Chris Estrada has already been named as a top comic to watch by Time Out L.A and Vulture and was featured by Comedy Central as one of its Up Next Comedians at Clusterfest. Steady on the stand-up stage, Estrada’s next mission is to tackle TV with his new Hulu show, This Fool. In addition to serving as executive producer alongside Fred Armisen and Jonathan Groff, he wrote the series with Corporate creators Jake Weisman, Matt Ingebretson and Pat Bishop.
This Fool follows Julio Lopez (Estrada), a 30-year-old gang rehabilitation nonprofit worker who lives in South Central Los Angeles and lives at home with his mom, grandma and older cousin Luis, who just got out of prison. Over the course of 10 episodes, Julio takes on butting heads with Luis, his longtime on-and-off girlfriend Maggie, birthday attention, billionaires and butter, but never his own problems.
Ahead of the Aug. 12 premiere, Estrada spoke with LA Confidential about working with Michael Imperioli, being inspired by the Coen brothers and what makes him different from Julio.
Your show started out as called Punk A** B****. Why did the title end up changing to This Fool?
I thought it was a little bit gimmicky. It was actually based on a joke that I wrote several years ago. It was ultimately the best thing that could have happened for me. I feel that joke as a title might not give you context or it might give you context for just one guy. In my opinion, I think it presents a binary that in neighborhoods like South Central Los Angeles, you're either a gangster or a wimp. And I think that's a bad binary to think of. I think the character of Julio is neither. I think he's a normal guy in the middle.
This Fool is based on your life and your stand up. What was it like translating your comedy from stand up to stretch out into a tv series?
It was fun. It was a little overwhelming at times because I was part of the writers room, so at some point you feel like your life is being invaded. You're getting asked a lot of questions and you're asking yourself a lot of questions. And by the end of the day you're like, “I'm tired of talking about myself.”
It was really cool to find ways to find the instances and people from my life and find a way to fit that in the narrative, but also find a way to fictionalize it for other characters. There's an episode, episode three, it's titled “Emotional Timothy.” One of the stories is that the character Luis and the character Minister Payne, played by Michael Imperioli, have to go get an engagement ring back from Luis’ ex-fiance. And that was actually inspired by something I did for one of my friends.
How is Julio different from you?
I probably think Julio would have been who I could have been if I didn't start stand-up comedy. I think Julio is maybe an old version of myself of having an existential dread and possibly being codependent. I remember at one point in my life finding myself helping others, but it wasn't for altruistic reasons. It was usually to avoid my own problems.
Between Julio’s t-shirts and Maggie’s apartment decor, there is a lowkey punk aesthetic all over the show. Can you tell us more about that?
I really wanted to instill this punk rock element to the character, but also to the world. I think neighborhoods like Inglewood, South Central, Compton, East L.A., these working class areas, you'll find a lot of young Latino people who are into punk music. I was able to get a Love and Rockets t-shirt from the comic book series into the show. I wore a Bad Brains t-shirt, I wore a Clash t-shirt. I wanted to get those elements in there and play it very casually and not make a big scene out of it.
Maggie was inspired by some of the women I dated in the past, and a lot of the women that I dated in the past were into what I was into. It was really cool to also show her as a character who lives in that area and likes alternative culture and not make a big deal out of it because to most of those people who live down there, it's not a big deal. It's just their lives. It was really cool to have a Siouxsie and the Banshees poster. Generación Suicida is a band that I really like who’s from South Central and I thought let's get some of their stuff in there. I thought it would be really cool. I thought it would mean something to people who are into that.
Are you a fan of The Sopranos?
I think it's the greatest show of all time.
What was it like working with Michael Imperioli? Before he joined the cast, was it already in the script that Minister Payne used to own a strip club?
He’s a Unitarian minister and we found that Unitarianism is steeped in liberalism and leftist ideology. And so we thought that would be a cool way to make him a minister without being dogmatic, without making him Catholic or Christian. We also thought of him as a guy with a past, a guy who's trying to right his wrongs from the past. So we thought to ourselves, “Wouldn't it be cool if he has this crazy dark past?” I think a lot of times liberals in TV are sometimes painted as dorky or have nebbish qualities and I just thought to myself that there are a lot of old school lefties that are tough people. A lot of these guys were informed by the Vietnam War,
We wrote that at one point he owned a strip club, at one point he used to be a gunrunner in El Salvador.
Working with him was great. It was a little intimidating at first because it's Michael Imperioli and also being a fan of not just his acting, but he wrote a movie called Summer of Sam that I really love. And he has a band that I really like. But what let my guard down was how supportive he was of the project and how excited he was about it.
LA Confidential also recently spoke with Michelle Ortiz, who plays Maggie. She mentioned how important it is for you that people know This Fool is in South Central and not East L.A. Can you tell us more?
I didn't grow up in East LA. And I think oftentimes when people see shows about Latinos in Los Angeles, the assumption is that they must be in East Los Angeles because East Los Angeles has a long history with being a Latino neighborhood.
I wanted the show to feel the way South Los Angeles feels, the way Compton feels, the way South Central fields, the way Inglewood feels, which is that they're usually half Black, half Latino neighborhoods. I wanted to make sure that there was a black presence to the show that felt authentic.
In an interview from the end of last year, you said that if you had the power to remove anything from the comedy world right now, it would be profoundness in stand-up comedy. Do you feel the same way for TV comedy?
Yes and no. I think there was a wave in stand-up comedy that was trying to be profound and trying to tell people the way life is that left the world unfunny a little bit. I think in TV, we're in this age of dramedies, and what I wanted to do was create a show that wasn't scared of being funny, but didn't sacrifice that for being smart and cinematic. I like it a little more on TV because I think if you just focus on the element of funny, it can come off as slapstick. But I think in TV because it's such a narrative art form and, it can be a cinematic art form, I think intelligence matters. And I think nuance and subtlety is important to the writing, but I also didn't want to have a show that was afraid to be funny as well.
I hope that they think it's a really funny, smart, weird comedy. That's what I'm really hoping that it stands out from what they usually might watch.
You had a tweet from 2020 that reads, “5 years ago I worked the Golden Globes as a valet driver at The Beverly Hilton and told myself one day I’ll be here accepting an award. Today I’m a comedian/writer and I have to go to bed early because I have an early shift at the warehouse tomorrow. Remember dreams are bull****.” The tv show where you write, star and executive produce is about to premiere. Do you still think dreams are bull****?
Yes and no. I was working at a warehouse at the time and I thought it was really funny… I think people get romantic about dreams. And I think sometimes pragmatism is the thing because I think to myself like, “I didn't dream this, but I think I probably worked for it.”
Do you think Julio has dreams?
I don't think he does. I think he has dreams, but I think his existentialism and depression get in the way.
What else is important to know about This Fool?
I think if I could say anything, we were really inspired by films. We were really inspired by the Coen brothers. One of our favorite films that was a really good template for it was A Serious Man.
I think the Coen brothers make grounded movies that feel slightly surreal, and I think that's what we wanted to have. Especially in A Serious Man, because I thought it was really interesting that there’s a Jewish mysticism to the movie that starts off with a curse and if you betray God, everything will go bad for you and if you betray your own ethics and morals and it sends that character into a world of destruction. We kept thinking about my character in that way in some episodes. There's an episode where Julio’s grandma was like, “I think there’s a curse,” and he was like, “I don't believe in that stuff.” It just sets off this destruction that takes over the episode.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Tyler Golden/Hulu; Gilles Mingasson/Hulu