Interview with Paul Rodriguez, actor/comedian

What’s the first instance that you can remember that made you want to get into comedy in the first place? “Watching the Ed Sullivan Show. Watching the old Ed Sullivan Show, and my favorite parts were the comedians. And believe it or not, the person that most influenced me at that time, I always looked forward to it, was Bill Dana.

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By Tyler Davidson

By Tyler Davidson

What’s the first instance that you can remember that made you want to get into comedy in the first place?

“Watching the Ed Sullivan Show. Watching the old Ed Sullivan Show, and my favorite parts were the comedians. And believe it or not, the person that most influenced me at that time, I always looked forward to it, was Bill Dana. Bill Dana used to have a character called “Jose Jimenez,” and my whole family would sit there…we actually thought he was Latino, you know? He would go, [in Latino accent] “Hi, my name Jose Jimenez.” And his foil, I guess, would ask him questions [like], “So, you like the mountains?” “Yes, I like the mountains.” “So you’re a skier?” And he goes, “Yes, I’m a skier every time I go to the mountains.” Just nonsensical stuff like that, it was hilarious. I always enjoyed the comedians, you know? Of anybody that really was on, Jackie Cahane, remember him? There’s a whole bunch of Jackies. That’s what I liked the best. But I never thought of it as a career or anything like that, it was just a fun part of the show.”

So how’d you fall into comedy as a career?

“Like most everybody, accidental, you know? On a bet, on a dare…I always had a sense of humor, there was a lot of laughter in my house, but I never thought I could make a living at it, you know? It was more or less…it’s kind of like the philosophy for life that I’ve discovered is that most of the time, the things you chase in life, you never catch. It’s those things that chase you. I was just going to college, I had gotten out of the Air Force, I was trying to get a degree of some kind, and a friend of mine just said “Hey man, they got the Comedy Store over there. You’re pretty funny, and they got like an amateur night, and I think you get fifty bucks. So, I went over there, and I didn’t get the fifty bucks, but I got hooked. For the rest of my life, I was there. Made Mitzi Shore my mom, and I actually used to baby-sit Pauly Shore. That was one of the worst jobs you could have! Some spoiled rich kid going, “I’m going to tell my mom, you wetback!” But we’ve become good friends.”

You’re doing the Latin Kings of Comedy tour; how was the line-up selected for this tour?

“I selected it, totally, because when we did Latin Kings 1, you know, most of us know about each other, it’s still a small fraternity, you know? But I knew, for example, the press would ask me, “Well, we know Cheech, but who’s this George guy?” I said, “Believe me, you won’t be asking that soon. The guy’s ready, he’s gonna blow up, you know?” I’m saying the same thing now. This group that I’m traveling with is probably the tightest, most talented group I’ve traveled with. And that’s saying something, considering that Carlos, George, & I traveled together and did the “Three Amigos” tour. No disrespect on them, but there’s a guy named Manny Maldonado that I predict will be probably the most famous of all of us. He’s original, he’s insane; it’s kind of like the characteristic that really will make him successful. He knows the young lexicon. You’ve never felt so unhip before; I saw a bumper sticker that said “Nobody’s hip forever,” and boy, was that true. He comes up with songs and stuff that I just don’t know. Like WIC, do you know what WIC is?”

No.

“See? I sat there…it’s like women & children or something like that, something about the cheese program, some kind of federal program, he goes off of this, and the whole audience seems to know what he’s talking about, and I’m there going, “Man, I’m so out of the loop.” And then you got Dennis Gaxiola; this group is at a crescendo. I come out and I do my thing; I bring on the Midlife Crisis Mariachi, a guy that sings songs, but has a different angle, he does parodies and stuff. Then, Dennis Gaxiola, he’s more political, [it’s] more his point of view about the war and things like that that I don’t even get into. We’re all different, we don’t sound like each other. This is not the “Beat up the White People” tour, either. You know, I’ve seen a lot of Latino shows where it’s basically, “Hey, you know the white man…” I wanted to make sure that if you’re part of an interracial couple, you’re not gonna get beat up, you know? It has a lot more to do with your condition in life than [with] your complexion.”

What’s your stance on all these plagiarism allegations that are being directed towards Carlos Mencia right now?

“Privately, I talked to Carlos a long time ago. These aren’t allegations anymore. It wasn’t my job to out him, nor do I think it was cool, but I kind of talked to him privately, and I said, “Look, you’re a very talented guy, man. I know, ’cause I started you! But that’s not right, you know, now that you’re making money, you should, if you like a certain bit…most of these comics are starving anyway, which is really the sin. Pay them, they could use a job, and they could do it legitimately.” But I knew he was going to get in trouble. I told him to do the same thing that [Tim Allen did], out yourself, you know? Go out there and tell them, “I’m not a Mexican,” and that’s alright, you don’t have to be Mexican to be funny, look at John Leguizamo. I said, “And if you start taking material from people, don’t take material from f–kin Bill Cosby, man!” It’s world-known! It’d be like trying to rip off Richard Pryor. I said “You’re a talented performer, man, there’s plenty of material out there, you don’t have to do that.” But, he didn’t listen. See, it’s a small fraternity. Every comic knows everybody. And people who steal usually use [clichés] like, “There’s only so many keys in a piano.” Nonsense, you know? When you talk about things that happen in your life, things that are important to you, the jokes almost write themselves. You also have to have material that suits you, that fits you, you know? And I don’t think it’s right for him to do that. But again, it’s excusable, just don’t do it no more. He should go, “Mia culpa” and find out the guys he steals from…and move on. One thing is true, he’s a talented guy, and he’s gonna be a force in comedy for many years to come.”

You mentioned that you didn’t think it was cool for him to be outed; what are your thoughts on what seems to be Joe Rogan’s mission against “joke thieves”?

“Well, I’ve known Joe for a long time. I said “Joe, you know…stop with the crusade! Concentrate on your career, you be funny, you know?” He’s also a very energetic guy, but I think it defuses a lot of his energy. It’s a humongous waste of time. The reason I didn’t do it is because it’s not my style, and furthermore, it only makes the person who’s doing it seem small and petty. This is not a huge, great cause, I mean, Milton Berle did it! Milton Berle was notorious for it. We’re not talking about nuclear secrets here, people. We’re talking about a joke! Whoever beats who to the airwaves is who the audience is going to remember. Look, if you and your girlfriend are out at a nightclub in Podunk City, Iowa, and this comedian goes up there and really makes you laugh, you’re not gonna sit there and go, “Wait a minute, I kinda heard that farmer daughter joke before.” You’re a performer, you’re Vaudevillian. This doesn’t make it right, but I think it just screws up your own career. I think if Joe would concentrate on quitting making people eat crap on that “Fear Factor” and concentrate on the very talented, very great stand-up that he is…I’ve seen him destroy a room. And you know, he’s liable for accusations himself. I’ve been here a long time, long enough to know that some of his bits sound very familiar. We’ve all been influenced by one person or another. You name me a black comic that hasn’t been influenced by Pryor, you name me a black comic that hasn’t been influenced by Eddie Murphy, you know? They’ve all made “s–t” like an adjective. “You know what I’m sayin, people come over here and s–t, and s–t…” That’s a Pryor-ism, so what are we gonna do, throw them all out? There’s plenty of room. I talked to him privately, I said “Carlos, man, you’ve got exposure, you’re ta
lented enough, people are watching you closer, do the right thing.” If he doesn’t do it, he’s just shooting himself in the foot. And as far as Joe, how would you like to be known as the guy that’s the “Comedy Police”? The “Comedy Cop”? It’s ridiculous, it’s comedy in the first place. It’s like trying to ban the “N-word.” Trying to ban something from comics is just more alluring. I’ve never even used the “N-word” in my act, but I’m thinking about it, because it’s so hot now, you know?”

Especially now, after the Michael Richards incident.

“I was there, I was the guy that really notified the press that night. That’s sad, because…Michael could have stopped. He shouldn’t have destroyed his career, but we won’t be doing any benefits for him anytime soon. He’s well off. It must be a terrible place to have all the money in the world and all the fame, and now, nobody will remember your great career and all the things that you’ve done, they’ll just remember him as the bigot. He’s the Detective Fuhrman of comedy. I should test this, there should be a “sadie hawkins” day of racism, where this one particular day out of the year, we all could use a racist epithet that we use in the privacy of our own homes anyways, without any kind of sanctions. All your friends would know that if they’re black, they’re this, and if they’re brown, they’re spics, and if they’re…whatever it is, you know? You can’t be scared of saying the “N-word.” I feel stupid saying “the N-word”! I’ve been thinking about trying to write an act where you can go up there and say “I wanna say hi to all my N-word brothers!”‘

Aside from the comedians that are on the Latin Kings of Comedy tour right now, are there any underrated or unknown comedians you’d like to recommend to readers?

“Absolutely. There’s a man, Willie Barcena…his day should have come a long time ago, Leno kind of discovered him a little bit on the Tonight Show. I think Jeff Garcia is way underrated, he should be bigger than he is. I think, probably the kind of show you’d want to take your mama to, you would take her to see Gabriel Iglesias and the “over-cholesterol” crowd he hangs around with; four guys that are, altogether, about as big as Ralphie May. That’s the “Overeater Tour.” He’s very funny, I think he should have won “Last Comic Standing.” That’s ridiculous, you get thrown out of the show because you’re using a cell phone. What kind of information would his girlfriend be giving him? We all have girls, or whatever it is, it has nothing to do with comedy, I thought he should have won. He’s going to wind up on a series. He’s kind of like the Latino Fatty Arbuckle and Louis Anderson without the complex childhood problems. That’s who I would recommend, those guys are good. But remember Manny Maldonado, by this time next year, he will be the stuff, man, he’s the next guy, I predict.”

You had mentioned “Last Comic Standing;” in the past, there have been some controversies surrounding the show. Do you have any stances on the show or anything that goes on the show?

“Yeah, they should’ve hired me as the host! (laughs) I was the perfect guy to host, but for politics, for lack of talent, hell, I don’t know. They brought me on there enough times. I think it’s a good outlet, but they should be honest with the public. It’s a small village now, with the Internet and everything. You can’t get people who have been doing comedy for years and then call them and say these guys are just novices, they’re just starting. What are we, idiots? If they want to go that route, they should truly go and get people who are novices, haven’t done a thing, start on an even plane. But the reason they don’t do that is because it takes years to be funny, you know? To have that kind of skill. And who’s going to watch a show with a bunch of guys trying to be funny? “Last Comic Standing” is an idea that belongs on cable to truly have the freedom to be what it is. There was another idea floating around that Vince Di Bona told me about, I went to see him about it, and I thought it was a lot better. It was [taken] from a Japanese show, “Comedy Combat,” where you would take comedians and make them be funny in the worst place, make them be funny at the DMV, make them be funny in ordinary situations with a hidden camera. [Make them] do stand-up on an inner city bus. Those kinds of things are things I really think would [work], but for whatever reasons, it never made the line-up.”

Anything else to add?

“No man, come and see it! Two solid hours of comedy, you don’t have to be Latino. And if you are, it helps. Come see it, and Manny Maldonado, get an interview with that dude, now that you can. He goes “Oh, I’ll never change!” I said, “I heard the same thing from George, I’ve heard it.” Change is not a bad thing. Not calling me is a bad thing.”

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