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How the Coen Brothers influenced Chris Estrada comedy ‘This Fool’

Standup comedian Chris Estrada’s new 10-episode series, “This Fool,” will stream on Hulu — but its sensibilities can be attributed, in part, to the cinema.

“It’s a really funny, human show,” Estrada, 38, told The Post. “Me and my co-creators [Jake Weisman, Matt Ingebretson and Pat Bishop] wanted to make a comedy that looks like a film. We’re film buffs and we were inspired by the Coen Brothers to capture that offbeat tone.”

That it does. “This Fool,” premiering Aug. 12, is based on Estrada’s background growing up in South Central LA, where gang life was prevalent. Here, that takes a humorous turn when series protagonist Julio Lopez (Estrada) — a milquetoast-y do-gooder who lives at home with his mother and works for a nonprofit gang support center called Hugs Not Thugs — tries to rehabilitate his tough older cousin, Luis (Frankie Quiñones), a gang member who’s released from prison after serving eight years — and who thinks Julio is much too soft (despite his having good dental insurance).

“Luis is an amalgamation of three of my cousins, and one of them is named Luis,” Estrada said. “At one point, two of them were gang members who went to prison [they’re free men now]. Most of the time when you see gang members on TV they’re robbing people and committing crimes; it’s interesting to subvert that and to see these guys earnestly trying to change their lives. We didn’t do this for righteous reasons but for the sake of the narrative. Julio is stuck in inertia and we thought it was funny and ironic that he’s working to help them.”

Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Frankie Quiñones and Chris Estrada in "This Fool," premiering Aug. 12 on Hulu. Neighbors is wearing a pink apron that says "Hug Me" on it. The other two are wearing T-shirts that say "Hugs Not Thugs."
Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Frankie Quiñones and Chris Estrada in “This Fool,” premiering Aug. 12 on Hulu.

Co-stars include Michelle Ortiz (Maggie), Julio’s on again/off-again high-school girlfriend; Laura Patalano and Julia Vera as Julios’ mother and grandmother, Esperenza and Maria; and a bearded Michael Imperioli as Minister Payne, an ex-businessman who now works at Hugs Not Thugs to ease the guilt of his past.

“Julio is a guy in South Central LA who suffers from existential dread,” Estrada said. “On the surface, he might appear to have it together, but he can be very dark. There’s often a little back-patting in the nature of trying to help others and [Julio] is not looking to help just for the sake of helping, he’s looking for validation.

“There are definitely elements of my personality in Julio,” he said. “Living at home is something I’ve done throughout the years. I’d live in an apartment and be [would] there for a few years and the rent would go up and I was welcomed back home by my mom. It was co-dependency; at one point in my life, I got involved with helping people with their problems so I could avoid my own. The nature of helping others is not altruistic all the time.”

Michael Imperioli as Minister Payne in "This Fool." He's wearing a black jacket/sweatshirt and has a grey-ish beard. He's looking off-camera and isn't smiling.
Michael Imperioli as Minister Payne.

Estrada was first approached in 2013 about collaborating with Weisman and Ingebretson (who created “Corporate” on Comedy Central) when he was working in a warehouse by day and performing standup at night on the LA comedy circuit — which is where he met his future co-star Quiñones.

“He saw me show and asked me to open at a club for him,” Estrada said. “We became friends and … I would occasionally go on the road and open for him. The standup world is symbiotic; at some point your friends hire you because sometimes they’re successful before you are and they work with people they think are talented and really funny.”

Estrada said that Hugs Not Thugs was inspired by several organizations that help ex-gang members reenter society including Homeboy Industries in LA, which was started by Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest.

“We’re trying so hard to be careful because we don’t want to belittle someone trying to change their life,” Estrada said. “We make sure the comedy of the show is based on the comedic tension between Julio and Luis.”

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