by Ryan Meehan
Since bursting onto the NYC comedy scene, Erik Rivera’s name has become synonymous with comedy. With quick wit, commanding stage presence, charisma and an infectious smile, Rivera has become a favorite act at comedy clubs, events and colleges throughout the country. He made his Late Night debut on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a recognition that has been a springboard to many comedy greats. Since that prestigious opportunity, Rivera has proven to be on the top of everyone’s list. In the fall of 2013, Eva Longoria and her production company, UnbeliEVAble Productions, developed and sold a half hour comedy sitcom loosely base on and starring Rivera. This year he was chosen as one of the Top 100 comedians to be invited to perform in the re-launch of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. The National Council of La Raza and NBC reached out and tapped Erik as a presenter and official spokesperson for the ALMA Awards and NCLR. NUVO TV also hand selected Erik as their official spokesperson for Hispanic Heritage Month, presenting a daily Factiño commercial series. Rivera is steadily becoming a familiar face on cable networks nationwide as he’s also appeared numerous times on AXS TV, MTV, Comedy Central, TV Guide and NuVO TV. With his diverse audience reach and unparalleled work ethic, Erik is one of the most requested comedians working today. In 2010, he had the privilege of being chosen by NBC to represent their network’s Stand-Up for Diversity College Tour. The tour took Rivera from coast to coast, bringing laughter to over fifty colleges and universities. The National Hispanic Media Coalition invited Erik to be their special guest performer at their annual Impact Awards Gala, which honors Latinos in Entertainment. He has also appeared at The Hollywood Latino Laugh Festival alongside Carlos Mencia, Gabriel Iglesias and Last Comic Standing winner Felipe Esparza to a packed house at The Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, winning the Diamonds in the Rough Award. In 2008, 2009, 2012 & this year Erik was honored to be the only comedian to perform for The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC – the only comedian to date to have been brought back a record number 4 times! In high demand, Rivera continues to tour comedy clubs and colleges nationwide. When not touring, Erik calls both New York City and Los Angeles home and we are pleased to have him as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: You seem to be a guy who is oozing charisma out of every pore…When you were growing up, were you the kid who was always real comfortable in front of an audience? What was your first memory of performing for a group of people during your youth where you had everybody’s undivided attention and completely stole the show?
ER: Hahaha, well growing up I was always comfortable in front of people. My first “performances”, if I can call them that, were in front of family and my mom’s friends. She would invite people over for coffee and lunches and I always took the opportunity to put on shows for them, my mom was mortified that her shy well behaved son would flip that switch and dress up as Popeye the Sailor, Hulk Hogan (I’d get punished for ripping up my shirts – but it was for the show), the Terminator… etc. The company was always entertained and my mom would apologize and promise to get me checked out by the doctor.
RM: How would you best describe your first few stand-up gigs? Did you feel as if things were going very well for you right away, or did it take a while to find your own voice after you decided to try your hand at comedy professionally?
ER: Well, my first time on stage was a success. It was an open mic in Times Square at a place called Hamburger Harry’s. I actually remember getting laughs and comics coming up to me after the show in disbelief that it was my first time. I’m not going to lie, I was hooked after that experience. Don’t get me wrong there were some stinkers after that, but if my first time hadn’t gone so well I might not be doing stand up today.
RM: What are some of the advantages and drawbacks associated with living in each of the regions which you claim residence? How much of the winter months do you spend away from New York City?
ER: New York is the mecca of comedy. If you’re a comedian and want to get good that’s where you go. I’m blessed that I got my start there. There’s so many clubs and stages to get up on. There’s a tight knit community and it’s just more conducive to comedy and growth. Los Angeles is great, but there are fewer clubs and fewer places to get up. On top of that, there’s such a log jam of talent that it’s hard for someone who’s starting out to get up as often and work out a new bit.
RM: What percentage of your act would you say is based off of your ethnicity? Have you ever changed your set on the fly if you walk out and see that a very large portion of the crowd may not get certain references you make about your heritage?
ER: My act is based on my life and upbringing. I usually don’t change much of it because I find that even if the crowd is White, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern…we all share the same experiences of dating, relationships, marriage, kids, crazy parents and in-laws.
RM: When you’re doing a set at a show that doesn’t seem to be going as well as expected, how do you go about re-focusing your energy towards turning that room around? When that is happening, do you change your approach with regards to how you plan to ensure that everyone in the venue leaves with a smile on their face?
ER: Hahahaha, I love the phrase “doesn’t seem to be going as well as expected”, just because it sounds nicer than “bombing.” Some crowds will make you work a little harder – whether it’s someone before you went up and said something they didn’t like, the atmosphere, the weather, something happened in the club… whatever. As a comedian it’s your job to address it and fix it. I always say these nights are like the movie Flight starring Denzel, the plane is going down and I’m going to do my best to roll this plane and land it. Sometimes the fix is as easy as addressing the elephant in the room, it’s funny to see some comedians rather ignore it and keep digging themselves in a hole.
RM: If you had to classify what you do for a living as more of an art or a science and you couldn’t answer with “equal parts both”; which of those two classifications would you say more accurately describes your work and why?
ER: It’s definitely a bit of both. Comedy really is a science. Crafting a joke is like a formula. Once you get all the parts correct you have an amazing joke that gets the optimal laughter. The art form is then getting on stage and presenting it effortlessly. I think that’s the part people don’t understand. We go up there and make it look so effortless that everyone thinks they can do what we do… that is until they actually attempt it and see how hard it really is.
RM: What’s the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to you on stage? How did you deal with that at the time; and if it happened to you tonight would you handle it any differently?
ER: I did a show where I got no reaction whatsoever. I’ll usually get something… a laugh, chuckle, smile…but that night nothing. Three jokes in I finally asked a very important question, “Does anyone speak English here?” No one did. It was a show for foreign exchange students but they failed to tell me. If it happened to me tonight, the same thing would happen unless I spoke fluent German, Portuguese and Italian.
RM: Which aspect of the joke writing procedure would you say allows for your biggest strengths to shine; and why do you think you excel at that particular skill within your craft?
ER: My biggest strength I’d say is my ease to talk about my experiences and family in a positive light. I think it put both men and women at ease in the crowd when I talk about my marriage and wife but not in a negative light. Women you’ll find do control the way your night turns out, so if I go up there and talk negative about women, the guy on a date can’t fully enjoy a joke or laugh at something she may not find funny. So I’m male and female Approved!
RM: When do you know that it’s time to eliminate a bit in your act that has been successful for some time? Do you have a certain set of criteria for evaluating jokes that could potentially be nearing the end of their life cycle?
ER: Well as of last year, I’m currently putting my old hour to retirement. I taped and released my hour special “I’m No Expert”. That’s how most comics will do it, start with a clean slate and start building a new hour. Also as you grow in life, things may have to go since you’re no longer there in your life. Once I got married, my “dating” material went out the window. Once we had our son, all my “I don’t think I want kids” jokes were put to sleep. So it’s constantly changing.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
ER: Well definitely check out my special “I’m No Expert” available on iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon Instant, Playstation and XBox. I’ve got some dates coming up, so definitely check out my site or follow me on social media – I’m always posting. And still out in LA working on projects and hopefully getting the Erik Rivera Show on the air soon!
Official Website: http://www.erikrivera.com/
Erik on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/erikriverafans
Erik on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/erikrivera
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