Caroline's on Broadway, New York, NY
Originally aired April 2014 on BBOX Radio, Brooklyn, NY.
Interview edited for length and clarity. All rights reserved.
Pull your stroller over non-gender conforming Park Slope parental unit. Tell your trilingual baby Einstein to wait. We got a show stopping interview with Rob Schneider. Now, I don’t know how old you are but I grew up with Rob Schneider.
He’s been in everything from Saturday Night Live, to Seinfeld, to Home Alone to Big Daddy, Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo, Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo, Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo 2 (The Sequel), Deuce Bigalow Tijuana Gigolo, and when we met up at Caroline’s on Broadway he was getting ready to hit the road on a 39-date cross country tour making him a gigolo among gigolos.
As I found, touring as a stand-up comedian is not easy. The grind, the criticism, and the endless stream of people asking for things. At the end of Rob’s set he took a picture with every person in that comedy club. He took at least 20 pictures with a single family, including one that had him in a headlock for reasons that remain unclear to everyone except the family.
Yet, during our time together Rob remained gracious that has kept him in the public spotlight for the better part of 25 years. It’s an eternity in the life of comedy where everyone is looking for the next big thing, where everything has to be funnier and edgier than the thing before it. Where current events divide and where you’re absolutely hysterical in one part of the country and an asshole in another part of it.
But no matter how the politics unfold, no matter what gets in the way, Rob Schneider has spent half his life trying to make you laugh, spent half his life trying to entertain you and bring joy into your life. I had 15-minutes to figure out why.
Jesse Regis: You just got off stage. How do you think it went tonight? What worked, what didn’t?
Rob Schneider: You know in an hour and ten minutes you can touch on a lot of different things. They seemed to like the personal experiences and the stories, and the characters, and stuff. That seems to be a go-to place. I don’t know what they expect. Most of them have never seen me do stand-up, they don’t know what to expect. I’m just a stand-up. That’s how I started. I’m a regular stand-up. I’m not a movie actor doing some victory, celebrity lap. I want to be regular stand-up and there’s some great one’s out there right now.
JR: I’m amazed that no matter what a stand-up does – they go into tv, they do movies, that they always tend to come back to stand-up.
RS: Well, that’s a good point. It’s a challenge. I mean, it’s just you up there and you have to make it work for an hour. That’s the thing. When I first started Jay Leno said [Jay Leno voice] “Hey all you need is 20 minutes to become a star, 20 minutes….all these guys say I got two hours of material. 2 hours? Who wants to hear 2 hours of material? All you need is 20 minutes to become a star [end Jay Leno voice] so by the time I got 20 minutes, Chris Rock got 20 minutes, David Spade got 20 minutes, Adam Sandler, we’re all stars but we had 20 minutes.
Chris Rock went on to become a monster stand-up and I did a movie with him and he talked me 5 years ago into coming back and doing it again so I’m grateful to him, and also seeing George Carlin being 70 and still being fantastic. I saw his last show and he was ridiculous. That actually humbled me and I said that it’s a great time to be doing it because there have always been great comics in America and stand-up is like jazz, it’s an American art form. Mark Twain was nice enough to start it out by doing union halls and town halls back in the early 20th century.
Now we have a lot of great comics and the interesting thing is that a lot of them are in their peak right now, which is pretty ridiculous. You have guys who are ridiculously great right now and all at the same time. Bill Burr is really, really good. Daniel Tosh is pretty good. You have guys who are really great out there. Chris Rock is still fantastic. There’s some excellent comedians and they’re all out there and they’re working so for me it’s a good time to be a comic.
JR: I want to press you on that just a little bit because I feel when you were coming up there was a more clear path to getting to the top.
RS: You’re right. You’re one of the few people to talk to me about that. It’s true. There was less media so the media that you did get…I literally in the 80’s got on Letterman and the next day I had to move to Hollywood. The audience for those late night shows are about 50% of what it was ten years ago, or fifteen years ago, when I did it even more. They had cable, but they didn’t have the Internet. There was no YouTube so people were just watching and I think now it definitely is tougher to break through. It can still happen. It still happens.
There’s some really good young comics out there, but it’s tougher. A TV show helps. Or, there are guys like Louis C.K. who is another one of the best comedians in the world. But, he didn’t really break through until his TV show. It was fifteen years of on the road, writing and rewriting and just perfecting it and just becoming a brilliant monster at stand-up. What a great example for other comedians to hang in there and keep working. A lot of comedians are lazy. I’ll be honest with you. I can work harder, I know I can. If you want to make it, you got to work hard.
I used to cut stuff out of my act if other people were even talking about it. I used to get rid of stuff that killed because I felt that it wasn’t about me and I said that if I want to differentiate myself and make it…so I don’t know how young guys would have to make it these days. There are different ways. There’s a TV show about comedians - Last Comic Standing – it’s definitely tougher.
JR: You’ve been hanging out with a lot of the same people that you came up with - David Spade, Adam Sandler, Norm McDonald - some of them are in your new show Real Rob. What’s it like still working with the guys you came up with?
RS: As a real short hand – I was watching the World Cup and I said “you know what’s kind of like the World Cup…” the real good players have been playing for a while with each other. [Andrés] Iniesta, he knows when a guy is going to pass him the ball, he knows where they’re going to be. So, when you’re doing a scene with Adam Sandler or Norm McDonald you kind of get an idea of where you can go and there’s a comfort level there. If we’re in a scene together and you got Chris Rock and David Spade, and Adam Sandler, you know that one of them is definitely going to be funny. You’re not going to have 4 guys off.
JR: [Laughs] Is that why they do it?
RS: [Laughs] I think so. That’s why they did it, yeah, I think [Laughs] that’s my opinion.
JR: You’re amazing at creating characters. What kind of development goes into that, or am I looking at it too closely?
RS: It’s not like you’re trying to develop it, it’s just something you don’t even realize is a character and you go, “Maybe that’s a character.” You’ll have an idea, you’ll be on a plane and what if I’m just naked right now and I came up with the sensitive naked guy because the idea was he’s a naked guy but other people have problems with it. It’s not him - how are you really feeling? It was a stupid idea. The great thing about Saturday Night Live was that 3 minutes is about all. That’s as much as you can squeeze out of an idea sometimes. It’s not a movie and so that’s the nice thing about doing stand-up because you can explore something for 30 seconds. I forgot to do this bit tonight about California and the word “dude.” I wrote “The Word Dude” about 25 years ago and I said maybe there’s part two to that. There’s a famous bit I did 30 years ago so I did another part two to it and I forgot to do it tonight but I’ll do it tomorrow. I did an hour and ten that’s enough. People get sick of you after a while.
JR: I saw the red light went on. It’s amazing that they do a red light to guys as big as you.
RS: You know what, it’s like “Enough! Get off! We have another show with other young comics!” I didn’t even look at my watch the whole time I was up there. It just felt that the flow was about right. At an hour they give you a light so, you know, if you can’t prove your point in an hour what are you going to do with the next hour, you know what I mean?
JR: You’re about to go on a 40 date tour. Are you still trying things out now?
RS: Yeah, I’m doing a Canadian tour and so you kind of have to work out stuff and people are going to want to know what you think about American politics and stuff. Not as many people in America are that interested in it - you have to find a way - because I notice that when I do it, it’s completely quiet in there, which is a bad sign, when I’m bringing up subjects like spying, and the NSA, and gun control and shooting unarmed black teenagers, but unless you can deal with these subjects…You have to be able to touch on this stuff. One of the things I was going to talk about was Israel and comparing Israel with your friend and that’s the bit and I’m trying to talk about it because I think you have to be able to talk about everything. You should find a way to do it.
JR: Are different jokes funnier in different cities? Will the Obama jokes be funnier when you’re in another part of the country?
RS: Absolutely! Obama jokes are funnier anywhere where it’s not liberal, anywhere in the middle of the country but people can laugh at it. The thing is I don’t hate Obama I just think he’s over it. I think he’s over his whole Presidency and doesn’t give a crap anymore. Not that he doesn’t give a crap, I just think who wouldn’t? If I was doing that same job I mean I’d be bored to tears having to please everybody and the Republicans just oppose him because he’s him. They don’t come up with any better ideas. It’s just a stagnant thing and I respect anybody who wants to serve this country in any form. I just think it’s a very corrupt system right now and I think the Administration is corrupt in how they’re dealing with things like the FDA, [Governor] Corzine out in Jersey, a billion two, he didn’t even go to jail because he’s a Democrat. I mean, that’s crazy! That’s absolutely crazy. He pays a little fine and then boom.
So, I think that we’re in a country where you have to figure out how much people want to talk but for every dollar that we owe where we have to pay interest on it – I think we have to pay 35 cents for every dollar that comes in. So we’re only able to pay 19 cents. So there’s this term called quantitative easing which means we’re just printing more money. How is that going to work? Imagine with your personal finances you just did that – put everything on your credit card. So they’re just passing down this debt for another generation.
I got to tell you, it’s going to come to a point where China doesn’t want to lend us any more money. It comes a point where just the rest of the world’s economies are so shitty that we’re the safe bet. It’s a really weird thing. What I think is that you can start over. This whole debt thing is just a big scam. You can okay, that’s it, and we wipe out all debt. I’m an economist in the sense that I’m interested in economics.
There’s a great guy named Richard D. Wolff who’s a lot smarter than me but basically the idea was that we owe so much money, we owe so much, and what happened was when he lowered taxes – believe it or not taxes were way higher in the late 60’s than they are now – what happened was when we started cutting back with taxes is that the people – China only owes 10% of our debt – the rest of it is people who should have been paying higher taxes anyway and so if we just wiped it all out and started again tomorrow it would be fine. That’s what Argentina said. Argentina said [Argentinian accent] “Fuck it, we’re not going to pay and that’s it. I don’t care, we’re not paying.” That’s why when a plane lands in North America they try to take the fucking plane, but it’s like no fuck it, it’s absurd.
Pure capitalism is insane and I think you have to put some sort of safeguards in. For people who are against socialism, well taxes are socialism, but there’s only so far in a stand-up comedy routine you can actually talk about this stuff where people give a shit. You have to find a way to do it. Comedy should be about entertainment, but, if you can talk about something interesting so much the better – something that touches people and affects them, yeah. I want to try to talk about black people getting shot in America. That’s something to talk about. Talk about the militarization of the police. That’s definitely a subject you can talk about but you got to go for jokes, I’m not just here to talk about my political opinions.
JR: Yeah, tonight you definitely seemed to be holding back a little bit. You definitely could have gone into these issues much more deeper.
RS: It didn’t feel like it. You have to judge an audience. They paid money. They’re here in New York. They’re tourists – most of them here at Caroline’s and I don’t do the stuff from my movies but I need to entertain them. So, I figure I’ll touch on the stuff and if they don’t want to go any further I won’t.
JR: But why continue to be a comic if you have such strong opinions and you can articulate them as well as you do?
RS: So you’re saying why continue?
JR: You’re obviously very smart and are well read, you know what you’re talking about, you’re articulate, you’re good in front of people, why continue to do comedy and not get involved in other ways?
RS: I am – I’m involved. If you go on my Twitter account you’ll see that I’m very involved. I was actually involved in the CDC and the whistleblower who was lying about children’s safety for vaccines – I’m involved with that. I’m involved with Autistic kids. I’m involved in the Middle East right now. I had a friend of mine from Israel - I was talking to him about what’s happening in Gaza. There are absolutely horrendous human rights violations that are happening in a lot of the world. There’s an interesting guy named Ari Lesser, who’s a rap star, who talks about well if you want to boycott Israel then you got to boycott these other countries – and every country’s guilty. What we did in Guantanamo Bay with torture. They could put sanctions on the United States.
What you have to do is an awareness and the more you bring things out into the light, the more you’re transparent, the more these things will be shown and I think the American people are good people – these things have to come out and be exposed there’s just so many distractions. You know, Noam Chomsky talks about in Manufacturing Consent that this is not really a democracy, it’s an oligarchy.
Basically, there are six groups of power and that’s just it. We’re allowed to have a discourse – a very interesting discourse – an intense discourse - in America but about a very limited number of subjects. You’re not allowed to talk about the pharmaceutical industrial complex. You’re not allowed to talk about the military industrial complex. You’re not allowed to critique Israel because then politically you’re a loon. I think that everything’s got to be open if we’re really a free society, if it’s really free speech you got to talk about everything.
But, I’m here to entertain, so how do I do that? I haven’t given up on people who are like, “Just be an actor, do funny movies. It’s like I’m still an American, I’m an American first, I’m a human being first, and I have rights to freedom of expression and you have to get involved and I want to get involved.
JR: But you always come back to comedy which is just so very interesting for me.
RS: Well, I think you have to. For me, I’m an entertainer. I love performing, I like to hear what other people think and I don’t know how much longer I want to do it or can do it, but while I’m still excited about it I’ll do it.
JR: Real quick, could you tell me about Real Rob?
RS: I don’t have a lot of heroes but John Cleese is one of them and he did a show called Fawlty Towers, which is the greatest sitcom ever. Hey, Seinfeld is the great American sitcom, but this is for sure. I did my own version. I wrote it with my wife. He wrote it with his wife at the time Connie Booth, I said I’ll write it with my wife. He did, I think, six episodes one year, six episodes the next for a total of  episodes. I did eight episodes in one year, we wrote them, we produced it, we paid for it and we did it. Now, we’re editing it and I think it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever done so I’m interested in seeing what’s going to happen with it. We haven’t shown it to anybody. It might end up on Netflix. Hopefully FX, I think FX is a good place for it, but we’ll see, I’m open to it.
JR: And you’re paying for it by yourself, right?
RS: Why not? I have nothing against those Kickstarter things, I mean if somebody wants to give you money god bless you, let them give you money, but I feel like my audience has already given me money, enough money, so I said I’ll just pay for it myself.