Ralph Barbosa may not be a household name in stand-up comedy just yet. But in the last week or so, one thing has become clear: People are starting to find out who he/she is. For the Dallas-based comic, it’s been years in the making as he breaks into the national touring circuit and returns to LA this week for a series of sold-out shows at the Improv. Before that, he was in costume telling jokes on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, and at the end of last year he made his HBO comedy debut in the third installment of the Latino series Entre Nos. Before that, Don’t Don’t Tell Comedy Set received millions of views on YouTube. As a young comedian starting out, he was the 2019 winner of the funniest comedy contest in Texas, in 2021 he won the New York Latino Film Festival Stand competition.
One could argue that’s enough to earn the 26-year-old some respect. But earlier this month it was the sharp comments from one of the godfathers of Latino comedy, George Lopez, that really boosted his fame to a new level.
In the controversial clip from its episode 6 February Lopez’s podcast “OMG Hello!” guest Steve Treviño talks about the importance of uplifting new Latinx comics, shouting out Barbosa. After Treviño checked his name, Lopez interjected, “No one knows who that mother is! Why are you always bringing up his name?”
Although Barbosa may have blocked him at the time, the clip created a wave of backlash against Lopez for insulting him. Soon after, Lopez apologized to Barbosa for his comments. While Gen Z comics like Barbosa may take different paths these days, one paradigm holds true: there’s no such thing as bad press—or bad podcast hits. It only helped his career to continue to progress. Barbosa recently spoke to The Times about his early days in Dallas, the state of Latino comedy and what really turned him off about Lopez’s podcast episode. Hint: It wasn’t Lopez.
When did you first notice that your comedy career was going downhill?
Around November, my social media had grown a bit and I started getting more booked on the road. I also filmed a special with Entre Nos on HBO. That was recorded last July, but in November there was a lot of promo and we did a publicity event for it at the New York Comedy Festival. So with Instagram kind of going up and TikTok blowing up and everything else, it kind of made sense that everything was happening together. By Christmas/January I was booking more gigs and also had the word approved to do “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. It was all happening back to back so fast. I went from the ground floor to the top of the building. A few months earlier I was still struggling to make ends meet, running from open mic to open mic.
Can you talk a little bit about the scene in Dallas where you got started?
Yeah, there’s a bunch of clubs…we’ve got Addison Improv, the Hyenas clubs, there’s also Back Door Comedy, a little little room where I started it. The first person to give me stage time was Linda Stogner, Linda knows all the comics in Dallas. It’s also a clean club, (meaning you can’t curse on stage) which I think has helped me improve my writing. And now there’s the Plano House of Comedy, the Dallas Comedy Club and some independent shows. There is no shortage of stage time. It’s not like New York or LA where you can get up in front of some big names every night, but you can definitely stay busy, and that’s all I really need.
What’s it like as a comic representing Dallas on a tour of other big cities like LA?
When I started traveling I was always worried that my jokes wouldn’t translate. Because I had only been playing in Dallas for a long time, so I thought “What if my stuff isn’t cut out for the crowds outside of Texas or Dallas in general?” What I’ve found is that no matter where I go – whether it’s Milwaukee, or Salt Lake City – tons of people can relate to my stuff even if they don’t go through what I’m going through. I say, many people still felt what I’m feeling. I think when it comes to comedy in general, the more specific you are, the more relatable you are.
What do you think about the state of Latino comedy right now and what kinds of opportunities are there there to comics like you who weren’t really recognized until recently?
I think it’s dope. Edwin (Licona) at Entre Nos is putting on a lot of Latin comics. I think back in the day, the great Mexican comedians, I would say that Mexicans are not getting brighter…But I think the way it is today, you don’t have to be a Mexican comedian anymore, you can be a comedian who is mexico. I am very proud to be Mexican. But with Entre Nos they put on more than just Mexicans, they put on Latinos in general, I love the unity and diversity there. I love people who are funny to be able to wear them no matter what color they are. There used to be a lot of spotlight on the white comedians, then the Black comedians and the Mexican comedians. Right now, there’s just so much more. Maybe it’s a little tough with Hispanic comics, but I love that Latinos are helping Latinos and I love that I get to be a part of that.
For that matter, after the comments George Lopez made about you on his podcast about not knowing who the f— you are, you definitely got a lot of support from Latino comics and fans. Not surprisingly, his comments helped your reputation even more. And after the backlash he even apologized. Can you talk about how that all went down?
Many Hispanic people were really angry with George Lopez for what he said. When the guest (Steve Treviño) brought my name up on the podcast he said, “Who even knows who that is? F – it! Don’t say his name!” And a lot of his Hispanic fans were very disappointed with him and said he doesn’t help other Latinos, he doesn’t help other Mexicans. But I don’t think he meant it in a personal way, determined. I know it wasn’t. I think it was very hot-of-the-minute about what they were talking about on a podcast. Was it a bit much? Maybe, but he apologized. It was very nice and kind to me, personally. Like a few days after that happened, he called me and apologized privately.
I appreciate that he did it privately. I think if it was done in public it would be more for the people, not really for me. So I really understand that he called me and was like, “Hey man, this is George. I just want to say I’m sorry for what I said. It was kind of heat-of-the-moment. I don’t mean to put you down at all, you’re a talented man, I’m learning about who you are, and I don’t wish you any harm” and I accepted his apology and told him. done and it’s water under the bridge.
I make a lot of jokes about my own culture, being Mexican and what not. I think a lot of the disappointed fans said “screw George, we support Ralph!” They don’t even understand who I am in general. They were supporting me just because they saw me as the underdog. But what people don’t understand is that I didn’t take it that seriously because at the end of the day, he’s a comic and I’m a comic, We talk crap to each other. As a comedian we are the last people whose words should be taken so seriously. It was definitely blown out of proportion.
From comics I spoke to, it seemed more to do with his track record of allegedly not supporting younger Latino comics. Everyone has different opinions on that, but it seemed like something was going on for a while.
As long as he has a reputation for not helping people, that may be the case, but I don’t think that was the case on this one. I’ve heard stories about him trying to be the only Latino comic on a show and not letting other Latino comics get work or whatever but we’re so far apart generationally in this industry. But Steve Treviño could say anyone’s name right now and it would have gone the same way.
It just so happens that your name has been taken and you are literally having the biggest moment of your career right now.
I didn’t think about it right away and thought about it later, but if anything was decided on that podcast it was Steve Treviño who said that our generation of comics has it easier. He’s trying to say that I had it easy, because I didn’t work as hard as (the older comics) did for their careers. That scared me looking back. The George Lopez thing didn’t bug me at all, Steve Treviño saying the new guys have it easier – who said it’s easy? Who said I’m not working?
Have you worked with Steve before?
I never met him in my life.
I think that’s also the context that people missed from the clip, your name being brought up and defended by a comic you don’t know…
He messaged me saying “Wow, I had no idea this clip was going up like that… keep doing what you do.” And I was like, “Thank you. A man who means a lot. Thank you for standing up for the new guys.” And then he copied the message and put it in the comments of my video (on Instagram). And when he did that, I was like “Ah he’s lame, yeah just doing this so people can be like, “Hey, thanks Steve, you’re a great guy.” He’s lame as hell, he’s lamer than George Lopez in my book.
At the end of the day it’s a podcast, a couple of guys shooting the sh—. It’s just comics talking about other comics, we’re the last people whose words should be taken seriously. Our job is to make fun of the sh—. But as they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
This is your second time in LA Is there anything you’re hoping to share with a new audience the second time around?
I’m excited about LA because they were the fastest shows to sell out – within a day we sold out 10-12 shows. I’m excited to go back and headline for a week straight. I’m a little nervous because I’ve never been in a city where they show so much love. I just want to give them good shows, I hope they laugh a lot.