Stand-up comedian Felipe Esparza’s fondest memory of Tucson was the first time he tasted the ranch fries from Eegee’s.
It was before one of Esparza’s first shows in town more than a decade ago. He was performing a double bill with fellow Angeleno, funny-man Gabriel Iglesias.
“They brought it in and I had never had anything like it before,” Esparza said from his home in Los Angeles. “It had bacon bits and ranch on it. Jack In The Box had something like that eventually, but it was never as good.”
Esparza has come a long way since those early Tucson visits. 2014 marks his 20th year in the business.
His first one-hour special debuted on Showtime in 2011 and he recently launched his own “What’s Up Fool” podcast, a free download available through iTunes.
He performs at the Rialto Theatre Friday.
Esparza spoke to Caliente last week about the podcast, his career in comedy and his upcoming show.
Why take on podcasting? “I wasn’t doing anything in the mornings. (Comedians) Al Madrigal and Bill Burr run the All Things Comedy network. Al asked if I wanted to start a podcast. I’ve been on podcasts before, with shows hosted by Neal Brennan, Moshe Kasher, Jim Jefferies, Joey Diaz. I have gotten a lot of followers through those podcasts that like my stories. I decided to start a podcast for people who know more about me than I do.”
What’s the format? “If I run into somebody on the street that I find interesting, I put them on the podcast. There are no segments, just freeform, like ‘This American Life’ on NPR.”
What kind of people have you found? “In Hollywood, they have people who dress up like super heroes and hand out fliers. I got ahold of the Incredible Hulk and interviewed him.
“That was one of the craziest stories I ever heard. The guy came to California from North Carolina to be an actor when he was 15. The day he got here, the same night, the L.A. riots started. Welcome to Los Angeles.”
You started comedy in 1994. What were those early days like? “I started in 1994, but then I quit. I had a kid and didn’t do comedy for another two years.”
What brought you back? “I was bored at my job. I was making hot dogs at Dodger Stadium. I knew that I wanted to do comedy. I liked hanging out with comedians. The first time I did stand-up, I got to hang out with other comedians like Jamie Kennedy. It was the first time I hung out with people not in my neighborhood. It was fun.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned after 20 years in comedy? “Be nice to everybody. You meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down.”
Is comedy still entertaining for you? “It gets boring when I get tired of the material. I already know the material from my last one-hour special backwards and forwards. I am working on a new one-hour special. That gets me excited, writing a new hour.”
Will you be testing that material in Tucson? “Yes. My material in Tucson will be 90 percent new. No, say 95 percent. Say 99 percent new.”