Just a couple years into his fledgling comedy career, Felipe Esparza landed an appearance on Showtime’s Latino Laugh Festival. Having previously frequented open mics, it was a big step up in his career — one that had unintended consequences.
“I only had seven minutes of material,” he said. “I didn’t have a whole hour, or 20 minutes … and it was funny, because people saw me on Showtime, on that show, and I guess they thought I was an experienced comedian.” He got booked to perform one-hour sets, but since he only had about seven minutes of material, he would try to stretch his material out to fit the allotted time.
“It was bad, man,” he said. “The beginning of the show was great, but the last 40 minutes was horrible.”
Esparza has come a long way since then. He went on to win the seventh season of the comedy competition show, “Last Comic Standing.” He has a comedy special on Netflix, and he recently appeared in the streaming service’s original movie, “You People,” which stars Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, Lauren London, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Even after having achieved that level of success, Esparza said he’s still learning the ropes of standup comedy.
“Some people, they do standup comedy and they feel like they made it to the level where now they’re invincible, or the crowd laughs at anything they say,” he said. “I’m not even at halfway to that level, still. When I was on Last Comic Standing, I had one hour of material, but it was the same one hour and 45 minutes that I’ve been doing for five years. It took me 10 years to build that one hour. And I knew it back and forth, but everybody else knew it, you know? It was like, ‘When is this dude going to write new jokes?'”
Esparza has ventured beyond joke-telling and entered the world of podcasts. He has two separate ones: What’s Up Fool?, and History for Foos. (He also used to have a podcast with his wife called Enchilada Casserole). But he was reluctant to get into the podcast game at first.
“There’s some comics that do podcasts and they’re only known for doing that podcast,” he said. “And they go on stage and the crowd doesn’t know the difference between standup and talking on stage. And it’s tough for the comedian, because they don’t know if they’re bombing or doing well anymore.”
That changed after he was a guest on the podcast “The Champs,” hosted by Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher.
“I told a bunch of stories about my life,” he said of his appearance. “They thought it was crazy that all that stuff happened. So they said, ‘You should have a podcast.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
He ended up getting approached by Bill Burr and Al Madrigal (who are the founders of the All Things Comedy podcast network) to do a podcast. “And I said, all right, I’ll do it, but I’m gonna do it my way,” he said.
He bought a recorder and started out interviewing people he knew, or even just random people he met on the street, for that podcast, What’s Up Fool? “I interviewed a guy who was wrongfully accused for a murder when he was 17, 19 years old,” he said. A year later, the Innocence Project helped prove the man’s innocence. “So I felt very good that I got to interview him.”
The idea behind History for Fools is that Esparza and co-host Butch Escobar pick a topic and then recount the history of it. They did an episode on stand-up comedy, for example, and another on the history of gangs in America. It’s a more structured listening experience than What’s Up Fool?, which is more freewheeling.
Esparza, who performs Saturday at the Suquamish Clearwater Casino, said he hasn’t performed out this way before, but he noted that people are planning to come from as far away as Portland, Ore., to see the show. “I’m looking forward to the trip,” he said. “They’re going to pick us up at the airport, and then we’re going to take that ferry to the show.”
The performance is sold out, but if you were lucky enough to buy tickets, the show is 8 p.m., March 18.