Comedian and actor Rob Schneider may not come off as a brainiac on screen, but the new dad – who turns 50 this year – may surprise you.
Whether discussing the history of comedy or the anti-vaccine movement (his 2-month-old daughter, Miranda, will not be getting vaccinations), he comes off as a fast-talking thinker. The former “Saturday Night Live” star, who makes his Charlotte Comedy Zone debut with a three-night run this week, recently spoke to the Observer about his return to stand-up and why comedy is hot right now.
Q. Is this your first time here?
I was in Charlotte doing the final mix of my comedy album. I flew there the day the plane from New York landed in the water (the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Jan. 15, 2009). It was kind of a magical time because everybody survived. We were out at a restaurant and everybody knew somebody who knew somebody that was on that plane. It was a perfect Jimmy Stewart, Frank Capra movie moment.
Q. What’s it like having a new baby?
Like when you’re showing complete strangers pictures of your baby? I did that for the first time today.
Q. “Rob” (the short-lived 2012 sitcom) was loosely based on your life. Do you pull from your marriage for stand-up, too?
Whatever is happening in my life, but I hope I’m not going through my life using people for material. You’re in an argument with your wife and think, “I can use that.” The sick part is (my wife) says, “You should use that in your act.”
Q. Why did you decide to return to stand-up?
There’s a rebirth of comedy now. I don’t know if there’s ever been this many great comedians at the same time. Daniel Tosh is great. His show is good, but his stand-up is excellent. Bill Burr. Louis C.K. is as interesting as George Carlin was at his best. I’d put Chris Rock next to Richard Pryor as a phenomenal talent. There are really great club acts like Brian Regan and female comedians. Sarah Silverman is the funniest female comedian that ever lived. Amy Schumer. Anthony Jeselnik. I want to hold myself up to that level.
Q. Why do you think this is happening now?
I have a good theory about that. Comedy was really boring in the ’90s and boring for me. After the ’80s boom, audiences got burned out. It was a fat, boring time. That’s why you don’t see any ’90s movies. During an economic downturn, things get sharper, more in focus, and I consider myself a comedy historian.
Comedy in England in the ’50s took off and was probably the high-water mark in the 20th century, from the ’50s to early ’70s. England wasn’t part of the Marshall Plan that the U.S. was offering to Germany and Japan (to recover from World War II). England was still rationing well into the ’50s.
It affected their psyche, and the comedy was brilliant. Ealing Studios. Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. That led to the Cambridge Footlights and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and guys like Eric Idle and John Cleese saw Peter Cook ... and then there was Monty Python – the high water mark of comedy.
With this economic downturn, I think its sharpening people’s perspective. They’re getting more militant in their political beliefs. Any culture is always more interesting in its decline. The great Greek plays were all written when the empire was about to be sacked, not when they were expanding.
Q. You sound well read.
People just think I’m an idiot because of the movies I make. Humor requires a certain intelligence. Not learned necessarily, but an emotional intelligence.
Q. You’ve gotten a lot of criticism for stereotypical portrayals of ethnicities. Do you consider that when you develop a character?
John Cleese, my comedy hero, had a really good statement about that. I think the most sensitive members of society shouldn’t be deciding what we get to watch and hear. They shouldn’t be the deciding factors just because they are the most sensitive and complain the loudest. That’s what makes news.
I don’t worry about it. What’s interesting to me is there wasn’t a real platform for people to complain before. You had local and national news, and now you have the Internet. More people read the Huffington Post than the New York Times. That’s a load of crap, too. I was a headline on the Huffington Post two weeks ago.
To me, it’s an acceleration of Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” – the media being this giant wrecking ball, never checking back to see the destruction in its wake.