Felipe Esparza has had quite a week, after winning the title on NBC's seventh season of Last Comic Standing and the $250,000 grand prize, $50,000 of which comes with a talent deal from the Peacock Network. "It's been crazy, man," Esparza told me on Thursday. "I've been walking down the street. A lot of cars been honking, people yelling, 'I voted for you!'"
Even the winner must submit to his "Exit Interview" with The Comic's Comic. So here we go!
Name: Felipe Esparza
Age: 12! I'm 40. 32?
Hometown: Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Calif.
Current city of residence: Echo Park, Los Angeles
Tell me about the first time you did stand-up: "I started when I was 24. It sucked. I got two laughs and then I said 'Good night.' But it was a good experience for me. I went in there by myself. It was an open mic, so I had no idea how to judge me, I had no freinds with me. They said, 'You did fine, come back next week.'"
Did you audition for Last Comic Standing before, and if so, how did that go? "I did the first year, and season five. Well, the first one I made it all the way to the stage and then they didn't pick me. The second time, Kathleen Madigan didn't like me. She said, 'I don't see anything.'" That's weird because Ant was the harshest critic that year. "No, Ant liked me and so did Alonzo Bodden."
If you said yes, then what did you learn from your past experiences that helped you move further in the competition this year? Was the third time the charm? "Yeah, that's right." (laughs) "Nothing. I didn't learn anything. I didn't want to do it this year. But my theatrical agent got a call and he said they want you to audition. I didn't want anybody to give me a ride over there or drive me there, because if they said no, it'd be a long ride home. So i just rode my beach cruiser over…and then i rode my bike to victory."
When did you think you had a serious chance of winning this thing? "When Myq Kaplan and Mike DeStefano and Roy Wood Jr. got eliminated. When we were standing there together, me and Tommy Johnigan, the whole audience was yelling 'Felipe!' I really thought it was going to come down to Roy Wood and me or Mike DeStefano and me. But when I heard Natasha Leggero tell Myq Kaplan that he would win if it were Last Comic Writer Standing, and when I heard Mike DeStefano have the best set of his life, although it was rough. And my set, I thought it went great. At the end, with Craig Robinson, I couldn't hear my name, I was waiting for the 'F' sound for Felipe. And then I saw my face on TV. I haven't had that look on my face since my cousin got a not guilty verdict."
How did you feel about the format changes in the contest this season, and was there anything from the old formats that you missed? "I don't know. I was glad it was more of a comedy competition where you do jokes, and they approve them and you do them. I thought it was much better than living in the house and then getting kicked out for doing BlackBerrys." Your buddy Gabriel Iglesias got in trouble for that in his season, right! "When I saw he got kicked off for a BlackBerry…Wait a minute, are you serious? He thought it was a Blackberry pie! If they had a house, I don't think the top five would have made it." Who would have made it? "The girls. I don't know. I never watched the show when they had the house. I stopped watching (before) when I got eliminated. Even though, if they had a house, I was ready for anything, but I was glad they didn't have a house. But to be sequestered in your own town, you feel like your in prison. If you're from out of town, it's a vacation." How long were you sequestered? "We were sequestered one day a week from 8 in the morning, for like 15 hours." What were those days like? "Boooring. So boring that the final day we were tired of being told don't go there. So every time Mike DeStefano had to smoke up a cigarette, they had a chaperone. Every time I wanted a soda or water, I couldn't go get it. On the last day, I didn't want to say anything, but this guy makes a horrible coffee."
How long have you known Gabriel Iglesias? "We've known each other since he first started doing stand-up. Even when he was a kid on that Nickelodeon show All That. We did a show together, Que Locos. A lot of people never heard about it, but people who were 22 years old saw me on that when they were 15…Roger Paul, we helped him and Mike Robles assemble Latino comedians, then after we ran out of Latinos we got the best of the best…that show was #1 on a Spanish station. The only English stand-up comedy show to be on a Spanish station. We went on a 40-city tour because of this show."
Did you have previous experience with comedy competitions, and how did LCS compare to those? "Not really, just the ones at regular clubs. I did the Boston Comedy Festival. I made the semifinals in 2005. I did a show that was hosted by Pablo Francisco, the big show. And I did Premium Blend in 2005 also, and Montreal." (NOTE: Esparza was in the same "New Faces" class as fellow LCS 7 finalist Rachel Feinstein, as well as judge Natasha Leggero?!?) "I thought that was going to be the year, but five years later it happened."
What are a few things about you that TV viewers might not already know? "That I'm the funniest ever. but now they know because I won. Before Last Comic Standing, none of the Improvs or the B clubs would book me. I've been on Comedy Central, Premium Blend, nothing. They'd say, 'You're an ethnic comedian.' But they can't say that now. I didn't win because Latinos voted. I won because everybody voted. A guy told me I was number one in every major market. So take that Bob and Tom, you major assholes!" What did Bob and Tom do? "Did you hear, they said Tommy should have won and that I wasn't funny."
Have people (civilians, comedians or industry) already started treating you differently? "The bus driver let me in for free, and he never does…I did a movie last year called I Am Not Like That No More. I did a movie with Paul Rodriguez, the producer, the guy with all the money, I gave him a complimentary CD. He loved it and he approached me and said how would you like to have a movie based on your 45 minutes? I said i would love that. He hired a screenplay writer, and a director, and we shot it. This is going to play Aug. 26 at Ricardo Montalban Theatre."
"I got asked to throw the first pitch at a Dodgers game next week. And the city of Los Angeles is going to honor me as a hometown hero." He said the first pitch should happen Aug. 18, while the City Council will read a proclamation honoring Esparza on Aug. 20.
Do you have any funny moments that happened behind the scenes of the show that you can share? "Tommy Johnagin, when Tommy, Roy Wood and I went to Glendale Mall, we had two hours to kill. Tommy Johnagin had a nice rental car, it was like a green bumblebee, Transformers, a Chrysler, I don't know what kind, but it's fast, dude, it's fast. Roy was sitting behind us, the transmission blew up, dog. We smelled it halfway to the motel and we were all saying, 'What's that smell, whats that small?' When we got to the hotel, it was busted. What happens when you get a white guy, black guy and a Mexican? Your car breaks down and nobody knows how to fix it."
What are you most looking forward to about going out on the national tour? "Going to new places that I've never been to. I want to go on the road and be like William Shatner, to boldly go where nobody has gone before. Hopefully one day I can wave people goodbye on Saturday Night Live. You know how at the end of the show they have everyone on stage? I always wanted to be there waving and be goofy."
Did you have any side bets with anyone on LCS? "No, but I thought it was hilarious when Roy Wood Jr. went home and Craig said, 'I just lost $400."
Do you have any advice for comedians about trying out for LCS, if there's another season? "I would say this, if you're going to audition next year, from now on, start being funny every time you perform at any major comedy club, whether it's the Improv or Laugh Factory or Gotham or wherever, make sure you kill. Because they might recommend you. I didn't have a manager. I only had a theatrical agent. And have a tight 20 minutes of material that you can break apart into five shows. I'd say write three minutes of material and put that in your pocket. Then write another three minutes and put that in your pocket. And then when the audition comes you'll be ready, and then you'll be ready for the next show. I'd start practicing like a solider! Make sure you're ready."
Since you've won, have you already figured out how you're going to celebrate? "I'm going to try to stay sober. I don't drink. So I'm going to try to stay away from anybody who wants to throw a rap party. I'll be the first Last Comic Standing to go on the show Intervention! There was like a viewing party for me in Tucson, Arizona, in East L.A, and in some little town in California called Hacienda. I went to two of those parties. They were having parties like the Oscars were there. I didn't expect that. It was huge. I had home-field advantage, man! I had people driving from Palm Springs, Napa Valley, San Diego, San Francisco, to go to these tapings. All my fans knew where the live tapings were before I told them. They're computer savvy. There were people screaming every show that I did on Last Comic Standing. I got a standing ovation. They were screaming my name from day one. There was someone waving an old photograph of me that I haven't seen for years."
"I thought maybe this wasn't gong to happen. You don't feel like quitting, because that's not an option. You just keep going but you're sad. But 1999-2005, I was just getting drunk after every show. I was sad, There was just no growth. I was in an airport one day, and then I ran into Teller from Penn and Teller. You know Teller never talks. But he and I were having a conversation about comedy. He told me, he and Penn were doing magic shows with comedy for 12, 13, 14 years without recognition. We had a fan base, but when we went on TV…that's how we becaome what we are now."
Do you know what you're going to do with the money? "I'm going to donate it. Yeah. I'm going to donate some of it to Homeboy Industries, it was started right here by Father Greg Boyle of the Catholic Church. He stated a program called Jobs for the Future, take gangbangers and get them to stop gangbanging by giving them a job. He's written two books, one is called 'Tattoos of the Heart,' the other is called 'Father Greg and the Homeboys.' He baptized some of us and he did my first communion…They helped me, too. You've got to give something back. It's going to look good later on, right? This is the most money I've ever gotten for a gig in my life. I was doing shows where you'd have to look for the promoter at the end of the show to try to get paid. I was doing, just recently I was booked doing shows in Salinas, and I was making less than my deposit of $500."
Do you have a pitch ready for NBC? "I'll get a walk-on role on The Office maybe, or Parks and Recreation." You could work for Craig in the warehouse! "That'd be perfect. I'll be the new supervisor. Or I can get raided and get deported."