Since he started doing stand-up in the early 1980s, Paul Rodriguez has mined his Latino background for material. Over the years, though, he has broadened his comedic scope to attract a wider audience. But those who consider him a “white wannabe” should know this: he doesn’t really care. Or claims not to. Here’s some of what he had to say in a talk with the Sun-Times shortly before his appearances at the Improv in Schaumburg May 30 through June 1.
Question:You’ve done a lot of ethnic humor throughout your career because you’ve said ethnicity is at the core of who people are. Do you still believe that?
Paul Rodriguez: I do believe, unfortunately, that color is still very, very important. I do a thing called Fifty Shades of Brown, where I talk about the importance of color in our society that we aren’t even aware of.
Q.Have you consciously widened your net over the years to include more general material in your sets?
PR: Now there’s a plethora of really good, talented Latino comedians who are covering that angle very well, so I try to act my age. I try to generalize and have people go with me on a journey.
Q.Your childhood was not easy by any means; you grew up in deep poverty. How did that form you as an adult?
PR: We were poor, but my father had a great sense of humor that I talk about onstage. I say, “My dad was so funny that he made us forget we were hungry or poor.” My pop would describe a bicycle so well that if I’d think back on it, I believe I had one, when logically I didn’t have one.
Q.Do you still consider yourself a Republican?
PR: I grew up Democratic and I believe in that. It’s kind of like a religion if you’re Mexican-American. But I gotta admit that Ronald Reagan may have been right: Hispanics are Republicans, we just don’t know it. We believe in strong family. We believe in the right to life. We believe in all the conservative things. Now, I’m not saying it’s right or it’s all Mexican-Americans, because I’ve received a lot of hate mail from a lot of fans.
Q.What kind of hate mail do you get?
PR: I get mail like, “Sure, you’re rich. So you don’t give a damn about us. Nice way to turn. You forgot where you come from.” I tell them it’s because I remember where I came from that I have these views.
Q.Somebody once wrote that you have a talent for sabotaging yourself because you talk when maybe you should shut up. It seems like that’s still the case.
PR: That’s OK. I believe that while I’m on this planet, I want my children and my grand kids — whoever survives me — to read what my words are. You want to call me a white wannabe, a coconut? Those are just insults, because [people] can’t debate you on the facts, so they get personal. That’s all right. I understand the mentality.
Q.People have characterized you throughout your career, especially the early part, as an angry comedian. Do you think they mistook your passion for anger?
PR: Well, I never worried about how people saw me. I’m more worried about how I see myself. A sense of self-esteem that was inherited from my parents is a good thing. People are going to say whatever they’re going to say. I have no control over that.
Q.Is there material you did or a tone you took way back when that now makes you cringe?
PR: Of course. You’re talking about the guy who wrote the first words a Mexican baby says: “Attention Kmart shoppers” and “Taco Bell, the Mexican phone company.” But I didn’t know any better. I’m not apologizing for it. It was funny at the time. And if you’ve not seen me in a long time and that’s what you think I am, then you’re mistaken. Come see me live. Make your own decision.
Twitter: @MikeTScribeTags: comedy, Paul Rodriguez
Paul Rodriguez, May 30 -June 1, Chicago Improv, 5 Woodfield Rd., Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg. $28 (18+over). (847) 240-2001; chicago.improv.com