Jones Hall is in for a treat, as former Last Comic Standing winner and current Adult Swim favorite Felipe Esparza is swinging into town for a night of brand new jokes. “It’s all new, man,” the chill joker promises. “Nothing you’ve seen on the internet. I don’t share clips of my comedy. If you think you are going to watch what you saw on Facebook, I’m not gonna do those jokes.”
It’s been a busy 13 years since Esparza was crowned the champ of stand-ups on NBC, as he’s released on Showtime, HBO and most recently Netflix with 2020’s Bad Decisions. Now back on the road with a new post-pandemic hour, the comic admits he’s evolved his process for joke writing.
“[Now,] I know how to put do it in my mind. I used to have a joke writing book, a comedy-writing book by Gene Perret. That was my first comedy writing book, this guy used to write for Carson, he used to write for the old guys – but his patterns still work. Then I just learned it. I used to write with paper. Now I can do it in my head because I’ve been doing it so long. Like if I think about something, I swear I can do a joke about it. It may not be that funny, but once I work it out, it will be funny.”
While he vows new material, Esparza has strong feeling about showing up to a show half-baked. “A lot of the older comics, they like to go up there with their notepad and start reading the jokes,” he says. “I think that’s lame. They paid to see a fucking show. They don’t want to see a comedian recite comedy. So I never like doing that. I work on five new jokes and work on that with my other stuff. If you go up there with a blank piece of paper, I don’t like that. People didn’t pay to see you practice! You want to practice? Go to an open mic where no one knows you. I’ll boo a comedian if I see them pull out a notebook! ‘Hey man, don’t you come here to study. Do your homework at home, asshole!’”
Many of Esparza fans these days likely come from seeing him on the uber surreal late night Adult Swim show hosted by Eric Andre, a fact that he’s come to recognize by one main trait: how young his audience is getting. “I did a show last week, Saturday night. It was in New York, in Queens. It was the Eric Andre birthday party. And everyone there was a Z-lennials, bro. They were Zs. Me and the comic Artie Fuqua, we were hosting the whole thing for six hours. A lot of the fans there, they know me from The Eric Andre Show, but they only know me as Felipe the sidekick. I threw in one punchline in the show. There was roughly 3,000 people there and young, they barely had enough money to go to that show. They were young! They were sharing beers, sharing nachos. One guy said he could spend 40 bucks.”
“But a lot of the jokes did not fly, they were not paying attention. It was just loud. I have worked loud events and so had Artie, but some of these comics, man. I was warning them before they went up, but every comic here was dropping like flies. Don’t go to your material, you will bomb... Not a good vibe. I said: You want to get a good laugh? Light yourself on fire and don’t die. Make out with a goat!”
Beyond good advice, Esparza does have another trick up his sleeve: he is able to perform his act in not only English, but also fully in Spanish. He breaks down how he peppers in language depending on his audience. “If the audience is all like, Mexican American. Like born here in America, but of Mexican decent. With that crowd, I can kill, man, by just throwing in one Spanish word. Like the Spanish punchline might resonate louder than the English one with that crowd.
"But if I am doing an all-Spanish show, like 100 percent Spanish and these people are not from American: Mexican or Spanish or Venezuelan. I would have to do 100 percent Spanish, I can’t do the English word in the middle like I would do with Mexican American. Its harder for me to do it all Spanish but when I do the same act in Spanish, if I have a play on words in English or something that rhymes, I can’t do that in Spanish. Doesn’t translate well. The whole joke would have to be different.
“Like I was speaking Spanish wrong. I had a pocho way of speaking Spanish: a Mexican-American way. I realized I lot of our Spanish words in the Southwest – we made those words up. Those Spanish words don’t even exist in the Spanish language. So when I tried them in Mexico, they didn’t fucking work. Like the word “parking” in Spanish? Everyone in America says “parke,” but that word doesn’t even exist! That’s called Spanglish, a combination of English and Spanish. Or like the word “brakes” – I always thought that was “brakas” but no, that’s just like a white guy adding a word like ‘O’ at the end of the word! You see, white people add an ‘O’ to the end of every word, we add the letters ‘a-s’ after every English word. That was a language problem for me, I had to learn. Now, I submit my jokes through Google translate.”
If you can’t get enough of Esparza after seeing him live, he’s got a supporting role in the new Netflix film You People alongside Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy. Recalling his filming date, Esparza gets a bit giddy. “I got to meet Eddie Murphy on the set of You People. It was awesome, bro. [We were] waiting in the same scene. Then when Eddie Murphy comes in and sees me, in front of everybody he says: ‘My man, you are a fuuuuuuuunny motherfucker.’ Man, right there, man. I don’t even know what bombing is after that, after Eddie Murphy told me I was funny. Like if I don’t get laughs, it don’t hurt as much no more. Because Eddie Murphy says I was funny.”
Felipe Esperza will appear at Jones Hall at 615 Louisiana on Friday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit Performing Arts Houston at performingartshouston.org $29-$69.