Q: What’s that like?
Esparza: It’s awesome, man. Paul Rodriguez even bought me a suit. I worked with Eddie Murphy on a Netflix movie coming out in the future that Jonah Hill helped write and produce. I have a small part, but Eddie Murphy told me I was funny in front of everyone.
Q: What did you say?
Esparza: I was like, “whaaaaattttt?” I couldn’t believe it, dude. He didn’t even say “Hi” to anyone when he got on set, and he just looked around and told me, “You’re a funny mother [expletive].” Everyone stood quiet, even me.
Q: How do you like doing television and movies?
Esparza: To do stand-up comedy, you have to have an audience for that instant gratification. With acting, nobody laughs after a funny line, which is hard to get used to as opposed to when you do a funny line in front of a bunch of people. But acting is hard. It takes a lot of commitment.
Q: Where do you find the inspiration for your jokes?
Esparza: Mostly from real life. For example, one time, the police pulled us over while we were in the car with my cousin, and he didn’t know how to speak English well, so to us, he was illegal. When the police asked us if we had anything illegal, we all looked at my cousin and laughed. When I tell the joke now, I say it was me that got pulled over and when the cop asks the question, I say “my cousin” and that I ran. I take what happened in real life and try to apply it to my jokes.
Q: How do you feel about the state of comedy today?
Esparza: Comedy has evolved so much that someone could make money without ever going on stage. That’s the amazing part about it. A lot of people want to do stand-up comedy but don’t know how. Other people who are younger than me are doing it really well on Instagram or TikTok and make these very funny, short sketches. Comedy is supposed to grab your attention and set up the punchline, and these young people have found a way to do it in less than 10 seconds. Some of these people who do comedy on TikTok perform at the same comedy clubs I’ve performed at. I think it’s a great time for comedy right now.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your podcast and did you ever think you’d have your own show?
Esparza: I was a guest on a lot of podcasts before I started and learned a lot from them. I found out that if you’re really open about your life and you’re honest, people gravitate towards you. There are people out there who are funnier than me, that’s true, but there’s nobody out there who is better at being me than me. So I decided I could do my own podcast.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career?
Esparza: Winning “Last Comic Standing.” It changed my life.
Where: Spotlight 29 Casino, 46-200 Harrison Place, Coachella
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3
Tickets: $40-$95 at 760-775-5566 or spotlight29.com
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