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The Cleveland Show
Feb 29 2012, 10:10 PM by Marty Flanagan
Rob Schneider has been famous for a long time. Since his emergence as part of the celebrated early-'90s cast of Saturday Night Live, Schneider has written and starred in a series of successful features (the Deuce Bigalow films, The Animal, The Hot Chick), been a mainstay on the standup comedy circuit, and screamed "you can do it!" in pretty much every Adam Sandler movie since 1995.
He has also maintained an uneasy relationship with the press, who are often highly critical of his films, and has occasionally voiced his displeasure in the form of full page ads in Hollywood dailies. But if Rob is feeling burned by the critics, you wouldn't know it from his latest outing, Rob! His most personal project to date, Rob is a sitcom based largely on Rob's recent marriage to Mexican television producer Patricia Azarcoya, who helped create the project. We chatted recently with Rob about his return to TV, the subtleties of the British sitcom and, of course, Noam Chomsky.
A quick story for you: a colleague of mine, Zach Feldberg, interviewed you in 2001 while you were doing press for The Animal. He was 18 at the time - and the reason he got the job was because on the junket you said that you didn't want to talk to any adults. He got to do it because he was a teenager. Does this sound at all familiar?
That sounds crazy!
That's the story. It was in The Globe and Mail. It was a good opportunity for him, and all because you said that you wanted to talk to young people who understood your comedy.
Oh, that! You tell Zach that I make a living as a professional liar.
But you've had times in your career where you've gotten into it with critics a bit, so this doesn't sound too far off base.
I always consider (doing press) a different form of entertainment. I think my idea at the time, maybe flawed, was that just because I'm an actor, a comedian, a film actor - whatever you want to call me - that I can just sit back and take whatever abuse is thrown at me by somebody in the newspaper or a television show and I don't have to respond. I said, "I object to that, and I refuse to accept that as a definition of how that game is played." So I took umbrage to a few things. And you know, as a rich Hollywood celebrity, I can take out ads in newspapers if I want to!
Critics can be pretty merciless with people in the public eye...
Most of the thing that bothers me with reporters is that they don't actually do their work. That's why I refuse to comment on the Mel Gibson thing - because nobody even bothered to read the three paragraphs of that Variety ad.
If you had you would have known that it was clearly mocking Hollywood's response to Mel Gibson as well as Mel Gibson himself. So I mean, it took 30 seconds to do that, but most people, reporters, a lot of times follow what the first initial report is and no one does anything about that. I mean, what newspapers are (doing) - as Noam Chomsky will tell you - is Manufacturing Consent.
It's just a rolling monster that's going about leaving this huge destruction in its path and it never goes back and checks on the destruction that it laid waste to. And that's modern media. And Manufacturing Consent was written almost 25 years ago so you can imagine what that's like now. That ball of crushing things is moving much faster.
Let's get to your show, which very much mirrors your life over the past couple years. How did this idea come about and what were the steps you took getting it off the ground? I assume it was very much a labour of love? Pun fully intended.
I was interested for the first time in many, many years in going back to television, because I think there's really more interesting comedy happening on television than on the big screen right now. Since the economic downturn I started doing standup comedy and getting out meeting and talking to people. And I like the idea of that personal interaction that you have with them. That immediate response. And television's just another way to just actually get inside people's living rooms. And the idea was to do something that would touch on what's happening in America, and something that's interesting to me too, which is the cultural differences between this one guy who's kind of a narcissist - my character - and this Hispanic family. We're still developing it, but that was the idea, it was my wife's idea to do the show.
She's the uncredited creator. My wife and I would cook food and she'd tell us (Rob and co-creator Lewis Morton) ideas. She'd tell us ideas and then makes us beautiful Mexican food, and her name never ended up on the script! She's not in the Writer's Guild and that's the problem, because we'd love to have her on the show. She's very busy writing movies and doing other things, but I would love to have her on the show.
And have a lot of her ideas made it directly into the show?
She came up with the idea the for the uncle, she said "you should have a guy who shows up (from Mexico) and is never leaving."
The show seems to balance being a family comedy with more specific cultural jokes. Is that something you're very conscious of?
I guess it's kind of in the background of my mind all the time. We want to do a show that's relatable for everybody - it just happens to be Hispanic. That's the idea. But without losing anybody. I'd like to just have a specificity on character and the development of the series to come from that. Opposed to, you know, I think the backdrop should be the culture clash.
It sounds like you've been pretty hands on with the writing on the show, is that something you plan on doing going forward?
I've got a pretty good take for what's working and not working. You have 20 minutes and 30 seconds, so you know, you can't waste a lot of time. I mean, when I did Men Behaving Badly 15 or 16 years ago, we had 23 minutes, and I thought that was short! If you look at Fawlty Towers - that's the greatest sitcom ever - they only did 12 episodes in two years but they had 30 minutes. If you ever see that show again, they had 10 minutes of set up! As John Cleese has said (about the difference between American and British sitcoms), in British sitcoms it's the situation, in American sitcoms it's the quip. And a lot of times it's just so quick you've got to get a joke out there. You know, there's a real fear of going too long without a laugh, and I understand that.
Calls to mind some of the differences between the British and American versions of The Office, and how the American version took a couple seasons to hit its stride because of those differences...
Best American show in a long time. Since Seinfeld. And Seinfeld is the greatest American sitcom ever. And if you take a look at Seinfeld they basically did one pilot and then they got the smallest pick up order ever: three. Next pick-up order was six, and by the fourth year, they got 13. So by the time they had 22, I remember watching that show and I remember thinking, that's okay, they had time to figure out the show. Because you remember Jerry used to perform and do stand-up in the beginning? They were, you know, finding their legs. I mean, we're still finding ours. But we have some really good actors and good writers and we're going to keep working at it to get better.
The season finale of Rob! airs Thursday, March 1 at 8.30 et/pt.