The guy behind “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo” is more of a thinker than you might expect. Rob Schneider is known for starring roles in comedy films, like the aforementioned 1999 sex farce, and supporting parts in hits by his friend Adam Sandler, such as “The Waterboy,” “50 First Dates,” “Grown Ups,” etc., that weren’t exactly targeted towards intelligentsia. But if you watch or read interviews with Schneider, or in my case actually get to chat with him yourself, he’s a provocative conversationalist.
Like Sandler, Schneider was part of the talent-rich early ‘90s “Saturday Night Live” casts that also included Chris Rock, David Spade, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Tim Meadows among others.
Lately, Schneider has returned to his stand-up comedy roots. In 2020, he released a new stand-up special on Netflix, “Asian Momma, Mexican Kids,” with some funny bits about life in his mid-50s. (For example, as Schneider says in that special, “I’m at the age now, it’s not that I’m less interested in sex less but I’m as interested in cookies.”)
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On a recent morning, Schneider, a San Francisco native, checked in from the road during his latest stand-up tour, for a phone interview. Edited excerpts are below.
This weekend he’s performing at Stand Up Live, address 2012 Memorial Pkwy. S.W. in Huntsville, Ala., with shows 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and 4, 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. Saturday. The Friday shows are sold out but some tickets ($35 and up, via huntsville.standuplive.com) remain for Saturday.
Rob, how much comedy writing do you do on the road? How often do you slip a new bit into the show you wrote earlier that day or the night before?
Yeah, it’s always growing and changing and shifting. It needs to. I mean, I’m a big believer in whether you’re a painter or a sculptor or stand-up comedian or a musician, you have to comment on your age, the era that you’re in, what society is going through.
I’m there to get laughs but at the same time … Like when I saw Dave Chappelle a few years back, I felt very inspired in several ways. I felt like, first of all, the audience was almost – it’s weird to say desperate – but they were like leaning forward. I just got the sense of like the audience asking of Dave, “Please make sense of the world for me, because I can’t anymore.” And he was. He was like some combination of soothsayer, comedian, and some de facto religious leader. And I don’t think I’m exaggerating.
Doing comedy in your 50s, you’ve seen a lot of life, you’ve had ups and downs, like a lot of people. Do you think it makes your comedy more soulful than it’s been before?
Oh, certainly. Well, it’s like, I’ve had 30 years of experience being a stand-up. I stopped for a long time, but I’ve been 10 years solid. I think your humanity expands as you become more humbled in life. Because clearly, life is humbling. I don’t come at this like I am anything but an equal or slightly less than an equal to the audience.
What I try to do is talk about some of the things that I think are happening in the world and try to make sense of some of it. And then also be on their side, because I do think that there’s a segment of the population that is being attacked for having more conservative views, as if that’s wrong.
And I think they’re being cajoled instead of being communicated with and debating their arguments, which … Liberalism is great about equality and stuff. But there is an illiberal viewpoint, which is just demagogues telling you what to think, what you need to do, without the benefit of discussion. If you don’t play the game, you’re out. I feel like I know most Americans, even the people who call themselves liberals and do follow some of that would say that, that’s just not American.
And what’s right for me might not be right for you. I think the whole thing of “if you don’t see it our way, you’re a terrible person” or you’re now an outcast, on either extreme of the spectrum is …
It’s extreme but most of it is coming from the left because they’re the party in power now. And they’ve got most of the TV channels. And they have the Washington Post The New York Times, or they’re no longer like just reporting the news. It’s not objective anymore. It’s like a lecture hall, and you’re not allowed to leave. And when the Republicans are in power, you have to critique the party in power. I don’t like this push to silence people on the other side. If it’s such a good idea, let’s debate it.
But anyway, in a stand-up routine, I consider myself a student and follower of George Carlin, and I think he would point out some of the insanity of the day. He was there for laughs and he would use what was happening in society. He kind of had a bleak view of humanity the last couple of decades of his life, and I thought it was too bleak. And now I’m coming around his point of view.
There’s never been a better time to be a live performer, when the audience is need of a sincere laugh. I’ve never felt the audience, as I am now. So grateful to be out. And also to hear unbridled opinions about the state of the world, and particularly in his age of where we’re so obviously being used by tech companies to divide Americans and divide people for their own monetary gain, I think it’s becoming more obvious to people as we go. I think in a live forum you can talk more than then you can on these (social media) platforms, which so easily censor people for the mildest of statements. We’ve never lived, in my lifetime, with more rampant censorship than we are now. So it’s been great, as far as the audiences, to just be able to just hear somebody speak their mind and go, “Yeah, I think that way, too.”
And we should be able to hear people speak their minds, especially in comedy, which is a format of art and entertainment where you should be able to not be homogenized.
But there’s surprisingly a number of young people that have been, I would say, brainwashed into the idea that you’re not supposed to be challenged.
That sounds like the opposite of in the ‘90s, where pushing boundaries and having an edge was valued and felt important.
It will come back to that. But we really are in an era of I think a fragmented population, where they stress differences not our commonalities. Of course, the commonalities are much more significant and many more of them. But there’s less money for tech companies to make on our similarities when they could push our differences, to get people to be more addicted to their social media algorithms and social media platforms. That’s why they use those algorithms to stress that. It’s purely for profit, and they don’t care that it’s disruptive to this to this country. And I think people are slowly coming around to it. So at least when you perform (comedy), I think people appreciate it and have a good laugh and get away from it. Because it is consuming. It’s a lot for some people.
During your time on “SNL” there were both Republican and Democrat presidents. It seemed like you all went after and made fun of both.
Yes. Like the whole point of when we were on “SNL,” it wasn’t to propel the … I mean, you could obviously tell we were more left-leaning, “SNL” was, but the idea was to make fun of power and whoever was in power, whether it was Clinton or Bush, at that time. And I think we did that. But I also think it was for laughs not to preach to the choir. There was a famous statement that I made, which has been viral for a few years now and it’s “political indoctrination by comedic imposition.” And I do think that much of late night TV is that.
During your time on “SNL,” Nirvana, who’ve become such an iconic band, played the show. What stands out about Nirvana’s appearance, you have a vivid memory, something behind the scenes?
It was madness, as far as how crazy popular they were. And I wasn’t part of that, you know, I’m more of a jazz … If it would have been Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins or Stan Getz, I would’ve been really excited. So I was never a rock & roll guy. But I do remember like, people saying at that time, “This is the most important rock band of our era.” I was like, really? I don’t know.
And I just remember being on stage with the band, and especially the lead singer, and I just noticed he was really kind of, you know, trying to be there as best he could, smiling at me and just being happy to be there. But I could tell there was just something off about him. I didn’t realize and I found out years later that he had ODed the night before, that they resuscitated him and he still was able to perform. And I said I didn’t realize that. You know, I think that happened on Thursday. We did the show Saturday.
[According to Charles Cross’ 2001 Kurt Cobain biography “Heavier Than Heaven,” Cobain overdosed on heroin after Nirvana’s 1992 appearance on “SNL,” in his New York hotel, after skipping the post-show cast party.]
But when I saw him, I also realized the downside of fame, social pressure to create and the pressure to be, you know, this symbol. And especially if you have a chemical dependency or if you have a proclivity to evade that pain. And I’m sorry, what’s his name again? The lead singer.
Kurt Cobain. Man, I didn’t understand at that time, because I was too young to understand it, what he was going through. I have more of a sense of it now.
You’ve had some iconic lines over the years, whether on “SNL” or in movies. What’s the one line of yours people on the street or whatever say back to you the most? Is it, “You put your weed in it”? Is it, “You can do it!”?
“You can do it” was kind of part of people’s childhood. Like for me when I think of “Blazing Saddles,” I go back to that 9-year-old in me. I just remember laughing the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my life when I saw “Blazing Saddles” because it just was pure silliness. And insanely funny. But also insightfully funny. It really showed the ignorance of prejudice. The people who were prejudiced ones were the ones that were being mocked, and the ones who were oppressed were the people who I wanted to be with and who you can root for.
And so for people who grew up watching the Adam Sandler movies that I was very lucky to be in, they remember that stuff. When you think of like “50 First Dates” or “Waterboy” that’s part of people’s childhoods. And I think some of the ones we made were pretty good. And I think it’s wonderful to go back. Because to me, like the sweetest thing I get was like last night after the show a guy came up to me said, “I just wanted you to know that one of the memories I really cherish is me and my dad laughing really hard at your character in ‘Down Periscope.’” And I was like, wow. I always think of that movie that it didn’t make enough money to help my career at the time. But it was a funny movie. And I really enjoyed that role, and I loved working with Kelsey Grammer.
You don’t think about that when you’re making the movie. Well, what’s the impact? Or who’s gonna watch this with their parents or with their kids? But it’s nice to be able to know years later that for these people it’s a nice good laugh they’ll never forget.
IF I had axiom of what comedy is, it’s similar to music. There’s an emotional memory attached to it when you really laugh hard. Like if you have a great meal or when you dance to a song with someone you’re in love with. You remember that forever.
You’ve been able to do a lot of things in your career. What’s something you haven’t done yet you’d like to do?
I’d like to work with some directors, like I’d love to work with like a Ridley Scott, one of those guys. He’s amazing. I’ve had friends work with him. Unfortunately in American entertainment, show business and acting specifically, it’s not like France. The French are much more adventurous with as viewers. They’ll watch Gérard Depardieu do comedy, which he started out in, and they’ll want to see him do something else like a period piece. But here in America, people don’t think of entertainment as culture. They just think of it as entertainment, you know? And so it’s all about making money, which is fine. It’s just the way it is. But I do think it’s nice to try different genres and do different stuff. In America, unless you write it for yourself, you’re kind of out of luck. So I’ve written some fun stuff for myself. But I don’t have any regrets. I like what I’ve done and hopefully I’ll get a few more chances to do different stuff.
Like it was cool you were in “Judge Dredd” (the 1995 action/science fiction film adaptation of the comic-book character of the same name).
Yeah, that was fun. That was an exciting time. To be able to work with such a huge movies star, like at the time the biggest stars in the world were Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, at a time when there weren’t social media stars and Instagram stars. We just had movie stars, really. And I remember being with him and we would we get out of the car, he would stop traffic. Cars would stop in because it Sylvester Stallone walking down the street. People had to stop their cars to look. That’s fame. That’s another level.
For me, your era of “SNL” was the last one that was a must-watch. You had a special group on there with you.
I always say the best crew was the first crew. [The first “SNL” cast included Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, etc.] The funniest guys were the first. But at the same time, I think the one that had the best careers was our group for sure. Chris Rock, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers … me. That’s a pretty good group.