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Felipe Esparza talks HBO special ‘Translate This’

October 4, 2017
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Felipe Esparza talks HBO special ‘Translate This’ (Photo courtesy HBO)

Comedian and actor Felipe Esparza is known for pulling real and raw moments from his own life and mining them for comedy gold. The 2010 winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” Esparza has a new HBO stand-up special called “Translate This.” The show is produced by his wife Lesa ODaniel Esparza and directed by Claude Shires.

“It’s very important to me,” Esparza explained during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “We filmed it at the San Jose Improv and shopped it around. HBO saw it before anyone else and they bought it. It’s the most special-est special ever for me, because I’ve always wanted to be on HBO.”

Esparza uses every part of his life as potential material for his comedy, including his former life as an East LA gangbanger and drug dealer. Following a stint in rehab and a series of odd jobs, Esparza turned his life around by using his gift to make others laugh.

“A lot of the people in my school were bullies,” Esparza said of his childhood. “I didn’t have to be their friend for them to accept me or to leave me alone. I would just say something funny and other people would repeat it around the school. It would go viral and I would get credit for it. Some people ask if I was the class clown. I say ‘No, but I used to open up for him.’”

Esparza isn’t proud of some of the things that he did during his former life, but he has found a way to incorporate them in his current success.

“I used to be a horrible person,” the father of four remembered. “I sold marijuana to my son’s mom’s new husband. Then I would take his money and give it to her as child support. It was my ‘420 pyramid scheme.’”

Esparza credits a Catholic priest and the leader of a program for high-risk youth for recognizing his potential.

“Father Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries helped me find a better way of living,” Esparza said. “He works with kids on the street, and kids who come out of prison. When I won ‘Last Comic Standing,’ I donated some of my money to his cause.”

After a show last week in flood-ravaged Houston, Esparza donated half of the proceeds to the Houston Food Bank and the Friends for Life animal shelter.

“I don’t take any of my success for granted,” he said. “I feel that it’s my turn to help other people. I spoke at a home for troubled kids up in the mountains recently. I don’t know if they have them in Maine, but here in California they have a military group that picks up bad kids and takes them to a boot camp for six days where they straighten them out. I went there and it was really amazing. I was able to tell the kids about what happened to me. I let them know that there is a way out.”

 In addition to a busy stand-up schedule, Esparza also has a recurring role on the NBC comedy “Superstore” and is the host of the popular weekly podcast “What’s Up Fool?” where he interviews random people that he finds interesting. In addition, he has developed a sitcom with comedian Dustin Ybarra, to be produced by 3Arts Entertainment. The single-camera comedy, featuring the pair as brothers, is being pitched now to Fox. 

I asked Esparza if he could share the best piece of advice he has ever received. He didn’t need to time to think.

“It was from the comedian Paul Rodriguez,” Esparza said. “I was about eight years into my comedy career and I was worried about crossing over and making it. He said ‘Felipe, worry about being funny first.’ He said that if I worried about being funny, and then became funny, they would cross over to me. And that’s what happened.”

Felipe Esparza’s comedy special “Translate This” can be seen now on HBO on demand. 

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