Comedian Jerry Rocha was working at the Barnes & Noble bookstore across from NorthPark Center in the mid-2000s when he first thought about making that big, scary move to a bigger city to pursue his comedy career. Rocha had started performing comedy in Dallas just out of high school and had a sizable local following, but he wanted more.
Occasionally, Mike Rhyner from The Ticket (KTCK-AM) would saunter into the music department at Barnes & Noble during Rocha's shift to talk tunes, and the two became friendly enough that Rhyner gave him a shoutout on the air on his birthday.
During one of their friendly chats in 2008, Rocha mentioned that he was thinking about moving to New York, and Rhyner gave him the perfect fuel to "light a fire under me."
"I remember I told him I was on the fence about moving because moving a couple of thousand miles away for your career is always going to be the scariest, most intimidating thing you can do," Rocha says from his hotel room in San Antonio. "He was so cool. He literally said, 'Just go chase it. You have to go chase it.'"
Not long after, Rocha packed up and moved to New York City, and the following year, to Los Angeles. He went on to compete on the seventh season of NBC's Last Comic Standing and released top-selling digital comedy albums in 2013 and 2016. He hooked up with Gabriel Iglesias after appearing on the comedian's Stand-Up Revolution TV special for Comedy Central.
Rocha joined one of Iglesias' comedy tours and impressed the "fluffy" one enough that last year, he gave Rocha his a comedy special on Netflix called Gabriel Iglesias Presents the Gentleman Jerry Rocha.
The special, filmed in New York, was originally for the Fuse network but was later sold to Netflix as a standalone, one-hour comedy showcase of Rocha's best material.
Rocha says Iglesias gave him a lot of freedom with his special. The only thing Rocha had to do was "ease back on the language" so it would be easier to sell to the streaming network.
"He literally said, 'Look, man, it's your special," Rocha says. "'Have fun. Go be you and go do it,' and that was it."
Rocha's special explores everything from his fear of being eaten by sharks to edgier topics like race and why prostitutes are the true "pros" in the American workforce.
"It's really nice to have that freedom," Rocha says. "I don't know how to explain it. It just takes the weight off to know that you can just go up there and do what you want."
Rocha says he was writing new material up until he walked onstage. He received a rousing round of applause after Iglesias introduced him to the crowd as "a very, very, very funny man."
He says he didn't even remember writing some of the jokes until he watched the show at a special screening a week ago at the Improv in Los Angeles.
"First of all, it's hard for me to watch because it's like listening to yourself on an answering machine for an hour," Rocha says. "That was hard, but it was still nice because there were a couple of bits I wrote shortly before that special, and I had almost forgotten all about them."
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Having a Netflix special not only gives him more exposure and a chance to expand his audience, but it's also become a good motivator on the road, Rocha says.
"That [is] just the result of years and years of doing standup, and now that they're seeing me, it helps me come up with brand-new material," he says. "It gives me a bit of a competitive edge with myself and a drive to make sure this stuff is on par or greater than what they've seen from me."
It's also great preparation for when Rocha returns to do some shows at Hyena's from Sept. 28-30 at the club in Dallas andOct. 5-7 at the Fort Worth location. Rocha says he always likes to make his hometown shows special.
"I try to do an extra-good job when I'm back home," Rocha says. "It feels like an NFL team playing in your own stadium. You really want to do great where it all started."