Spotlight on the Brown: Gilbert Esquivel

Getting down with the Crown Prince of Chicano Comedy

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: October 10, 2004

Spotlight on the Brown: Gilbert Esquivel

We all need a good laugh once in a while. Everybody's heard the story about the guy who forced his cancer into remission by secluding himself and indulging in comedy films, basically laughing himself well.

Reader's Digest has had a section called "Laughter, the Best Medicine" for many years. That title is not a misnomer, by any means. It is one of their most popular sections.

Many times in our lives, when personal tragedy or hard times are upon us, a good laugh is what gets us through, especially when we can share it. Comedians have become a staple of nightclub acts in places like Las Vegas, Hollywood, New York, and other large cities where people from all walks of life congregate. Their growing popularity is testament to people's need to laugh while living life.

Whenever you ask anybody about their best friend or friends, you can be sure that besides the quality of loyalty & trust, the ability to make one laugh is among the inventory.

That said, let me share with you a friend of mine, who makes a lot of people laugh.

This month's Spotlight on the Brown is the Crown Prince of Chicano Comedy, Mr. Gilbert Esquivel.

Known affectionately as "Kiki" to friends & family, Gilbert is one of those unique Brown individuals that is on a mission to truly enjoy life, and take as many Raza with him as he can.

Born in Parma, Idaho, in a migrant farmworker camp to campensino parents, Gilbert grew up moving from place to place with his 4 brothers & 2 sisters, as his parents followed the crops to support the family, finally settling in Pacoima, California, when he was 12 years old.

Growing up in the notorious Pacoima Flats Barrio of the San Fernando Valley, also known as "Pacas", Gilbert recalls numerous brushes with the law , as well as deep exposure to domestic violence, drug & alcohol abuse, gang violence, and poverty. Laughingly, Gilbert easily states "Man...some of the stuff I've been through, I should have been planted or put away a long time ago". Like many a street surviving "Veterano" from almost any Barrio, Gilbert readily admits that many of his childhood friends are either dead or doing long time in prison, with but a few exceptions.

"Hey, man...laughing was sometimes all I could do to deal with the pain in my life...and I had a lot of pain".

Like a lot of young guys back in the day, traveling to other towns was not only exciting and new, but an escape from the 'hood for a while. It was on one of these excursions that Gilbert met his wife Louisa. Entering a lip sync contest at a niteclub, Gilbert & Louisa were both contestants, after being introduced by family friends. Louisa won, lip syncing the song "Do me baby", to which Gilbert laughs "...and it was all over after that! I fell in love!...even though I was mad I lost to her!" Gilbert & Louisa have been happily married for over 17 years.

Gilbert admits that the love & support from his wife, as well as his mother & siblings, is what has helped him survive in the world. "Just wanting to do do better, for them, is a big motivating factor. My mom had the kind of unconditional, unquestionable love for me, no matter what I did, that I couldn't see myself getting old & letting her or the family down. My wife and my brother Rudy serve as my managers, my best friends".

I first met Gilbert in 2000, while he was doing a benefit concert for the students of San Fernando High School with another street survivor friend of his from Pacoima, Sal Rodriguez of WAR fame. We have kept in contact, being a fan of each other's over the years, with us inviting each other to each other's shows. I have been a fan of his longer than I've known him, starting off when he first appeared on Culture Clash's Fox TV Show in 1995, and later on BET's Comic View in 1998.

Gilbert has become known for his unique "Barrio/Ghetto Soul" routine, easily mixing ethnic humor-poverty-street issues-music into a laughable tonic that invites you to take more than a spoonful. Gilbert says he was bitten by the comic bug back in 1991, when he attended a comedy show at the famed Icehouse in Pasadena. During one of the routines, a comedian began engaging the audience when he decided to "pick" on Gilbert, who, calling upon his sharp street wit & quick tongue, simply stole the show and the moment. "That was all it took", Gilbert says, "I was hooked on making people laugh." He later entered and won the very first Latino Comedy Search at the Icehouse, from then on making his way to T.V., Radio, & studio roles. He has appeared on my show twice this year alone.

He has appeared at Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas, at the Apollo Theater in New York, as well as such prestigious L.A. landmarks as the Ha Ha Cafe, the Commerce Casino, and the World renowned Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. He has also hosted the Tejano Music Showcase in Las Vegas, as well as appeared at this year's Latin Music Festival in San Bernardino. His unique act which includes comedy, music, & dancing in a manner nobody else does, is something you gotta see!

I have been privileged to work closely with him on different occassions and despite his success & popularity, he remains a humble and approachable guy. "Some of those big name places were a rush, yeah...but some of my most rewarding performances I've done for the Gente at charity events, schools, churches, and believe it or not, prisons. No you get some stranger who is hittin' hard times or doing hard time, and they come up to me after a performance and say 'thanks... you helped me out of a deep depression', or 'you helped get thru a hard time'... I can't get paid enough for that look in people's eyes..I love my Raza. Somebody has to keep 'em laughing, and that's my gift from God ."

As I was interviewing Kiki for this piece prior to his going on stage at the Commerce Casino on a Wednesday night at Rudy Moreno's "Joker's Club", he got the call. Standing erect and walking up on stage to a loud ovation, Gilbert Esquivel was in his element, and clearly in "the zone". A truly funny guy!

I couldn't help but feel proud of this brother, as Rudy Moreno & others in the Casino lounge did too, as we laughed so hard to Gilbert's humor & wit...our friend & "homie".

...Go head on, Kiki! Si se puede, Carnal!!

note: Gilbert Esquivel can be reached thru his website at for all future performance dates.

About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme spins the finest Chicano Oldies & Latin Soul on the World Wide Web every Thursday.

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