Erik Rivera never thought he was going to be a comedian when he grew up. Growing up, he says his Guatemalan mother had only given him two choices. He could either be a doctor or a lawyer. Destiny had other plans for the native New Yorker. Five years ago, he says he had his break career-wise at The Latino Laugh Festival, alongside Carlos Mencia, where he won the Diamonds in the Rough Award — pretty much his unveiling to the world of Latino comedy.
In addition to appearing on The Tonight Show last year, he is getting ready for his third appearance at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Reyes of Comedy Event next month, where proceeds of the event will go to CHCI’s Youth Leadership development programs. And today, he is embarking on his first college tour around the country called “All Grown Up.”
“I’ll be talking about what happens after college,” says the 30-year-old with a contagious smile who recently got married and is expecting a baby. “I went to college not knowing what I’d be doing.”
He says he ended up studying communications at Pace University, because he liked the photos of the students in the brochure under that major.
“I said, ‘I could do that,” says Rivera who also became social vice president of the group Alianza Latina at his university in lower Manhattan. “When I took office was when 9/11 happened…I came up with an idea to put together comedy shows. Where better to do it than on campus?”
He says he started going to a lot of comedy clubs and telling comedians about his project, and they started performing pro bono.
“They got me onstage for my first open mic, and I haven’t gotten off ever since,” says Rivera. “I love the fact that I can make people laugh. No matter what is going on in your day, for that hour I have you, I can make you have a good time.”
Rivera has come a long way since graduating college. He says he’s on a mission to get a Latino family sitcom back on TV after “George Lopez.”
“I don’t understand why the networks play to the stereotypes, and then wonder why these shows fail,” he says Rivera who is pitching his own family sitcom this upcoming season with TV producer, Joey Gutierrez. “We don’t have to beat the audience over the head with gardener jokes.”
He says the comedy of normal life is already there, and that is his secret to success while doing standup.
“When you’ve been doing this so long, you can read the audience,” says Rivera. “I can read the energy of the room, or I can mold people to follow me…and I do it in a way that no one is uncomfortable.”
His sweet charm is a gift that has even worked on his mom, who was at first very upset when he told her he’d chosen to be a comedian as his career.
“She didn’t even understand what it was,” says Rivera. “She said, ‘Oh, so you’re a clown?’”
Now that she’s seen her son perform professionally, she takes him more seriously he says.
“Within my comedy, I speak about cross-cultural differences,” says Rivera. “The face of the country is changing – it’s getting a little browner. I think as Latinos being the biggest minority, we need to begin stepping up.”