It's Ok To Laugh
Comic-actor-writer-producer Rob Schneider discusses the climate change of comedy
As a cast member during the second golden age of Saturday Night Live in the early '90s, Rob Schneider established himself as a versatile comedic character actor in the rare spirit of Peter Sellers. With a number of memorable catch phrases and characterizations to his credit, he quickly made the leap to theatrical films with "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "The Hot Chick" and "Grown Ups."
Now that two seasons of his Netflix series Real Rob are available with a third planned for next year, he's back on the road this fall with a stand-up tour.
Schneider - last in town for a performance with his old friend and collaborator Adam Sandler at The Fox- recently spoke with INsite by phone from his home in Los Angeles.
We're excited that you're coming to City Springs, a new theater in the metro Atlanta area.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to it, too. I was at one of the older theaters there with Adam Sandler and that was one of our favorite shows there.
Right, was that on the recent tour that Adam filmed for a new special?
Yeah, it was actually.
How'd it turn out?
Good, and it's coming out at around late October. It'll be announced pretty soon.
I hear it was a very expensive production.
Yeah, he worked on it for about two years, really. He filmed quite a bit of that tour, so the budget was in the millions. I will say it's probably the most expensive comedy special ever made.
That's a game changer.
Yeah it is; it will change the way people think of comedy specials. No one's ever done what he just did. No one has ever thought of it in the way that he did. I think he's a genius.
You've known Sandler for years. He elicits such drastic reactions; people either really love him or they just can't stand him.
Well his critics are people who don't quite understand his appeal. They don't quite understand what he does. It's brilliant to be able to keep what is joyful about what you do. He's like a 14-year-old when he comes up with something funny. It makes him bounce out of his chair. I think that's his real brilliance; he never lost his 14-year-old id.
It's so easy for artists to become jaded - and that's especially true in comedy.
It is! Well, you're affected by everything and by people's expectations. Then you're affected by your own reactions to those expectations. I remember talking to the great director John Landis. He told me that Alfred Hitchcock never made a great film after "Psycho," because he just became Alfred Hitchcock, the celebrity. He couldn't filter that through his lens of perception and then try to make a great movie without that burden of being called a "genius." Luckily, I've never had that burden.
Since you do so many characters, it's hard to pigeonhole you into any one category, which is great for career longevity.
It is good, but I will say there's a growing intolerance about what people are allowed to do these days and who is allowed to represent it. Because I'm part Scottish and part Asian, am I only allowed only do part Scottish/part Asian work? Right now, we're dealing with a form of intolerance in the guise of tolerance, to quote George Carlin.
It's almost like the old snake eating its tail analogy.
Yeah, very much so. I think what you have is an undemocratic form of thought. It's secular form of fundamentalism in thinking. A closed-minded school of thought where "heretics" must be violently excommunicated from the Church of Liberalism if they don't conform exactly to the strict doctrine of liberalism. Which is actually illiberal.
Comedy is an especially ripe target for those attacks.
It is because it's the last bastion of pure, open thought. It's the one man standing on a soapbox, on the street corner trying to get an audience while speaking his mind. So obviously that needs to be controlled because that's a potential threat to the orthodoxy. So that must be stopped, right? God-forbid people might want to make up their own minds about stuff. But all ideas and people are valid. To invalidate one, invalidates all of us. But like all forms of fanaticism, like all forms of fanaticism or like all forms of fascism, it has a shelf-life.
Or a breaking point.
Yeah, I think what happens is a similar thing like when you had McCarthyism. That was a Republican thing that everybody kind of went with, and finally people stood up to it and said this is a form of intolerance.
Thanks to social media, everyone has a street corner now.
Right, you have the instant judgement of justice-warriors on Twitter and they're the ones who get to decide. It's interesting, if you could go back in time, looking for a device or a way to to destroy America, you'd have invented Twitter. So stand-up comedy is a target because it is freedom; it's not produced by any one company, it's not on television necessarily. Sometimes it can get on television, but it is a real form of expression. When people go to see Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock or Bill Burr, people go because they're looking for a moral barometer of a way to see the world. When I go see those guys, I watch the audience as well as those great comedians. That audience is desperate to hear them because they can't find that stuff from their political leaders or most journalists. They're looking to comedians for a moral barometer as to what to do. Or in the case of Louis CK, what not to do.
Growing up in the era of Carlin and Pryor and all the greats from the '60s and '70s who paved the way, I believed it was the comedian's duty to say whatever they wanted to say, with no censorship - on stage or record.
Well just as much as I think science is a new religion, I think political correctness is can become part of the repression you speak against. You can become a part of it.
In this whole era of PC, it's so weird to see colleges cracking down on comics - of all people.
They're the worst right now! Seinfeld, or Chris Rock or I, we won't perform at a college. No great comedians perform at universities anymore.
That's so weird because I remember watching [legendary late comedian] Chris Rush play a lunchtime show on the courtyard at the Tate Center at the University of Georgia in the very early '80s. It was pretty cutting-edge alt humor for the times, yet there was no backlash, no pearl-clutching complaints about the content of his set. It was just pure freedom of expression.
I know. But now the microcosm really is the university. I think it's the closed network of so many things and it's literally affecting the way kids think. But once all of this collapses, I hope it'll lead to a greater expansion of freedom. Freedom will always be the thing people strive for.
You're in a good place for artistic freedom because you've created your own show.
Pretty much. I've had complete freedom of expression on Netflix and they've become the biggest entertainment entity in the world, so at a certain point, there may be some things that might have to be dealt with accordingly. But right now it's the freest place to work. If you want to something with complete creative control, you have to do it by yourself. Luckilly, the place we always wanted to go is to do a half-hour show without commercials. It's not like a network show where it's 20-something minutes Each episode is 30 minutes, so it's a true teleplay. The only place for it was Netflix, really. And now I get messages from people all over the world about it, from Norway, Russia, Singapore and Brazil. So it's pretty crazy. But now I couldn't be in a better spot.
Does that freedom of expression bleed into your current stand-up set?
I think it's the best I've ever done. I can see people just bending over laughing. That's when you know it's really working. I think people really want to go see someone for some unfiltered views. It's so much better than a movie. That's what I really want to give people. They don't know exactly where I'm gonna go - and then I go there. It's nice to know you can still shock an audience. But you also have to be careful how you might get there. I literally have to explain - in a comedic way - that it's ok to laugh at these things. I never thought I'd have to do that. George Carlin would be aghast that you need to remind an audience that it's ok to laugh. But I do - and it is!
Rob Schneider performs September 28 at City Springs Performing Arts Center. For more information, please visit citysprings.com.