- Frankie Leal
Gangs, God and cocaine: These are just a few tales from Felipe Esparza's world. His storytelling and deep baritone voice immediately separated him from other contestants on NBC's 2010 season of Last Comic Standing. One Showtime special—They're Not Gonna Laugh at You—and seven years later, Esparza wasn't going to wait on anyone to hand him his next opportunity. Instead, he and his wife put up their own money and shot Translate This live at the San Jose Improv.
"I didn't know where it was going to go," Esparza told podcast host and fellow comedian Bill Burr last fall. "I hope it goes to Netflix—somewhere." But it was HBO that admired Esparza's style, so the network ended up buying the special.
Born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but raised in East Los Angeles, Esparza has become something of a hero in his old Boyle Heights neighborhood, donating to Homeboy Industries, a support program for former gang members. "My neighborhood was in the housing projects," he told Burr. "I was selling crack on my first day; within one hour, I got robbed." Since then, Esparza has completely changed his life, but still has a tough side to him, calling out those who refer to him an "overnight success" during a December 2017 appearance on LATV's The Zoo: "Wow man—how long did I sleep?" Esparza curates a "smile now, cry later" genre of comedy, forged over decades of performing at improvs and nightclubs, and has proven he's got something not only for Latino audiences, but for everyone. (Rachelle Fernandez)
Felipe Esparza @ Wiseguys West Jordan, 3763 W. Center Park Drive, West Jordan, May 10, 7:30 p.m.; May 11-12, 7 & 9:30 p.m., $20, 21+, wiseguyscomedy.com
- Brent Uberty
Pioneer Theatre Co.: Mamma Mia!
Actor Dan Sharkey didn't always have a positive attitude toward Mamma Mia!, the lively musical inspired by the songs of ABBA—though it's understandable why. Sharkey (pictured above right) auditioned for a role in the original Broadway cast, and when he didn't land it, he "wrote it off after that," he recalls. Then, around five years ago, his 80-year-old mother wanted to see the show in Las Vegas. "I was watching her watch the show, and saw how much fun she was having," Sharkey says. "I think that's when I started forgiving the show. It can be really silly, yet also really poignant."
That poignant story weaves the Swedish super-group's pop hits into the tale of a young woman who, on the eve of her wedding, tries to learn the identity of her biological father, and contacts the three men from her mother's journals who could be the guy (Sharkey plays one of the paternal prospects). The fact that it works as more than a "jukebox musical," Sharkey attributes to its sense of optimism. "We tend to be in a dark time politically," Sharkey says. "I think it's important to go be able to go to the theater, and come out with a sense of hope."
It also offers a unique energy for the actor, who self-deprecatingly describes himself as "kind of a big guy, a bald older man. This is a chance to do something totally different. I'm dancing a lot, which is pretty hilarious. ... It's usually, 'You stand over there until we're done dancing, and then you come back.'" (Scott Renshaw)
Pioneer Theatre Co.: Mamma Mia! @ Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, 801-581-6961, May 11-26, dates and times vary, $42-$69, pioneertheatre.org
- Stacy Mark Entertainment
Hannibal Buress is a very funny fellow, a man prone to share everyday insights from a candid and unassuming point of view. His multitude of credits span several standup specials, a role on Comedy Central's Broad City, his stint as co-host of Adult Swim's The Eric Andre Show, his gigs writing for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, his big-screen appearances in the films Daddy's Home (also starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg), Baywatch and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and his voiceovers in the animated features The Secret Life of Pets and The Angry Birds Movie.
That's an impressive résumé, and it might explain why his current national stand-up tour is selling so well. Recently, however, the public has also been revisiting the headlines Buress made in 2014 when, during a performance at a Philadelphia nightclub, he publicly called Bill Cosby a rapist while deriding him for his preachy image. At the time, those allegations had rarely been publicly acknowledged. "People think I'm making it up," Buress had begun. "Bill Cosby has a lot of rape allegations ... When you leave here, Google 'Bill Cosby rape.'" While Buress merely repeated what many people secretly suspected, it gave Cosby's accusers the ammunition they needed, and ultimately led the man once touted as America's favorite father to a very public disgrace.
There's more to Google now. Two weeks ago, Cosby was convicted of accosting three women and sentenced to prison. Buress, who once insisted he never expected his comments to go viral, has declined to comment. However, in fanning the flames, he proved that comedy is sometimes serious business. (Lee Zimmerman)
Hannibal Buress @ The Complex, 536 W. 100 South, May 12, doors 7 p.m., $34.50, thecomplexslc.com
- Brian Smyer
Tracy Aviary Urban Bird Festival
From our country's mascot to everyone's favorite big yellow Muppet, birds have a central place in our culture—but since they're usually soaring over our heads, it can sometimes be hard to appreciate them. Hosted by the Tracy Aviary, the Urban Bird Festival brings the community together to celebrate our feathered friends and meet them up close and in person with crafts, tours and demonstrations to engage and inspire all ages.
The festival was founded in 2007 according to Julie Roehner, the aviary's marketing and events coordinator. "The goal of the festival is to interest and educate non-birders about birds and their environments," Roehner says, "in hopes they will become engaged and take the next step in their connection with nature."
The festival schedule is packed with activities aimed at educating the public on local birds and how best to coexist with them. The opening day includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Expedition Kea exhibit, which is home to not only kea, but other Australian and African birds as well. And like many of Tracy Aviary's projects, visitors won't be the only ones to enjoy the benefits. Kea are the world's only Alpine parrots, and are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Natures' Red List. "With decreasing populations caused by human conflict and habitat loss," Roehner says, "Tracy Aviary, in partnership with the association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, is starting an innovative breeding program where young kea will mingle to find their soulmates." So come support some important bird lovin'. (David Miller)
Urban Bird Festival @ Tracy Aviary, 859 E. 1300 South, May 12-13, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., $7.95-$11.95, tracyaviary.org