Stand-up comic Rene Vaca making his mark in comedy

DPMHS alumnus returns to speak to journalism students.

Gabrielle Lashley and Naamah Silcott

At age 20, Rene Vaca made the life-changing decision of dropping out of college and attempting to become a comedian. He told himself that if life outside of college didn’t get him anywhere in the next five years he’d go back to a normal life. Now, four years in, he has a contract with NBC and is seen as the next big-shot Latino comedian.

“I dropped out of college to chase my dream and now I’m doing it,” Vaca said, now at 24.

After winning NBC’s 16th annual “StandUp” competition in January, he signed a 6-month contract with that network, began attending pre-paid acting classes and is now working on his own passion projects with NBC backing him up. Although Vaca seems fairly successful, he still has dreams he hasn’t yet pursued. Vaca’s working on writing a TV show and is beginning to focus on his acting, in the hopes of more opportunities.

“I wish I knew that the acting and the writing would be way more important before I started,” said Vaca, who spoke to both Photography 1 classes on April 15 via Zoom. “I was just so focused on the business and comedy side of it.”

As a Mexican-American child growing up in Los Angeles, Vaca always looked up to comedian George Lopez. Lopez has always been one of his inspirations, besides Vaca’s father, who was arrested for drug dealing when he was a high school senior.  Throughout his childhood, Vaca was always known as the class clown. It wasn’t until he began attending Daniel Pearl Magnet High School that he met the right people who turned his life around. 

“I was in continuation school with a bunch of gangsters,” said Vaca, who graduated in 2014. “I found out that Daniel Pearl was one of the best magnet schools. They took me in and I made some of the best friends possible.” 

Going to DPMHS was also the reason he went to a university, with College Counselor Linda Zimring giving him encouragement. He went on to major in business and economics at UC Merced.

“If I didn’t go to Daniel Pearl, I wouldn’t have gone to a four-year university,” Vaca said.

Before Vaca wanted to become a comedian, he first wanted to become a motivational speaker. He soon left that dream behind because he doubted that anyone would listen to a 19-year-old kid talk about life, he’d barely lived it yet. Only then did he see the career path as a comedian laid out in front of him. When Vaca made the decision to drop out of the UC, Merced, his family was supportive that he was following his dream but they weren’t sure if dropping out was the best way to go. After four years, he and his family can see that it certainly was.

“I remember I didn’t want to waste time. If I was going to die young, I’d die having lived a great life,” Vaca said. 

Vaca started 2020 on a high note by tying with fellow comic Franqi French to win “StandUp.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of his shows have been canceled, except for one that is being held in Canada. Along with that, one of his managers was laid off because of the pandemic, which must be tough for many other comedians or actors that work with that same manager. He was taking acting classes and those also came to a stop because of the stay-at-home policy. 

Even so, Vaca is still living his life to the fullest, continuously trying to make people laugh, especially during this rough year. He is continuing his standup routine via Zoom these days until he can be back in front of an audience.

“I didn’t want to become a comedian. I had to become a comedian,” Vaca said.