Art often imitates life. And for Chris Estrada—LA-raised writer, actor and comedian—spending his youth in Inglewood and South Central LA provided plenty of life experience for artistic material.
As co-creator and star of Hulu’s critically-acclaimed This Fool, Estrada will be back on TV when the second season of the charming, wildly funny comedy series returns this July. But this weekend, he brings five sets of standup to the Improv in San Jose.
Highlighting facets of Mexican-American culture and tradition, This Fool is an incredibly engaging comedy centered on “punk ass bitch” Julio Lopez (played by Estrada), his life and family, and his attempts to navigate working class life in South Central, Los Angeles.
Like his character, Estrada was a late bloomer, diving headfirst into the comedy scene through stand up and open mics at 29 years old.
“There were a few rooms in South Central, Inglewood…I went to those open mics when I could, but there weren’t that many or that often. I also went to rooms in East LA that had more of a Latino base.”
After frequenting venues throughout these two LA boroughs for a year or so, he expanded to the Greater LA area, performing at open mic nights in Hollywood and Downtown LA venues.
“When I started branching out and going to different places, I was one of the few Latino comics,” he says. “I didn’t start comedy until ten years ago, but there’s always been a lot of variety—Black, Palestinian, you name it—in the stand up scene in LA.”
The funnyman cites Colin Quinn, Maria Bamford, Greg Giraldo, Dave Atell and Last Comic Standing winner Felipe Esparza as some of his comedic influences.
Estrada’s own delivery and timing are impressive. A cinephile and tv series binger, Estrada fills his own films and television productions with hints of influence from others that have inspired him over the years, films by Scorsese or the Coen Brothers (especially Fargo and Raising Arizona). Television series like Reservation Dogs, The Sopranos, The Wire and Atlanta also inspire the cinematic look, feel and dark humor of the world he’s trying to cultivate for his current Hulu comedy show.
“With Julio, I wanted to play someone similar to me—Mexican American, into punk music and alternative culture. These are the things that defined me, and my taste, growing up,” Estrada says. “With Julio’s character, having him be into punk music and other alternative cultural things was very much, ‘let’s show it, and not talk about it.’”
The series’ set designs and everything from the character’s wardrobes to the music they listen to, feels well-researched and accurately portrayed, adding layers of complexity and dimension to the characters and story on screen.
“Even though I don’t consider myself specifically a ‘Latino’ comedian, if I did a show and there were no Latinos there, I would think something was wrong,” he says. “The hard thing about being a comic sometimes is people put the burden of representation on you. I want to represent without being representational.”
Estrada says he just wants to be himself, “without being profound or corny” in the way he goes about it.
“I think sometimes when you do comedy, and other things in entertainment, people label you as Latino first, then what you are, after. But I don’t think that’s right, or fair. With my comedy, I want to make everyone laugh. Everything I’m doing now, stand up, writing and acting—which I’m newer to—is fun and I love doing it all. But what I really love is creating.”
His first love, however, will always be film.
“The idea is to direct, film, or act in a full feature someday.”
This Fool’s second season is set to air on July 28 on Hulu.
“We approached the show wanting it to look like a movie, cinematic, because that’s my favorite kind of TV,” he says. “I grew up not that far from where they filmed Friday. I love the way the people in the neighborhood were their own heroes and their own villains. This Fool is [like] Friday but directed by the Coen Brothers.”
Fri-Sun, Various Times, $20+
The Improv, San Jose