The last time I spoke at length with Felipe Esparza, he was enjoying the fruits of his success as a winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, headlining a theater tour with his fellow finalists that came through New York City’s Times Square in 2010.
Esparza quickly capitalized on that with an hour special that aired on Showtime in 2012. Five years later, he’s back with a new special, Translate This, which debuts Saturday on HBO.
“It’s a hundred times better than the first one, because the first one happened so fast,” Esparza told me over the phone last week. “I was talking to the Latin Kings of Comedy, Alex Reymundo, asking him how do you get a special, and the next day I got a call.” He recalled only having two weeks to prepare for his Showtime taping. For HBO, Esparza not only put in a lot of time and effort planning the hour, but also put in all of the money for producing Translate This before selling it to Home Box Office.
“I always wanted to be on HBO,” Esparza told me.
That he wound up on HBO the same month as George Lopez aired his most recent stand-up hour is just “awesome.” Like Lopez, Esparza also has a bit about learning how stark the difference is between growing up Mexican-American and living in Mexico. Esparza also makes light of his past drug addiction, having his first child while still in high school, and raising a 12-year-old white stepson now.
Will he mind if his children see Translate This? “If my kids have cable, of course they can watch it,” Esparza replied, adding: “On my first special, I had a joke that I used to sell marijuana to my son’s new father. I would take his money and give it to my mom’s child support. I really thought that joke was going to be mean. But it made my son’s stepfather famous at medicinal marijuana shops.”
Esparza also created and starred in a webseries about a pot shop, called The Shop. You may also have heard him on his podcast, What’s Up Fool?, or seen him on The Eric Andre Show. His biggest exposure post-Last Comic has come via NBC as the recurring character Cody on Superstore. He only half-jokingly told me about how everyone in craft services and security on the sitcom recognized Esparza from his stand-up. “I felt like king for a day, making my television sitcom debut.”
He does have his own single-cam sitcom in the development pipeline. It’d star Esparza and fellow comedian Dustin Ybarra as brothers, and with producers Bobby Bowman and Peter Murrieta, it was a potential pilot last year for ABC; Esparza says they’re trying to make it a go this year with FOX. Either way, Esparza already is planning to go on a tour after Translate This debuts on HBO. He’s calling it The Bad Decision Tour and it’ll mostly cover new ground not included in the HBO special. “So if you don’t like the show, don’t worry,” he said. “It’s going to be about every bad decision I’ve ever made.”
Of course, going with HBO never is a bad decision for a comedian.