Comedian Paul Rodriguez on Immigration Reform, His Skateboarding Son, and How Latinos Have Reacted to 50 Shades of Grey
To the average person, the name Paul Rodriguez invariably brings to mind memories of his numerous appearances in flicks like Tortilla Soup, A Million to Juan, or Born in East L.A. (the film that launched his cinematic career). Those are merely one part of Rodriguez's lengthy and varied résumé over the past three decades, as he's also pulled numerous guest star gigs on the small screen, hosted game shows and a talk show, and is an outspoken activist and political wag.
He's also an affable guy, one helluva funny stand-up comedian, and arguably one of the most famous Latino comics working today. Rodriguez took time away from his busy schedule of doing stand-up gigs across the country, promoting the 2012 documentary The Fight for Water (in which he makes an appearance on behalf of struggling farm workers in California's Central Valley), and meeting with politicians to speak with Jackalope Ranch about his performances this weekend at Stand-Up Live.
The 58-year-old star of The Original Latin Kings of Comedy, who kicks off a three-night stint at the downtown Phoenix comedy club on Friday, got both profound and humorous as he discussed his feelings about the state of Latinos in America and immigration reform. He also dished on less-serious topics like his take on 50 Shades of Grey and how your grandmother might be a fan of the twisted tome, as well as his favorite film roles and how his son Paul Rodriguez III (a.k.a. P-Rod) is killing it in the skateboard world.
So are you still doing your "50 Shades of Brown" tour? Yeah, we're touring with that. There's four of us that have been touring, but on this particular show in Phoenix it will be less shady, you could say. It will be just myself. But "50 Shades of Brown" has been a spoof on the 50 Shades of Grey [phenomenon]. It's just an overall view, in a funny way, of Latinos in general. Kind of like a report card in a comedic kind of way.
It's a review of how many of us there are. We break it down and give a sort of "You can't judge a Latino by its cover" [message] in just an overall new and comedic way. It's hard to explain right now because you don't want to preach to them all the time because that's not what we do. We try to make 'em laugh. And I try to make 'em laugh during my shows, like the one in Phoenix.
Does the tour riff on the book 50 Shades of Grey? Yes, of course, but not that much. It riffs on 50 Shades of Grey slightly. We talk about how in the book this man ties her up and whips her and does all the things that drive her crazy, but if [Latinos] were to do that, we'd get arrested for battery. So you have to be very careful, you know. I talk about Latinos' anger, their passion.
It's never quite the same. That's just how I get into it. I always follow the flow of the room, see if they're with me. You're not there to do a show for yourself as much as you are for them. Sometimes the audience guides you into your topic as to what your doing.
And over the years I've learned to let them do that. Whatever topic that's given the best response you stay on it for as long as you can and then you move on. But yeah, "50 Shades of Brown" is not as much about the sexual proclivities of...oh, what's his name, Christian Grey as it is about the state, if you will, of Latinos in America.
Has that book had much of an impact among Latinos? Yeah, yeah. It's had an impact on people period, regardless of their skin color. It surprised me when you mentioned it. The women have read it, regardless of what their nationality is. And you say to yourself, "Boy!" I've read it myself. I said this book is nothing more than a compilation of letters to Penthouse, that same kind of erogenous language, that sort of thing.
But you'd be surprised. Your grandma, your mom, they're eating it up and you're going "woah." There was need and it filled it, you know [with] fantasy or whatever it is. It's hilarious. As a man, I don't know of anyone who's read it, really, and if we have, we don't take it seriously. It's kind of embarrassing for us, really. You go, "Woah, what do you know? I guess that's what turns them on." Which just goes to prove that men have no clue what turns women on.
You recently filmed a horror-comedy with Sarah Silverman called Gravy. Yeah. Well, I'm looking forward to seeing it.
What was it like shooting the movie? I talked to the director [James Roday] and I said, "Are you sure I should tell people that I'm in a horror picture? Because if they look at me they're gonna think it's gotta be a comedy." But it's scary. We shot in a warehouse really that was really dark and he kept the noise down and you're sitting there, or in my case I'm sitting there knowing that I'm about to get killed, and consciously you know you're in a horror movie.
What's it about? It's scary. It is. And I think what makes this movie really scary in the villains. You don't see it coming. I won't spoil it, but it's about this group of very yuppie-looking, very well-spoken, very educated crew who hold up this restaurant. We think they're gonna rob us but they're cannibals. They're gonna eat us, consume us. And they have a chef and they talk to you about what they're going to turn you into, how they're gonna cook you, what parts of your body. They really get really specific with you. It's pretty scary. I think people are gonna get freaked out. From what I remember it was pretty freaky.
What role do you play? I play a guy who owns this restaurant and I got a bunch of college kids working for me and we're about closing and [there's] a holdup. I play older and I'm the second one to get consumed, if you will. They did this whole body cast made out of wax that looks so authentic and you see them slicing it. And they lay out this morgue and you have this chef cutting you up and it's really freaky. Really weird. I don't know if I'm anxious about seeing it, but I do want to see it, more than other things that I've done, to see how it turns out.
Of the many movies you've been in during your career, which one was your favorite? I enjoyed working with Anthony Hopkins in The World's Fastest Indian. I think it's a picture I've gotten the most compliments from. Born in East L.A. is probably the one that's most memorable. Working with Clint Eastwood is like a wet dream for every guy that likes action films. He's probably the most intimidating, and yet the nicest guy, you could ever work for. There's just so many moments where you say to yourself, "Wow, man, I can't believe it. I'm sitting here next to Anthony Hopkins. There he is."
I was in pilot with Gladys Knight and the Pips and it just takes me back to when I was riding around in my car listening to "Midnight Train to Georgia," and you say, "Damn, this is her, she knows my name." Those are the moments where you get a feeling, like "I can't believe it man." No matter what else happens, look what I'm doing, look who I'm with. Moments that really wake you up.
Any other memorable moments like that from your career? [They] put together a Dirty Harry set and I got an invite to go to the release. And I'm surrounded by a bunch of people and [Clint Eastwood] knows who you are. "Hey Paul, how you doing?" And you go, "Wow! That's the man." You're not just another person, he knows your name. That's an accomplishment.
It's hard to explain, but think of whatever person in your life that you'd like to meet and then one day, not only do you meet 'em but your on a first-name basis with a person of that stature. It's a neat ticket. Sometimes I almost feel the same when they ask my kid about skateboarding and he says he hangs out with people that he admires. I know exactly what he means.
Speaking of your son, when he started skateboarding as a kid, did you think he would turn out to be a star? Well, I'm guilty. No I didn't. I didn't even know what that was. My idea of skateboarder was pretty much like a stereotypical skateboarder: wearing a beanie with no job. I pictured a 34 or 35-year-old man hanging around my house [with] no future. I didn't know there [was] any kind of money or any kind of living [in it.] When he told me he was going to be a professional skateboarder, my heart sank. I said, "Wow, what does that mean? Smoke pot and hang out at my house waiting for me to expire so you can take over for what I have done?" Boy, have I been straightened out.
He's such an example. Every day my kid wows me. I sold the house that I bought for him when he was growing up to live in when he became 18 and put the money in some T-Bills. And when he turned 18, I gave him the amount. If it was me and my dad gave me the money, I'd go to Acapulco or go to Europe and just blow it and have a great party. He took it and he started a business, a shoe store and Primitive store, and it's been gangbusters. And then he took the profits from that and got together with some other guys and opened a beer company called Saint Archer [Brewery] and they're doing gangbusters.
For me, I've always said this and it's true, he's more responsible than I am. Sometimes he comes to my house and he acts like he's my dad, giving me advice. And I'm smart enough to take it. He's an amazing kid. I just got off the phone with him, he's in Barcelona where he qualified for first for the European X Games.
What do you dig about coming to Arizona? You've performed here many times before. Well, the fact that no one's from there, you know? Everybody's from Wisconsin and Michigan. I remember Phoenix being a teensy little town when I first started going there some 45 years ago. Now it's a huge metropolis. And because nobody's really from there, there's lots that you have in common. It's a lot like going to Vegas. It's kind of like Vegas without the gambling, and even that's there now with all the casinos. It's an interesting town. It's the wild, wild west.
It's said that within 25 years or so, Latinos will be the majority in Arizona, if not the entire U.S. What do you think about that? I'm not so sure it's a good thing if we're not prepared, you know. I'm just concerned because of the...we're already the majority that's in jail, you know. We're the majority in certain things that I'm not proud of. We've got to get our ducats in line, we gotta be educated, and we've gotta make up our mind, you know, we gotta sure our loyalties aren't too south of the border, that's a mess down there with all the narcos.
What are your feelings on the immigration legislation being proposed by the "Gang of Eight," including Arizona's Senator John McCain? Well, actually I spoke to the senator. I was just over here in Los Angeles, I got invited to go to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Center. It was [Senator Michael] Bennet, the ex-Mexican President [Vicente Fox], and I sat there and gave my two cents. And I'll tell you the truth, no matter what laws America passes, unless they have the cooperation of the other side, it's not gonna work. It's like if you and I share a lawn and I spray for bugs on my side and you don't for yours, we didn't solve the problem. The problem over there is with the Mexican government right now.
You don't have to be Nostradamus to see that sometime not too far in the future, America might have to invade again like they did because it's a narco state. There is no law whatsoever. It's a really, really terrible thing that going on. And eventually, they can pass all the laws they want, but unless they resolve the reasons why everyone keeps coming over here, nothing's gonna stop. If people can cross the Korean border, the most protected border in the world, they'll get across this one.
It's a very difficult problem, one that this comic can't solve, but the truth is, the only feasible thing that can possibly be done is to go back to the program they used to have, the guest worker program. I'm convinced that if Mexican's are allowed to come and work here and live there, they'll do that.
Paul Rodriguez is scheduled to perfom five shows at Stand-Up Live from Friday, May 24, to Sunday, May 26. Times vary. Admission is $25.
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