For Paul Rodriguez, comedy just mirrors life

Published on March 30th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Paul Rodriguez knows comedy.

“You have to talk about life because it is funny,” he said. “It’s hard to duplicate my life and experiences, but my audiences get it. I mean I am now a member of AARP. That’s my new gang!”

He is, of course, one of the first superstar Latin comedians, perhaps only Cheech and Chong at the same level in terms of the pioneers. And he will bring his legendary comic show to Spotlight 29 Casino in Indio on July 18.

“There are a lot of good Latin comics, but they don’t have my age or experience, and I never have to worry about sounding like someone else,” he said. “They have to sound like me! But I am really proud of those guys.”

Rodriguez grew up in East Los Angeles after his family migrated from Mexico. He was going to be a teacher and then a lawyer at first, but the comedy bug got him, leading to a hugely successful stand up career, television shows and movies.

“In the beginning it was hard, but at my age you learn a thing or two and you learn about things that may be different,” he said. “If you are a parent, you worry about kids. Those are the things everyone can relate to. I can talk about cutting coupons. People relate. For one hour they forget their problems, and that’s my goal.”

Rodriguez focuses on keeping people laughing, which means keeping their attention.

“Even a teacher or public speaker can make it seem long and boring,” he said. “I wanted to be a school teacher, then thought about being an attorney. My teachers made it fun and challenging and got inside your head. Everyone had that one teacher. As I look back at mine, they made it fun to be in class. Others made you want to skip class.”

It’s about keeping things funny and timely.

“All the famous speakers always used humor at a strategic place,” he said. “We live in a scary, threatening world, and it’s hard for any human to absorb it. You have to break it up and see that things aren’t always about hate and economics. See, I’m a mental doctor.”

And it’s more than getting on stage and telling a few jokes.

“You have to feel out the audience,” he said. “You throw out a joke or two and see. I go out there with ideas but nothing set. You have to be able to move things around.”

It’s not about memorizing bits and sticking with them.

“There are a lot of comedians who are memorization guys, but I try to stay fluid,” he said. “If someone hollers, you think of a funny return quickly. Last show, someone hollered ‘Bill Cosby.’ I said ‘He’s here?’ You make a few jokes and deal with it. You have to be able to read the paper to be informed. It’s worked for me.”

Of course, when you talk about everyday life, there are things that will work and other things that won’t.

“The material has to be appropriate,” he said. “I can’t go out there and do rap jokes to an elderly couple. My audience is going to see someone they like. You have to keep the diet on the main course. You can’t go up there where the people are expecting a country western band and do rap.”

Instead, it’s about being truthful.

“Can you report it as accurately and use the right words,” he said. “Again, the only thing that is funny is something that they can relate to. The truth is funny. If you embellish or exaggerate it that’s fine but you still have to stay close to reality. For instance, I can go on stage and talk about Obama and how he looked like Denzel when it all started and now he looks like Uncle Ben. They laugh.”

But he is also extremely proud of the legacy he has left behind in terms of influencing other Latino comics.

“I was instrumental in their careers and now they have someone to measure to,” he said. “We remain friends, and I wish I got to see them more. It’s a question of growing.”

Growing includes a new TV show, “Three Generations,” featuring himself, Edward James Olmos and his son, professional skateboarder and actor Paul “P-Rod” Rodgriguez III.

And perhaps the key to it all is being able to laugh at yourself.

“You have got to be able to laugh at yourself as well as others,” he said. “Carl Reiner said that comedy is seeing an old lady slipping on a banana peel. Tragedy is that it’s your mom.”


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