I was very proud and honored to have interviewed Fil-Am actor and comedian, Erick Esteban, who is also a fellow Pinoy from Chicago. For those of you who don’t already know, Erick Esteban is the man behind the very popular character Minny Pacquiao, Manny Pacquiao’s shortest biggest fan. In this interview, Erick Esteban discussed his journey from growing up Filipino-American in Chicago to his journey as an actor in Chicago then to Los Angeles. You can hear my full interview with Erick Esteban that’s 25 minutes long.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Erick Esteban. I’ve been an actor, comedian, and writer for almost thirteen years. I started in Chicago in the northside, where I’m from. My mom and dad are from Manila, Philippines. I’m a city kid, so most of the stuff I do has an urban and hip hop feel to it. A lot of what I do now with The One Too Productions that I started about two years ago is where I get to tell a lot of our stories.
I went to University of Illinois at Chicago back when there was still cement and all nice and natural. I’m showing my age. Then I went to Act One Studios and met a mentor of mine by the name of Steve Merle. He told me to I needed to get headshots because I’m going to work. Then I audition for my first professional play and it started from there. Then I went on to do more formal training at Second City and the thing I hold in most regard is the Improv Olympics because I was able to study with Del Close, who is the godfather of American comedy. Just being able to sit in a room, where he was able to comment on comedy was an education and for him to critique my work was incredible. After that, school has been really the stage for me. I did a lot of travelling including children’s theater or doing an improve show in a classroom or gymnasium. So it was really like a guerilla back in training throughout my whole theater career in Chicago which was awesome and essential to everything that has gotten me to this point.
What are your experiences growing up as Filipino-American in the northside of Chicago?
There’s one particular story that always recurs in my head which is almost all inspiration for my comedy and all of the things I want to produce and write. It was when I was in third grade or fourth grade at our school’s cultural day. Every kid would stand up and say where they were from. Everyone was Polish, Irish, or German, you know. Then I stood up and said Filipino proudly. The whole class then erupted in laughter and I’ll always remember that day because of how bad I felt. I didn’t feel bad because I felt that they were making fun of me. It was because I knew they never heard the word. For me, my goal now as an actor and artist is to make sure that never happens to another kid. So they know what Filipino means.
How did you get into your chosen profession?
There was a moment when I took a class in acting on a dare from a girlfriend and did a scene from Death of a Salesman and there was also an audition where the very first audition I went to was for RENT. I was able to go all the way through the director. I always believe in real omens and signs that tell you that you’re on the right path. There have been many points in my career where I say, “ok if I don’t get this, I really should just find a regular job.” But luckily enough something else happens like I book a commercial or there’s a good sign or somebody wants to interview me because I made a goofy character.
The Romance of Magno Rubio is one of my favorite stage productions. What does that performance mean to you and do you see yourself a part of that production again in the near future?
That show was the turning point of my career. In Chicago, we’re a strong community of Filipinos, but there’s not as many of us as there are in the West Coast and East Coast. But we all try to stick together. The idea of being able to do a full big production at the Victory Gardens, where I use to go see shows and dream to be on that stage, now was I on that stage playing a Filipino changed my life. It was one of those things that I was supposed to do and I’m willing to tell a Filipino story as much as I can. With that said, I’m also an actor so if people want me to play a Puerto Rican, Cuban, or whatever else, I can do that. That is why I wanted to be an actor in the first place was to create and manipulate characters so I can tell a story. Magno Rubio was the best story I ever told, so far.
I would love to go back, but we did the show and hopefully they would do it again. But there is nothing for now on that production.
How was it transitioning from stage to comedy and then to YouTube?
Out here in L.A., if they want to get a Filipino, they will get a guy who looks Filipino, but there aren’t any roles. The transition was I actually started out in Chicago at the Second City so comedy was more of my background. In Chicago, there’s theater and limited film work, but the work you get is the work you get. Regardless of the role, I feel you should just grab the role. I really just wanted to work, whereas in L.A., you almost have to bring something to the table to get into the door. Especially now with the internet it’s very hard to get into the door and in an audition because all the actors are out of work. You look at TV now and you have movie stars who end up doing television. You’re competing with people who have been in the industry for twenty years and have resumes like Harrison Ford. You’re still trying to compete with them. You have to bring an audience to the table, so I thought why not create characters that I always wanted to create in the first place.
I pushed through Second City, where I played Filipino characters and pushed through the Improv Olympics playing Filipino characters on stage and pushed through L.A. playing Filipino characters. I saw YouTube and saw some of the stuff was ok then decided I can make a better contribution so Minny Pacquiao was born. Every time I go back to my roots and I connect with being Filipino, I find success. It’s been an incredible ride to the extent where I’m doing phone interviews with friends from Chicago, its nuts! I’m really humbled by all of this and it’s all really cool and hopefully empowering for other people. You putting a YouTube video out is just you putting a camera in front of yourself off. If artists want to put themselves out there, YouTube is free and you don’t even need headshots.
How important is it for Filipinos, especially your viewers to “never forget where they come from” and maintain a sense of pride in their heritage.
You don’t need to maintain it, but to connect with it. It’s an essential part of Filipino artists because I know my personality is from my father and mother. All Filipino families have strong personalities and it’s essential as an actor to connect to those emotions and characters in your life so you can create other characters. For me, my family and heritage is essential for my acting. With Magno Rubio and Minny Pacquiao, I try to identify myself as Filipino. At the end of the day if we want our stories told who else is going to tell them but us?
What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how the world views us?
I just recently came from New York for Philippine Independence Parade. I’ve seen a lot of Filipinos in the West Coast, but the East Coast had a different energy and it was great. There were hip hop shows, but there were also pop shows for kids younger with AJ Rafael and all these guys from YouTube. You saw this community young Filipino connected on the internet all across the country and it’s just an amazing thing. The louder we tell our stories, the closer and more support we give to each other as a community; there is nothing we can’t accomplish. There’s going to be Filipino movie stars, pop stars, and dance stars. I mean, how many times do we have to win break dancing competitions? There’s no better breakdancers than Filipinos. It’s a matter of supporting each other so we have the numbers to show mainstream that this is a viable market. The more we support each other, guess what? People are going to be saying, “what are all these people excited about?” It’s the same thing that happened to Jennifer Lopez then Ricky Martin and the same thing happened to Slum Dog Millionaire. Now you see Indian people in commercials, it instantly changed and they were allowed in the mainstream. Manny Pacquiao is just a part of it even though he is a huge part of it and if Minny can get a little bit of that, cool.
Tell us more about the upcoming Minny Pacquiao cartoon and how did you get in collaboration with Tim Saguinsin at Rice Cooker Studios?
That is a ridiculous story! We’ve been talking of Facebook this huge social network of Filipinos and he’s like I really like your shows. Tim Saguinsin from Rice Cooker Studios suggested a cartoon show and I was laughing saying it was great. Then I get an e-mail from him with an image of Minny Pacquiao and I had tears in my eyes. I got that cartoon image of a tattoo because Tim’s cartoon is a symbol of someone else besides myself in Minny Pacquiao and it solidified it for me in such a way that another artist gave up himself in his art to something he believes in.
This cartoon is not what people think it’s going to be. People will probably think it’s Minny Pacquiao running around all goofy chasing Manny Pacquiao around, there’s going to be a little bit of that. But we really want to capture the American-Filipino experience. You see how I switched that right. I don’t want to offend anyone when I say that I’m a lot more American than I am Filipino as much as I identify myself as Filipino. I’m still American, I don’t have an accent but I can speak Tagalog, it’s very sparse and broken. Minny Pacquiao captures that American-Filipino experience is the experience of us coming to America in the ‘30s and having laws about us relating with White People and not being able to go to certain places. You know, having “No Blacks” and “No Filipinos” signs on the wall. I want to capture that story. I want to capture the story of when I got picked on by white kids and they asked me whether I was Black or Mexican. I’m neither, I’m Filipino. Then they would ask me what the heck is that? I want to tell those stories because those are stories I know that a lot of folks would identify with. Cartoons can’t be that serious so it’s more about capturing the good and bad stuff. Also, how it relates back to homeland. It’s a big goal we set for ourselves, but I think in a lot of ways the stories can be told and Minny Pacquiao can connect with people in that way.
Do you look up to Filipinos as role models?
Besides Manny Pacquiao. Jose Rizal and Carlos Bulosan. Carlos Bulosan was the first Filipino-American to be published in America at a time when there were places he couldn’t go because he was Filipino. That’s amazing. People like Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez who stand by their culture and don’t forget where they come from. I respect a lot of those people. My biggest idols at the end of the day are my parents. My mom is a doctor, not in a medical sense. She’s a doctor of school administration and was the director of medical services at the Chicago Board of Education. My father came here and has the same story as Manny Pacquiao. He sold cigarettes as a kid in Manila and now he owns real estate in Chicago and L.A. There all success stories.
What is your favorite Filipino dish?
My Nanay’s palabok. My Lola, who passed away God rest her soul, made delicious palabok and put as much chicharon on top of it.
Is there any additional information you would like to share with us?
The first event I want to talk about is Kababayan Fest on the West Coast and that is going to be really exciting. Minny Pacquiao is going to be doing a lot of stuff like going on stage, singing karaoke, and performing with celebrities. It’s going to take place Saturday, July 10th , 2010
California’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA and Saturday, July 17th, 2010 Knott’s Berry Farm
Buena Park, CA.
We’re having a lot of character introduced in the coming episodes on Minny Pacquiao. There’s a Minny Mayweather character unveiled on episode 18 you can watch that now. I’ll be going to the opening of Manny Pacquiao’s first store by the Wild Card Gym, where I’ll become Minny Pacquiao. I don’t know the name because Manny is obviously secretive since he doesn’t want a huge crowd to be there and I was lucky enough to get an invitation to this event. If you want to see Manny Pacquiao’s reaction to Minny Pacquiao, all you have to do is watch episode 15 and that is the episode I watch over and over again. There is a reason why Minny Pacquiao is on my ankle because it reminds me that I should always take a step and that step I took in showing Manny Pacquiao my creation of Minny Pacquiao changed my life. I love that episode that’s my favorite one.
For more Minny Pacquiao, please visit www.minnypacquiao.com