Last month, Felipe Esparza won NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” taking home $250,000 and a TV development deal. But the story of how he got there is pretty amazing.
Esparza’s life has not been a laughing matter. He grew up in a housing project. His father was a welder, while his mother was employed by public schools as a playground worker. And it was no small matter for the struggling couple with seven kids to keep Felipe in line.
He became involved with a gang “just for the drugs,” started drinking at 15 and by 19, he said, he was an alcoholic.
His mother, fearing that her son would soon wind up another drive-by victim, went to the priest at Dolores Mission, their parish. Jesuit Father Greg Boyle came to the family’s house and talked to Esparza, persuading him to turn in a weapon and telling him about a drug treatment center that had helped other youths with their addictions.
Esparza wound up staying at the center for more than a year and returned for another six months as a volunteer. While he was going through the 12-step program, the priest visited him and offered encouragement.
Now, he said he has been sober for more than 12 years. He believes his time in the center helped him to focus on himself and realize what his dreams were.
His first real stand-up gig came when he was 24 at a natural food coffee shop in Los Angeles where would-be comics could perform after spending $3. He would buy the cheapest thing on the menu, a $2.50 “nutburger” and a soda. And every Tuesday night, the owner would film the comedians so anybody who had the local access channel on cable could catch the entire show. “That was my first TV break,” he said.
From there he performed weekly for a tough audience at a biker bar where he said “every week for me was the same audience, and every week they heckled me. The better I got at comedy, the better the audience was at heckling me. But it helped me with my joke writing,” he told The Tidings, archdiocesan newspaper of Los Angeles.
There’s much more at the CNS link.