"I find the country’s at an interesting point right now. They’re very much like England was in the 1950s. England wasn’t part of the Marshall Plan and they were still rationing in the '50s even though they won the war. It’s like, 'Hey, I thought we won the war?' They lost India in ’47, their influence in the world was diminishing, their economy was shrinking and they were pissed. So I think it created a need for a really interesting sense of humour. And I think the people really responded to that. And I think if you look historically, whether it’s Greece, whether it’s the Roman Empire, empires in decline are more interesting. Their art is better than in the ascendancy, you know?"
– Rob Schneider
Guy MacPherson: Have you been to Vancouver much?
Rob Schneider: Yeah. I love Vancouver.
GM: Have you performed here?
RS: No, never. Or maybe in 1990 I might have for like a couple of days. But not in 20 years.
GM: I’m glad to hear you’re not dead.
RS: Yeah, well so am I.
GM: You’ve really made it when there are those rumours out there.
RS: I guess. That’s what they say: You know you’re successful in show business when people start suing you. Now there’s another level to it, when people start saying you’re dead. It’s just one of those things that happens. I don’t know. I’m not too weirded out by it. The internet is an interesting thing. There’s a lot of information there but you don’t necessarily learn anything. If you just want to go to the same people, you’re not necessarily going to hear different voices; you’re just going for what you’re looking for. Like, if you’re very conservative in your thinking you can just look at conservative stuff. And if you’re so inclined to look at more liberal stuff… But there’s no cross-cultural things that are really out there. Basically it’s just a big blob and big mess and you can get lost in your own devices.
GM: Right, it just reinforces your own viewpoint.
RS: Yeah, pretty much. Plus there’s just a lot of crap out there. But, so, it’s better than nothing.
GM: That’s right, you’re in the news! Most of us got to know you from Saturday Night Live I know that you started in stand-up in San Francisco. Who did you come up with?
RS: I was lucky because I was the product of my times. Robin Williams was the big comedian at the time and he basically was the one responsible for that comedy scene in the ‘80s because audiences would come out to the Holy City Zoo or The Other Café or to the Punchline in the hopes of seeing Robin Williams. And more times than not they did because he was so addicted to performing. So he would be there. The best thing was an audience would come. The worst thing was he would come and do two hours and when he left, the audience left with him. But the few stragglers that stayed provided enough of an audience for us. Some of the other comedians that really made it from my era? Not a lot of guys from San Francisco really made it big. I guess Kevin Pollack was there, Dana Carvey. These guys were a generation before me. Um, who were some of the other guys? Bob Slayton…
GM: When you got Saturday Night Live you stopped doing stand-up, right?
RS: Yeah. You really have to concentrate on what you’re doing. To do stand-up, you can’t just go out once a month. Some people do but not the good ones. You have to really be out there and you have to be in the clubs and really hitting it. So I spent the last year and a half doing it and I got my act into pretty darn good shape. I’m really proud of it. It was the one thing in my career that I didn’t feel like I really accomplished was having that killer hour of stand-up that Richard Pryor had, and George Carlin, god knows how many hours he had, and Chris Rock, probably the best comedian of our generation. I did a movie with him and the whole time we were talking about he was like, “You gotta get back in and start doing it.” And so I guess he talked me into doing it again.
GM: Is it different now performing than it was twenty years ago?
RS: Yeah. The audiences are… First of all, they know you, which is a huge advantage. And a disadvantage because they don’t know what they’re going to see but they know you from the movies and my act’s different from the movies. You have to adjust. I don’t care how famous you are, how many movies you’ve been in or TV shows, you gotta be funny. They only give you so much time to go “You can do it” before you better get some laughs. But I find the country’s at an interesting point right now. They’re very much like England was in the 1950s. England wasn’t part of the Marshall Plan and they were still rationing in the 50s even though they won the war. It’s like, “Hey, I thought we won the war?” They lost India in ’47, their influence in the world was diminishing, their economy was shrinking and they were pissed. So I think it created a need for a really interesting sense of humour. And I think the people really responded to that. And I think if you look historically, whether it’s Greece, whether it’s the Roman Empire, empires in decline are more interesting. Their art is better than in the ascendancy, you know?
GM: Coming back, was it like riding a bike?
RS: No, it’s different. You have to go out there and figure out what you want to say. Because it is like a one-man show and you’re doing over an hour of material so you want to kind of have a thrust of something. And I’m still figuring it out. It’s been interesting. You have to let it lead and forget the responses of where the audience wants it to go. So it’s a dance. It has a musicality to it. That’s part of the mission, you know?
GM: A lot of the personas of the characters you played in movies and on SNL were kind of boorish and it really worked. Is your stand-up persona along those lines?
RS: I’m a character actor. I like the guy, not the average guy but slightly less than average guy. I want people to be able to look at me and say, “Well, my life’s not that great but look at this idiot. He’s got real problems.” And I think that there’s humour in that. I think if you look at – I’m not comparing myself to Chaplin but that’s a guy everybody can relate to. As soon as you see him, one second, you know who he is, what he is and it’s the kind of guy you root for. Because he’s certainly not competing with you. That wasn’t something I planned out; it’s something that just kinda works. Either the audience likes you or they don’t; either they believe you or they don’t. That’s what you’re dealing with there. And that’s part of the game and I like that.
GM: You’re one of the few guys that can pull off the anti-hero. We love you when you’re being kind of a jerk.
RS: It’s an interesting dynamic and I like that. Not everyone can do that. It’s fun. I’m not interested in being like Tom Cruise in a movie – not that there’s anything wrong with Tom Cruise. I’m just saying it’s not what interests me. But the performing live, which I’ve been doing for a year and a half, and I’ve really put everything else on hold for this, I’m enjoying it. But I don’t know how long I’ll do it because it does take a lot out of you. But the show is really strong. I’ll probably film it as a movie and then that’s it. And then maybe I’ll do one more tour. But I think people are enjoying it. But I’ll be interested in seeing what some crazy American who doesn’t give a crap about playing the game anymore will have to say.
GM: So you’re going to retire again once you film this.
RS: We’ll see. I’m only going to do things that are fun for me. That’s one of the benefits of being in show business for twenty-five years and not spending all my money. I don’t have to do it anymore. So I’m going to do this because it’s fun. And when it’s not fun, I’m not going to do it. But I’m enjoying it now probably as much as anything I’ve ever done. The live performance is exciting. I’ve travelled all over the world. I was in Singapore earlier this year and Australia, and last summer I was in England and Ireland. I had to cancel my European tour just because I was just too tired. It’s been fun. One thing about Canada, you have to be well-read if you’re Canadian. It’s in the rule book. It’s a really good crowd up there and I think they’re interested in not just the minutiae of pop culture but also in what’s happening in politics. So without being a preacher about it, I think you can talk about some interesting things that people can laugh at.
GM: So you’re talking about pop culture and politics in your stand-up act?
RS: I delve into what’s interesting to me. The fact that 400 people in America make more money combined than the 150 million people at the lower end of the tier is pretty outrageous. It’s the biggest disparity in the history of this country. But where’s the joke? People aren’t going there to hear what I think about politics. They wanna laugh and hopefully laugh their ass off. I talk about my marriage, I talk about my family and stuff people can hopefully relate to.
GM: Are you doing a drama?
RS: I did a movie called The Chosen One that I’m getting released worldwide. It’s just a little movie with Steve Buscemi and myself, Holland Taylor and Peter Riegert. It’s a nice little movie about a guy who thinks his life is over. He’s a car salesman and these people think he’s the chosen one. They’ve walked thousands of miles from South America. It’s a beautiful little movie. I’m trying to get that out all over the place. I want to do things that are interesting.
GM: That’s a real departure. Do you think you’ll be accepted?
RS: I’ve been in this business too long to worry about things that I can’t control. I have to do things that are exciting and different and fun for me. And if I can bring an excitement to it, that’s the only chance I have to attract people to want to see it. But I don’t have that overbearing need where I need to be accepted in different genres. But I want to do things that I find interesting and that speak to me. I can’t worry about the stuff about whether the critics will like it or whether I’ll be accepted or whatever. It’s like worrying about, if I drive to work, is there going to be traffic? Am I going to get in a car accident? It’s a waste of energy. I’ve got to concentrate on what I want to do and do something that I like. And if less people see it or if it’s not as commercially viable or popular, I’m okay with it. I just wanted to do it because I liked it. It’s a very personal story. It’s about a family surviving the suicide of their father. They’re all stuck. The mother’s stuck, the two brothers are stuck. And it’s interesting to me. And the people who like the movie, love the movie. Hopefully I’ll get it released before the end of the year all over the world. Like every film maker I’d like to get it in movie theatres.
GM: It’s been 15 or so years since Saturday Night Live, or since you were on it. Do you tire of talking about it or being identified with it?
RS: Kind of, to be honest with you. There’s nothing I have to say to add to it.
GM: Maybe it’s because you were part of such a good cast and you were so memorable on it.
RS: Well, thank you. We had a good cast. To be honest, all I remember from it was people telling us that, “You guys aren’t as good as the first cast.” And I was like, “Tell us something we don’t know.” It’s like the guys that go to the moon the second time. It’s just not as impressive. But, you know, we still went to the moon. But I liked the immediacy of it and I liked that the kids who didn’t remember the first cast liked us. And I just liked that if you had an idea Tuesday, you have a chance to find out if it’s funny Saturday. There was something beautiful about it. That’s why I like stand-up so much now is that I can really get a response and get a reaction to stuff really immediately. Our country’s about to, in two weeks, become insolvent. Forget about your own credit rating going down, how about the whole country’s credit rating? People have no idea what potentially haphazardly can happen. We could see another wave of international markets getting rocked. And that’s something that can happen in two weeks if the Republicans continue to want to take money from poor people and not tax rich people. It’s just outrageous. This is a great opportunity for super rich people to avoid having to pay any taxes or corporations avoiding paying more and taking programs that are part of what makes a society a great society, which is safeguards. We just waste so much of our precious resources to the point where it’s not just ethically and morally bankrupt, which we’ve been for a long time in this country, but now financially bankrupt.
GM: We don’t have the big tax debate in Canada quite like you have it in the States.
RS: But you’re affected by it, though. Your neighbour next door’s not taking care of his lawn, that’s gonna affect your house price.
GM: Are you the only guy ever to have won a Peabody and a Razzie?
RS: I think so, yeah. I hold one in more esteem than the other. I don’t know, the Razzie people, I don’t know what they’ve ever accomplished or what any of those people have ever written or if they could do a sold-out show in Victoria and Vancouver like I do. So I don’t give it as much credence. It’s so easy to pick on a comedy that’s a silly comedy just trying to make people laugh. I’m one of those guys that’s a target so people can come up to me and say whatever they want and it’s part of the business.
GM: Any more public feuds lately?
RS: Nothing much, no.
GM: Full page ads don’t come cheap. Are they worth it?
RS: Yeah, if you have some of that eff-you Hollywood money and somebody catches your ire, it’s a fun thing to do if you’ve got the money and you want to do something. I’m not going to lie, it’s also self-promotion, too. It’s an interesting form of self-promotion but I don’t regret any of it. I do feel sorry for Roger Ebert. I know he’s not well. But we kind of made up. I don’t know.
GM: Well it’s very entertaining for us looking in from the outside.
RS: Well, good. I hope you come and enjoy the show. Let me know what you think of it.
GM: I’m looking forward to it. Thanks a lot for talking to me.
RS: Thank you so much. Thank you for your questions.