Troy Conrad
Felipe Esparza. Credit: Troy Conrad

Felipe Esparza is a funny guy—something he proved by winning NBC’s Last Comic Standing back in 2010.

Almost a decade later, the Los Angeles-based comedian has since been featured on comedy specials on HBO and Showtime, and is working with Fox to develop a sitcom. See him for yourself when he returns to the area for a show at Morongo Casino Resort Spa on Sunday, Sept. 15.

Esparza is no stranger to the Coachella Valley—he’s performed before at Spotlight 29, for starters—but during a recent phone interview, he said he’s never performed at Morongo before … although he joked that he has lost a lot of money there.

Esparza said he wants to make the world a better place through comedy. He credits comedy for helping him overcome a drug addiction; in fact, he said he made the decision to pursue a comedy career while in rehab.

“I have people coming up to me after shows all the time, saying they felt terrible all week, but after attending my show, they feel better,” he said.

Making people feel better with jokes is just one aspect of Esparza’s life. He has two rescue dogs (a pit bull and a pit bull mutt) and is a vegan. While Esparza said his comedy is not politically charged, the personal is political, as the saying goes—and since a lot of Esparza’s comedy is personal, it gets political.

Take immigration, for example: Esparza illegally came to the United States as a young immigrant, and he pointed out that many people who love to talk about the issue have no idea what it’s truly like to make the journey. Esparza is quick to commend the bravery of people travelling to this country and risking everything on the way, because he knows the dangers first-hand.

“It was a different time back then,” Esparza, 43, said about the era when his family came to the United States, when he was young. “When Ronald Reagan took over, everything changed, but every generation has their own issues.”

The difference between the 1980s and now, Esparza said, is technology.

“The technology allows us to see what’s going on,” he said. “Most of the outrage and shock over the immigration issue is from young people. Ask anyone who’s 65. They’ll tell you, ‘Man, this has been going on for years. None of this is new.’”

Esparza said talking and arguing online (“fighting on Instagram,” as he put it) won’t lead to change. He believes that change comes from getting out and doing work in the streets—via volunteering and charity work—and being present for life’s responsibilities, like work and loved ones. 

Esparza said he’s planning on filming an entire show in Spanish and an entire show in English during his current tour, for an upcoming Netflix special. He said he’s proud to follow in the footsteps of other Latino comedians, like George Lopez, Carlos Mencia, and so on.

“People aren’t used to seeing people like me,” he says.

To Esparza, wellness is important, and he regularly hops on the treadmill. He also spends a lot of time on his What’s Up Fool? podcast, during which he talks with other comics about the work they do and tries to build a supportive community. It’s all an extension of how he was before he was famous, when he said he would work on his routine with co-workers or tell his jokes to strangers, practicing his act in front of anyone who would listen. Esparza also tries to never makes jokes that hurt people—although he does take chances, because that’s what comedy is all about.

Felipe Esparza will perform at 6 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 15, at the Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $39. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit