The Real-Life BFFs Behind ‘This Fool’s Quarreling Cousins

The Real-Life BFFs Behind ‘This Fool’s Quarreling Cousins

This Fool’s Julio (Chris Estrada, who also co-created the show) may be resentful that his job as a case manager at a gang rehabilitation nonprofit not only usually pays him late, but also not enough to live on his own. But as he seethes in the single bed of his childhood bedroom, he can at least feel superior to his cousin Luis (Frankie Quiñones), who’s just finished serving an eight-year prison term for “stupid shit” as the series begins. Julio gets himself assigned to handle Luis’s case, and the two start clashing — not least because Luis is also crashing at Julio’s mother’s house.

I named Hulu’s This Fool one of 2022’s 10 funniest shows, and re-watching its 10-episode first season this week only confirmed my opinion: You don’t necessarily expect that Luis will go from taking a selfie with a dead friend’s commemorative cardboard standee in Episode Two to making a principled stand against large-appliance theft in the finale, but every bit of his progress over the season is (a) completely earned and (b) completely hilarious. 

After a finale that saw the cousins experiencing a reversal of fortune — Luis employed, Julio so broke he’s forced to crash with Luis in a garage that barely qualifies as a dwelling — Season Two is bound to be a banger. Ahead of its July 28th premiere, I spoke to Estrada and Quińones at the ATX TV Festival about everything from Estrada’s performance in the previous night’s Cheers pilot table read, to how Luis’ character evolved through the development process, to meeting This Fool fans in places Quiñones and Estrada might least expect.  

Let's start with the Cheers panel. How did that come about?

Estrada: They asked if I’d like to read for Cliff. I was really excited just that they reached out to me and thought about me for it, but also because I’m a big Cheers fan. I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t go to college, but I just wanted to write TV. About 12 to 13 years ago, I was looking for scripts. I found a Tina Fey interview, and she said her idea of a perfect pilot is Cheers. I found a copy of it online, and it was kind of a template for what a good pilot is for me, too. So it was a really cool thing for me to do the reading because it had some significance for me.

If you’d been allowed to choose parts, is Cliff the one you would have picked?

Estrada: I was cool with it, but I love Norm, just because he had more lines. But Cliff is a phenomenal character.

Cheers was a pilot template, but This Fool is sort of a hybrid: a workplace and a family comedy. How did Cheers influence you in the writing process?

Estrada: It was influential just in that it was funny, but with This Fool, we were thinking about it more from a cinematic perspective. We pitched the show as Friday, but directed by the Coen Brothers. What I told people is that this character doesn’t live at home because it’s a family show and he loves his family. He lives at home because he’s broke. 

We were trying to approach it as a character study. What does it look like when you’re lost, and you’re just meandering in life, and you’re being codependent and patting yourself on the back? I saw somebody describe the character as a benevolent narcissist. I thought that was really perfect. I hate “good guy” characters. So I thought, how do we write a character who pretends he’s being a good one when he is really not?

I read that you went out touring together, but that Frankie was the headliner, and Chris was the opener. How did it change your relationship for that balance of power to change?

Quiñones: I don’t think it did.

Estrada: Yeah. I just think we were friends. We met as stand-up comedians, and Frankie would bring me on the road with him. We always had fun. If anything, I think it helped because we got to know each other on the road, and we would joke all the time. I think that chemistry, just from being friends and being on the road, translated to onscreen.

Quiñones: Even when he was opening for me, he was always writing. He had been developing This Fool for so long, and I’d go, “Man, one day you’re going to give me a job.” And then it came true.

But I would say other than that, we’ve communicated very well about everything and just kept our relationship right here the whole time. Just kept our eye on the prize.

At the end of Season 1, your two characters are living together in very close quarters. I imagine there may be some road experiences you had, in similar close quarters, that you could maybe mine for stories.

Estrada: Oh, yeah. We definitely shared rooms together on the road, from flying together to being in cars together for hours on end. And that sort of helps, because you butt heads in that brotherly way. We love each other, but there’s times when we get on each other’s nerves. That kind of thing got translated into the show really well.

Quiñones: When Cholofit went viral, that gave us the opportunity to get weekends at clubs, because we were able to sell tickets. But starting out, we always had to share a hotel room to save money. Just being in anybody’s space, even if you love each other to death, after a while it’s like, “God, get out of my way, man. You’re sitting in your boxers right here.” 

How else has it been different going on the road now that you’re TV stars?

Quiñones: Now Chris does his own weekends, and he takes his own openers.

Estrada: It’s been really cool to go out on the road. Before the show, I’d occasionally get a one-nighter here or there to headline locally or within California. But once the show started doing well, it gave me a chance to go on the road. Some people knew me as a comedian, but most people knew me from the show. So it was a cool challenge to let people know I’m not an actor doing stand-up. You’re seeing me do what gave me this opportunity to do the show.

Quiñones: I was already touring because of my characters. Now there’s this whole other layer, because of This Fool, but the thing I love the most is when it’s people that you don’t expect. They’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, we love the show. We watched it twice,” and they’ll be older white people from Minnesota or wherever. It’s like, wow, this show’s really getting to people.

Was there a moment that you knew that you’d be believable as cousins?

Estrada: From the moment that we had Frankie and we saw his audition tape, I right away thought, “This is going to be good.” And when we started reading it together, Frankie brought a lot of humanity to the character. I think anybody else would’ve made it one-dimensional. He brought a lot of humanity to it, but also a lot of comedy. Had it been someone else, who maybe was like six foot with tattoos on this face, I don’t know that the character would’ve had such humanity. But I think the fact that we just look like real people and that we’re friends, I always believed it.

Quiñones: The role wasn’t handed to me. It was a process. And there was a little bit of him having to go to bat for me. I’m not a cocky person, so I wasn’t like, “No, I could do this. I know I’m the guy for the job.” I just let it happen organically. (Co-creator) Matt Ingebretson was like, “Look, man, we always knew we were going to have you be part of the show,” but nobody envisioned me as Luis in the beginning. They were going for that 6-foot face-tattoo type, but then Chris saw it, and it just kind of happened.

They played a gross joke on me, by the way. They acted like I was going to have to do another audition. They were all on a Zoom, and they were like, “All right man, I just want you to sound less stupid.” And then were like, “We’re just kidding. You got the job.” But once that happened, we all knew that we had something special. From then on, we never doubted that we wouldn’t sell feeling like family. We’ve been friends for 10 years already, so it translates to the screen.

As Frankie said, Chris, you’re going on the road with new people now. Are there any we might see in Season Two?

Estrada: My comedian friend Ramsey Badawi makes a cameo in the show. Another friend of mine, Opey Olagbaju, who's a really funny comic, has a small role. The great thing about coming from stand-up comedy is that you know so many talented, funny people who maybe aren’t on TV already, and it’s like, “Man, I know them, they’re great. How can I put them in there?”

Luis gets a job offer at the end of Season One. It’s on the side of authority, which may not be the most natural fit. How was that choice made?

Estrada: What always cracked me up was, growing up the way I did, I knew a lot of guys who were a little rough around the edges who would end up getting either security jobs or loss-prevention jobs. And power corrupts, man. I used to work at JCPenney. Some of our roughest dudes were the loss-prevention guys. It just made me laugh that the minute they felt some sense of power and authority, they wore it like a badge of honor. I also thought it would be interesting and subversive to find Luis in that sort of a security job.

We see he takes to it immediately. He's not helping steal that oven.

Quiñones: Yeah, man. “I’m security now. It’s not my life anymore.”

Estrada: Which is great because it gives him a code, it gives him an ethic. Just like a lot of these guys, growing up around gang members and having gang members in my family, you forget that a lot of these guys have a code they live by. So when given a chance, they’ll adopt a new code.

Luis does learn and grow over the first season, but it must also be liberating to play someone who is like, “It’s still 2005 for me.”

Quiñones: Oh, yeah. It was a lot of fun. Like Chris said, he knows my cousins. There’s definitely a little piece of all of them in the character of Luis. I even went and spent time with my cousins, just having conversations with them to really get the character to feel grounded and authentic. But yeah, it’s always 2005 up here, my queen.

“Putazos” is all about Luis trying to collect his boys for a big fight against his old rival. It’s got so many guest stars and so much backstory. It’s a big swing for what’s only the second episode of the series.

Estrada: We wanted to catch Luis when he still felt fresh out of prison, and he has some of those bad habits. It was making sure we track his growth. So at first, it’s bumping into an old rival and reverting back to old ways. It’s easy if you’re freshly out, if it’s still new to you. It was definitely intentional to make it the second episode, but also just make it a big swing as a cinematic approach. It’s like, “Let’s have an episode where it’s on the road. It’s literally a journey.” And it feels almost like a Greek tragedy.

There’s that moment of surreality, too, with the dead characters watching the closing fight from the cloud, that hits so much harder because it’s not something that is endemic in the show.

Estrada: Badass and Bust-a-Nut. Fallen soldiers.

Does someone have the “Here Lies Fatass” urn prop at home?

Estrada: Yes. We have the urn, and then one of us has the Badass cutout. 

We've seen a lot of what Julio is like in a relationship. Do we see that with Luis in Season Two?

Estrada: Yeah. For the second season, we wanted to see Luis keep growing, and what that means. Does he regress? Part of his character’s growth is seeing him expand his world and get back into dating. And Frankie was so great at it.

Quiñones: And also, Julio was my boss at the rehabilitation center, and now I’m letting him live in my garage. It’s just fun to see that whole dynamic switch over.

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