The Last Comic Standing live tour coming to the Omaha Music Hall on Nov. 20 features the finalists from the seventh season of the NBC comedy competition show, including winner Felipe Esparza.
Even before capturing the televised contest this past summer, Esparza lived the dream of standup stardom he first harbored growing up in the rough Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles.
Now he's a headliner just like the comedy kings he idolized -- Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Paul Rodriguez. He has a network development deal, comedy albums and two movies to his credit. He counts Rodriguez, his co-star in The Deported and I'm Not Like that No More, as a close friend and mentor. Sharing top billing with someone he admires is a little surreal.
"It's the best feeling in the world. I’m on Cloud Nine, if there is such a thing. I love it," Esparza said by phone from a tour stop in Milwaukee. "Paul Rodriguez is a really good guy. He’s cool. He took me on the road with him and I opened for him. He paid me well and took care of me. We became good friends actually."
Esparza says when some suggested his act was too ethnic Rodriguez advised him to stay true to himself. By doing as Rodriguez urged, Esparza eventually broke through with mainstream audiences.
"Before “Last Comic Standing” that's all I was considered (an ethnic comic),” says Esparza. “That's why I never went on the road, I never got booked, I wasn't famous enough or my comedy was too ethnic. A lot of Latino comedians I started out with kept telling me, 'You gotta cross over to white people.' Then I met Paul Rodriguez, who told me, 'Thats' all bull shit, if you're funny they will cross over to you,' and that’s what's happened. Now I’m not just famous with Latinos, I’m famous with everybody."
Esparza, who writes all his own material, says it's as simple as "if you write jokes that are funny you don't have to change nothing."
But he says if it wasn't for “Last Comic” he wouldn't even be on the same bill "with three white guys and a black guy," as he is on tour, because he would be the brown man out.
The comic has come far from a youth drug addiction that derailed him for a time. Once he got clean and sober, he went after his dream.
"I had just come out of drug rehab and my head was clear, I had goals and ambitions again. I didn't know what to do, but the first thing that popped in my head was, I want to be a comedian."
Breaking into the business meant screwing up his courage to go on stage and taking his lumps to learn the craft.
read more: ‘Last Comic Standing’ King Felipe Esparza Headlines Omaha Show