Paul Rodriguez is more than just one of "those guys that was in that thing." You know him from The Newlywed Game, if you're a little older, and the Original Kings of Comedy if you're not so old. He's been around show business so long that his son is almost more famous than him.
Rodriguez may be slowing down on standup gigs, but he's keeping the wheels greased with voice-over work and a big ol' philanthropic heart.
Before he becomes "the guy that plays Palm Beach Improv this weekend," we chatted with Rodriguez about chihuahuas, the Golden Girls, and the streets of Compton. Seriously, how much fun does that sound?
New Times: In The Original Latin Kings of Comedy, you got to star alongside George Lopez and Cheech Marin. That's some cast. Have you all stayed close?
Paul Rodriguez: Well that's the sad part about it. It was one of the most successful videos out there, and we were very, very close ,and then all of the sudden we all wind up in court. We had a manager who literally just ripped us up and took all the profits. So I had to sue him and ended up not paying the other guys, but it didn't ruin our friendship. George and I, we don't speak that much; I've got love for him, but I just don't see him that much because he is busy, but Cheech I see once in a while.
I'd like to think we are friends, and maybe we can get together, but there was a manager there that really screwed everything up and we have been in court for the last four years. The case was settled about six months ago.
You are credited with the first-ever one hour stand up special in Spanish.
Yes, there are a lot of comedians that do it in Spanish, but not also in English, that I am aware of. I've been to the comedy circles in Colombia, I worked in Puerto Rico. My Spanish is 'English-Spanish' you know? I don't speak the proper Spanish of Spain and that Daffy Duck kind of a sound but they seem to enjoy it. It's been very successful.
How much of a role do you think body language and inflection play into comedy -- do you think someone who doesn't speak Spanish could still watch it and find the humor?
Well, not really. Maybe some. You live in Florida, for example. You would be surprised at how much Spanish you know because of the Cuban influence. You get the gestures, you catch four words, and you kind of know, but would you catch it all? I don't think so. I don't think that's fair.
When I do my show in English, I publicize that it's in English because it's not fair to be on the outside of the jokes, it's uncomfortable. In Vegas, when I was at the Tropicana, I would do a matinee in Spanish and then I would do the nightly show in English. A few people would come in and be confused, but I can't stop my show and tell you 'You have the wrong tickets.' I have to go on.
I read that you grew up in Compton, California. What was that like?
The thing about Compton was that my family was the first non-black family to go to the school called Ralph Bunche. I grew up learning 'Black English,' you know? I got to the airport and people were looking at me thinking I spoke funny, but I thought they spoke funny. Growing up, the races didn't mix too much. But I did, I crossed over and hung out and went out and tried to make friends. I was only one man, there wasn't even enough of me to form a gang. I had to use my words to get by.
You have been on lots of different talk shows including Howard and Leno. Which talk show has the nicest green room and makes you always want to come back?
Well for the most part, Letterman doesn't talk to you. He doesn't want to see you in the hall. That was uncomfortable. Leno is friendlier, he's more jovial; but, personally, I don't think he's as funny. I'm more of a Kimmel or a Conan guy -- I like that kind of comedy more.
Your son Paul Rodriguez Jr., aka P. Rod, is a total powerhouse in the skateboarding world. When he first picked up a board, were you scared he would fall get hurt himself or was he a natural right away?
No, I didn't know what that was! When he started skateboarding, my heart was broken because he was a much better golfer. My kid was eight years old, hitting the ball 100 yards right to where he wanted to. A little Tiger Woods Latino. And then one day, he came home from school, and said some girl told him that "golfing was gay."
As much as I tried, I couldn't get him back to the gold course. Then I was on the road a lot, sadly enough, and by the time I got back, he had already picked up a skateboard. I didn't know you could make a living out of it! I thought skateboarding was just what you did when you didn't have a bike. I didn't know there was money in it. I'm glad he found something, but I had this nightmare in my head that I was going to have a 30 year old guy living in my house. Paul has turned out to be quite an entrepreneur. He is working on an brewery in San Diego, called St Archer's that is about to launch. He is a mogul. As a matter of fact, the guy is so popular, that when you Google my name, he has just about made me disappear!
You are one of those guys who like to give back now that you made it big. What are some of your favorite charity events?
I'm part of a group called the Water Coalition, but the things that bring a lot of joy to me are the things I do with my son. He got money from Nike to open skate parks in some of the most dangerous and impoverished parts of town. He opened one in the Watts Towers. He goes down there, and I go down there, we alternate a week. I don't skate, but I am there keeping it going. I go into the classrooms and try to teach them about civil rights and doing the right thing I do it because I want to do it. I hope I passed that down to my son, and it looks like he is going to do way more than I could even think of.
I couldn't help but notice on your IMDB that you were in an episode of Golden Girls. What was that experience like?
I was good friends with Bea Arthur. She was a friend of mine from way back and got me interested in acting. She was a good coach. She was a big fan of comedy. We would go see Andy Kaufman and a lot of others. She was a great lady and I miss her.
One day she called me up and said "Look, there is this part, and it is kind like the goof ball stereotypical part. You are going to be carrying somebody's bags while we are on vacation in Mexico." I just played with it. They were all very nice. Betty White was great, I just saw her about three months ago, and she's all there. She was making jokes about getting famous so late in life. She's going to leave a fortune to those dogs she has. Boy I wish I was her poodle!
Speaking of, your bio says that you have three Chihuahuas. Is that why you took a role in Beverly Hills Chihuahua?
No, the money played a role in that. It was just a very nice piece of work that came my way. The best is doing a voice-over, you don't have to be in front of the camera, you don't have to put on makeup. It was a lot of fun. You get to hang out with your friends and get paid for it. I've done a lot of voice-over work, and I hope to do more. I just finished another one called El Americano. It's about a parrot and should open around Christmas.
Tell us why we should come to your show this weekend.
If you ever had a curiosity of seeing me, come to the show because I don't think I am going to be traveling too much longer. I'm ready to stay at home and cross these movies off my bucket list. The personal appearance thing is coming to an end. It takes a lot to get my butt on a plane; child support payments will do it. But if you ever wanted to see me, come see me. Don't miss out.
What's your favorite kind of sandwich?
I like the Cuban sandwiches with ham and Swiss on a baguette. But to be honest, I'm more of a burrito guy.
Paul Rodriguez is at the Palm Beach Improv, 550 S Rosemary Ave. Suite 250, West Palm Beach, this weekend, Friday, April 26, through Sunday, April 28. Tickets are $25. Visit palmbeachimprov.com
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