Americans have a special fondness for working guys who suddenly get a shot at the top.
They savor folks like Chuck Wepner, the liquor salesman and battered boxer (billed as “The Bayonne Bleeder”) who suddenly fought Muhammad Ali for the title; he knocked him down, went almost 15 rounds and inspired the movie “Rocky.”
And now there’s Chris Estrada (shown here), whose TV show (“This Fool”) debuts its entire, 10-episode season Thursday (Aug. 12) on Hulu. When it was first hatched, he said, “I was still working at a warehouse.”
He was also doing stand-up comedy and impressed Fred Armisen, a former “Saturday Night Live” star who’s produced three series – “Portlandia,” “Forever” and “Documentary Now” – that drew praise.
“The first time I talked to Fred over the phone, it was during my lunch break at the warehouse,” Estrada told the Television Critics Association. “So it was kind of surreal to take a lunch break, go into your car, talk to Fred Armisen and then go back to work and unload trucks.”
Eventually, he quit his day job and focused on creating and starring in a TV series. He plays Julio, who still lives at home with his mom, has had a tenuous relationship with Maggie since high school and tries to help his cousin Luis, who’s back from prison.
And yes, that’s a bit like Estrada’s real life when he started planning the show. “I wasn’t living at home, but a lot of my life was in and out of my mom’s house,” he said. And a few years earlier, “I had broken up with my girlfriend who I had dated, off and on, since high school.”
In the fictional version, we see him with:
— Maggie. She’s “an alternative-rocker-chick type,” said Michelle Ortiz, who plays her.
— Minister Payne, whose group – Hugs Not Thugs – tries to reform gangsters. “Anger is a key with Minister Payne,” said Michael Imperioli, who plays him. “I think he is really angry at the world.”
— And Luis, fresh from prison and still talking tough. “I want the best for Julio, even though I’m talking smack to him the whole time,” said Frankie Quinones, whop plays him.
That provides a rich contrast. “Luis and Julio represent two different types of male representation in the world,” Estrada said. Julio is “just kind of a guy who has been through some existential dread.”
That may fit the real Estrada. “I wasn’t (the class) clown,” he said, “but I was the kind of guy who would whisper something in my friend’s ear to make him laugh.”
At times, life wasn’t that funny. “When I was 11, I was in the comic-book store that was held up by a gang member. We had guns pointed to us and what-not. Those kind of experiences becomes cathartic.”
Quinones can top that: “One of my cousins was just drunk and held a gun to my face and was just like joking about it …. I had nightmares about it for like 10 years. He eventually apologized to me, and he really is a good-hearted, like light-hearted person.”
That’s a strong basis for a life or for a TV show – good-hearted, light-hearted souls who stagger through life. Like Chuck Wepner or Rocky, they might score big; like many people, they might end up on either end of a gun.