Comic legend Paul Rodriguez talks racism and immigration; up-and-comer Johnny Sanchez on Scarface, cultural translation, and getting a job (all funnier than it sounds)PAUL RODRIGUEZ
I heard you started out wanting to be a lawyer.
Yeah … as a kid I wanted to be Chavez’s right hand man … working for the UFW. You know, people should thank God that I’m not an attorney. I probably would’ve been one of those lawyers that you see on the buses, you know, probably: “Hi! Se quebró la nuca? Numeros imposibles de olvidar. El dos-dos-dos-dos … ”
You’ve been doing comedy since like the ’80s, right? The early ’80s?
The Crown Royal Latin Kings of Comedy Tour:
Paul Rodriguez, Luke Torres, Johnny Sanchez, Dennis Gaxiola
7pm Fri, Sep 29
San Antonio Municipal Auditorium
100 Auditorium Cir.
So, what are some changes you’ve seen in comedy for Latino comics?
Well, we’re not an `aberration` anymore. It’s not like when they say “Latino comic,” it doesn’t sound like two words that don’t go together … There are cities that were so white when I first — when I first started, you didn’t go past the Mason-Dixon line, you know, there was no need. If there were Latinos there, they lived like Anne Frank. But years have gone by, and now, you know, playing Nebraska, playing Des Moines, Iowa … I was in New Orleans and I got a chance to talk to `C. Ray` Nagin, the mayor, where he said that “This city will be chocolate again” — little did he know it was gonna be café con leche. There’s so many mexicanos there, it’s incredible. They have a love-and-hate relationship with them because on the one hand, they don’t wanna do the work … Because that’s the way it is. Latinos are willing to fill in that niche. My parents came to America to harvest vegetables and stuff like that, and I don’t do that. Nor will my children. But somebody’s got to if we want to have salad, right? So there you go.
Immigration was, for a while, a huge deal — still is, but people kinda started talking about `other things`…
I hate the racist terms that they, you know Lou Dobbs, and people like that: “The browning of America, turning this country into a third-world country.” … If they could, in their fantasy, make us all disappear back to Mexico, wherever it is they think we belong, they would be the first ones to go busing us back. They can’t live without us. They’re like our husband, we’re like their women … They think they don’t love us … but they can’t live without us. When the sun goes down, that bed gets awfully lonely without us. Damn right: “All forgiven, baby. Take those panties off.”
I was wondering if you find a difference between playing for largely Hispanic audiences and then not-largely-Hispanic audiences, and then `also differences among` Hispanic audiences in like L.A. and Texas, and then in New York.
Anywhere in Texas, I always feel really comfortable … But you know, there’s times, when I’m in areas, like I’m going back to Minneapolis … that crowd is pale, man. I mean, we’re talking, they get no sun. But, you know, it’s … Like New York’ll be interesting, because I do know there’s definitely going to be Puerto Ricans in the crowd. And that’s a whole thing, because you have to adjust to each … I can’t say “órale” to a Puerto Rican; I gotta say, “Boricua!”
Yeah, “Boricua!” Right.
And when you get down here, people are like, “What?”
Right, right, you know? And then with the Cubans, you can’t say “Boricua,” you would say, “coño!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah …
I will say this much, though … There is a Mexican almost everywhere in the United States … Even in Minneapolis, one night, there was — I’d even stopped asking, “Are there any Mexicans in the crowd?” — then some people clapped, like you know, when I said I was Mexican. I went, “What?” And then there was like a table of five of ’em in the back.
You said you can pass, or you can be mistaken for Middle Eastern and stuff like that; does that come into play with any sort of `film/tv` casting? Is that kind of weird, where you feel like you’re asked to play `different ethnicities`?
No, you know, what’s happening now, this is what’s kind of unfortunate for, with `political` correctness. See, years ago, they used to do it, they used to allow a, you know, a Greek guy to play an Italian, it was very —
Or freakin’ Scarface …
Yeah, yeah — there you go. An Italian playing — and listen, you know, it’s a great movie, but … it’s a little over-the-top.
It’s — it’s really terrible.
I watched it not too long ago, actually, and matter of fact, I talked about that in Miami. And the Cubans were there, and I was going, “What Cuban have you ever met that talks like that?” I mean, it was so over-the-top.
A human being doesn’t talk like that. It’s like blackface, almost.
Right. Absolutely, yeah … these other actors around him, these real Cubans, they must’ve, I bet, in between breaks, and during lunch they must’ve been saying, “Hey, man, this piece of shit … making us sound like idiots.” So what happened was, within the last, I’d say, five, six years … my agent `would say` “Do you wanna go out on this thing for Habib or whatever?” I mean, “Yeah, absolutely, I can do the voices, everything. No problem.” And then, he’d call me back later, “You know what? Um, they really want to try to keep it Indian …” And I’m like, “Wha — that’s what acting’s, you know, you jump into somebody’s skin, and you just become that.” And uh, it’s really changed, man, unfortunately, they’re not doing that like they used to … Actors, they got it a little tougher than us, ’cause they gotta go audition all day, and then they go and wait on tables at night. So, it’s a little bit rough. At least comedians … we’re real fortunate that we can go make our living and express ourselves at the same time.”