One Man, One Mic: The Rob Schneider Interview
Former SNL star performs at Pala Casino
Known for his trademark blend of character and comedic acting, Rob Schneider has returned to his roots as a stand-up comedian. Cutting his teeth as a young comic in the 1980’s San Francisco comedy scene, Schneider spent his early years opening up for headliners like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, before appearing on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987. After performing on HBO’s 13th Annual Young Comedians Special, producer Lorne Michaels hired Schneider to work for Saturday Night Live, where he met friend and fellow comic, Adam Sandler. Since then, Schneider has appeared in almost all of Sandler’s films, portraying quirky scene-stealing characters with a penchant for the odd.
Besides his array of supporting roles, Schneider’s also been the lead in numerous films such as The Hot Chick, The Animal and the successful Deuce Bigalow franchise. While filming Grown Ups in 2009, co-star and friend Chris Rock coaxed Schneider to return to stand-up comedy after being absent from for almost 20 years.
SanDiego.com was fortunate to speak with Schneider from his home in Los Angeles and got a chance to talk about his early years in stand-up comedy, and why he never had more than 25 minutes of material.
What do you have going on today?
Rob Schneider: I’m just trying to write jokes for the show on Saturday, and I’m working on a TV show called Rob for CBS. It’s going to air in January.
So do you plan on doing a lot of new material at Pala Casino?
RS: Yeah, I try to always do new stuff. That’s part of the fun of doing stand-up, you just keep building and writing and changing and shifting; it’s fun. I was lucky enough when I was on Saturday Night Live years ago, people would come by to do the Phil Donahue show and I heard Richard Pryor was in the building, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me!?’ So I ran downstairs, stopped what I was doing and spent a half hour talking to him about stand-up and told him what a genius he was and what a huge influence he was on me and all my friends. I picked his brain and said, ‘Man that was the greatest stand-up performance ever, that concert film in Long Beach.’ He said, ‘Man that was nothing. You should’ve seen that stuff six months later. I had that shit down. I was just getting started.’ I was like, ‘I couldn’t imagine it any better than that.’
You had taken about 20 years off from performing stand-up, is that correct?
RS: Yeah pretty much. Like 17 or 18, something like that. Unless you’re doing it all the time I don’t think you can be really good at it. To stay sharp you have to keep doing it. If you’re doing movies and stopping for months at a time it’s impossible to stay at any top level. You have to really maintain a presence to do it. And also, I got bored with the audiences back then. Because there were so many comedians and the audiences I was hoping would become connoisseurs to comedy. Instead of that in the late eighties and early nineties, the audiences just seized with the same kind of comedians who had fallen in different categories. It’s just like Jerry Seinfeld said, (in Seinfeld's voice) "In 1975 there were 40 comedians and eight of them were good. In 1985 there were 4,000 comedians and eight of them were good."
Would you say you came up during the end or the middle of the comedy boom?
RS: I think I came up in the early eighties to the late eighties. That was like the middle of the boom.
Were you still a teenager the first time you did stand-up?
RS: Yeah, I didn’t know there was a comedy club in San Francisco. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a comedy club. It was one of those things like you see people on TV and they don’t even seem real to you because they’re on TV. Then I heard there was a club, I went there as a fifteen-year-old and they wouldn’t even let me in, but it made me recognize, ‘Wait a minute. These people are somehow doing it; I need to be doing this.’ By the time I was 17 I was doing it more, then by the time I was 20 I was doing it full time.
Do you remember the first time you ever headlined a club?
RS: Yeah, it was probably after I got on the David Letterman show when I was 22 or 23.
How long had you been doing it then?
RS: By then I had been doing it probably three years solid, but five or six years overall.
So after about three or four years, you had a solid 45 minutes of material.
RS: No. Adam Sandler, David Spade and me and another comedian named Drake Sather - we were all just starting to become famous comedians and we all had one thing in common: we had a monster 25 minutes and a shitty 45 minutes. I never had a good 45 minutes. I never did the whole time I did it. I was a really killer act for 25 minutes. Jay Leno told me early on, ‘All you need is 20 minutes to become a star. That’s all you need.’ To really become a good stand-up, I mean you got to do over an hour and really do it good. You don’t need two hours of material, but you want to give them a good show for over an hour. That’s what Jay Leno did, Steve Martin, George Carlin – they’d do an hour and a half, but a really funny hour and half. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to be a killer stand-up. I had a good 20-25 minutes but when I did 45, it was disappointing. But now I feel like I can do an hour and a half solid.
With regards to stand-up comedy, what’s your take on improvisation and crowd work?
RS: You work off what you have written. For people who think they’re just coming up with this stuff and that you’ve never said these words together before; true improvisation, I would say ten percent of it works if you’re a genius, and most people ain’t no geniuses. So all the improvisation that Robin Williams or whatever these other people think - they’ve said those things before, it’s just giving the allusion that this is the first time it’s happening. As far as crowd work, I’ve always found that to be a half notch above song parodies; not really clever. I like somebody who’s worked something out, like George Carlin would work out the specific words and memorize them and come up with bits and then come up with another group of words to back up his point and just hammer things. I like something worked out, it’s like a movie. Improv to me is rehearsal for something that could be worked out and made really fun. I like something that’s already worked out, I don’t want to see the practice. It’s like going to batting practice. I want to see you be able to hit a homerun during the game, anyone can hit a homerun during batting practice if you’re strong enough; if you know the guy is pitching to you right down the pipe. Improv is very good for practice as far as working things out. I did it when I was younger, but I like to do Improv for other people who appreciate Improv. Because when you get a paying audience you find out people just turn into whores and they just go for the cheapest sex jokes right away. I like to have my sex jokes worked out professionally.