“Last Comic” Winner Felipe Esparza invades Fat Fish BlueWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Felipe Esparza never thought he’d have a chance to win “Last Comic Standing.”
The comedian, who will be appearing in the Toledo area for the first time at Fat Fish Blue on Wednesday, November 3, didn’t even want to try out for the most recent season of NBC’s comedy-based reality show.
“I had auditioned before, and I didn’t make it through anything and then, when they asked me to do it again, to audition, I didn’t want to. So, I said, I don’t wanna do this, they’re gonna tell me no. I had already given up before going up. And I said, Okay, I’ll go. And I got in my peach cruiser and rolled to the audition.”
When he arrived, though, his mood and fortunes would change. “I saw [judges] Greg Geraldo and Natasha Leggero, and I said, okay, I can make these two laugh, I don’t know about Andy Kindler. And then they passed me! I was so happy, man!”
Still, throughout all of the competition, he didn’t think he’d win. At best, he thought he’d make the top five. So when it was announced that he was, indeed, the last comic standing for the 2010 season, Esparza was surprised, to say the least.
“I thought I would crap in my pants. I was, like, beyond myself. I had an out-of-body experience.”
A long way to come for a kid out of East Los Angeles. Esparza began on the road to stand-up when he was 15, having grown up with many comic heroes who inspired him to pursue it.
“Richard Pryor spoke about stuff that I could relate to, growing up in a bad neighborhood. Paul Rodriguez, because he’s Mexican. And Rodney Dangerfield, because he’s a set-up, punch line kinda guy. He takes you one way, then he takes you some other way.
“My friend Jackie, he turned me onto Bill Cosby. And I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. But then on the way, I started drinking too much, I became an alcoholic. I went to rehab, and when I came out, I became a comedian.”
Though his delivery does have a lot of straightforward Dangerfield-esque jokes, he also emulates Cosby in his tendency to tell stories about his life while he’s performing — a trait that Esparza said grew out of his early onstage experiences.
“When I first started off, I was deadpan. Like Steven Wright, really monotone, with no personality. Nothing, I had no structure. I just stood onstage like a robot, telling jokes. And that didn’t work, I was being heckled all the time,” Esparza said.
“I had to work enough bad rooms in LA, when nobody paid attention to you. So, I tried to create stories so they could relate to me, and get their attention before I did my material.”
The young Esparza gained a name for himself quickly, appearing on Showtime in a “Diamonds in the Rough” comedians’ segment shortly after he debuted. But that’s nothing compared to how his visibility and fame has skyrocketed in the months since his “Last Comic Standing” victory. In addition to a deal with NBC, which he hopes a show will come out of, Esparza is touring even more extensively around the country. He finds that he sometimes has to adapt his material to different areas of the country.
“Some people laugh at certain parts,” Esparza said. “I have this joke where I say, ‘I live in a real bad neighborhood. A new restaurant just parked in front of my house.’ See, that joke wasn’t well-received in Connecticut. But some of the places, you have to change the words around.”
Memories of his “Standing” appearances now come tinged with a bit of sadness, as Greg Giraldo, Esparza’s most vocal supporter on the judging panel, passed away on September 29.
“I feel sad, because one, I met him before, and I met his family. And two, because he was the only one that was pushing me through the whole ‘Last Comic Standing.’ Like, he was a big Felipe Esparza supporter, even though he made fun of me and called me ‘the funniest Amish Mexican he knows,’ and he called me ‘the funniest homeless person he knows.’ It’s sad.”
But thanks in no small part to Giraldo’s support, Esparza’s star continues to rise. Though, he noted, there are negatives to being so well known.
“I gotta write a lot of new material, because it seems like everyone already knows my jokes already. It’s like a sing-along now.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com