Felipe Esparza is not a comedian for the people, but he is a comedian of the people.
“I had a joke in my [HBO comedy special “Translate This”] where people will ask me, ‘Felipe you’re a comedian, what do you think about immigration?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I’m already here,’” said the comedian, writer and actor who is in Denver this week prior to the New Year’s Eve performance of his latest tour “Bad Decisions” at the Paramount Theatre.
When asked if people often put pressure on him to be something more than he is because of his Mexican heritage and the current political climate, Esparza said that the undue pressure is not just put on him, but many known and recognized comedians.
“They put that on everybody, they put that on all Latinos - especially George (Lopez), Paul Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias,” said Esparza, who was born in Sinaloa and raised in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. “People will say, ‘how come you don’t do more political jokes or why don’t you talk more about this?’ And I will say, ‘dude I am not your savior. I am not taking nobody to the promise land.’ My jokes are not to study, go ask somebody else, I am not a leader.”
Leader or not, Esparza has been leading a growing following for over 20 years - finding an audience that ranges widely across the age spectrum.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, some of my fans were 10 when they first saw me and now they’re 25,” he said. “I have fans right now who are 11 and they tell their mom and dad about me and their mom and dad have never heard of me. And those little kids can’t even go to my show, all they have is YouTube.”
Though involved in the scene for 20 years, Esparza saw his break come in the form of reality TV on the popular NBC series Last Comic Standing. After claiming victory in that platform he was on his way to becoming one of the most popular a recognizable faces in the next generation of stand up and he used that popularity to build a following that now tracks him everywhere.
“[Promoters] are surprised when I go to a new town that books mostly urban acts or white comedians, and I’m there, and it’s sold out,” Esparza said of his traveling fan base. “A show will sell out and I’ll add a second show and it will sell out, they’ll ask me, ‘how did you do this?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘ah man, Facebook.’”
Social media promotion helps, but Esparza’s following is mostly based on his ability to connect with audience across demographics, culture and background. His career has also expanded on the small screen as he has become a regular guest on the NBC sitcom Superstore and continues to provide fans with live shows and stand-up specials.
His current tour, “Bad Decisions” has been playing in several theaters around the nation and now stops in Denver on December 31st.
Though not a complete departure from his stand-up routine, “Bad Decisions” is also not a compilation of greatest hits. Audiences can expect something a little darker, a little edgier and much more visceral as Esparza dives into his past through humor.
“It’s dark,” Esparza said of the subject matter. “My father would beat me a lot, so I’ll talk about child abuse…it took me 26 years to make that heard funny. I’ve been building it and a lot of people can’t deal with it, but it’s funny.”
He added that those who do get it, typically seek him out after to thank him for adding a unique perspective on touchy subjects.
“My fans love it,” he said. “But they know who I am, they know where I’m coming from and they accept it. They’ll come up to me crying telling me, ‘Felipe when you talk about child abuse I remember that that happened to me and I never thought about it that way until you said it on stage.’”
Tickets are still on sale for the performance at the Paramount Theatre. For pricing and information visit FelipesWorld.com.