Still an Original
By David Jenison
Making jokes about a commanding officer in the military is an easy way to get your ass shipped off to someplace freezing. Just ask comedian Paul Rodriquez. The Mexico-born, Compton-raised comedian avoided fighting in Vietnam by enlisting in the Air Force, and cold weather aside, he believes his six years of service changed his life. Rodriguez, who headlined the 2002 Original Latin Kings of Comedy movie, is currently headlining venues in mostly warmer climates as of late. The Latin star is performing material from his new comedic routine: Fifty Shades of Brown.
“Fifty Shades of Brown is just a moniker for the different kinds of Hispanics that are here,” he explains. “I do a routine about how easy it is to take for granted that someone is a Mexican and the surprise when they are not. We are becoming more and more Central American, and the funny [element] is in the customs, the Chicano light as I call it. It encompasses all the things in the media right now… the immigration policies, the amnesty, the anchor babies, the whole thing. It’s just a view from my perspective of change, which is never easy. It’s all of us trying to get along on this small piece of real estate.”
Regarding the literary allusion, he adds, “People recognize the spoof of 50 Shades of Grey, and I touch on that, too, [such as] the differences between how the rich enjoy their sexual proclivities. It is a family show. There are no F-bombs, no profanity. It is a show that I could take my mom.”
Since his breakthrough appearance in 1983’s D.C. Cab, Rodriguez has been a regular presence on television, the movies and the comedy tour circuit. Over the years, the comedian claimed several “firsts” for Latino comics, even if the ventures were not always successful. Norman Lear, arguably the greatest sitcom producer in history, chose Rodriguez to lead the 1984 ABC series a.k.a. Paulo. Though short-lived, the Smithsonian-enshrined series was the first about a Mexican-American family on a major U.S. network. A few years later, he became one of the first Mexican-Americans to host a major TV game show when he replaced Bob Eubanks on The Newlywed Game. On the big screen, Rodriguez appeared in nearly 50 movies, and he became one of the first Mexican-Americans to write, direct and star in his own U.S. feature film, 1994’s A Million to Juan. His cram-packed resume even includes an international Spanish-language talk show on Univision and part ownership of Hollywood’s famed Laugh Factory (of Michael Richards rant fame).
Throughout his career, Rodriguez has also been an activist for several causes, including the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, League of United Latin American Citizens and The Leukemia Society, among several others. Most notably, he is a tireless advocate for water conservation, serving as Chairman of the California Latino Water Coalition and earning the Humanitarian of the Year award from the City of Fresno.
Rodriguez, who recently called attention to kidney transplantation with the 2012 award-winning web series Fixing Paco, might use comedy to help a cause, but he avoids getting political in his comic routines.
“I am not a preachy guy [on stage],” he adds. “My shows are sheer entertainment.”
Rodriguez can easily transition between his advocacy and entertainment because he has spent over three decades dividing his talents in productive ways. He is a multi-cultural, multi-generational star who has performed on stage and on television in both English and Spanish.
“For an older guy, it is a lot harder to stay hip and relevant and keep up with all the new languages and intricacies. In my case, I try to come up with material that suits my age. I try to explain grey hair, which is God’s way of saying you’re running out of ink.”
Nevertheless, the comic whose work spans generations has shown he can reach them all.
“My audience has grown with me,” he remarks. “I can look at an audience and tell they used to be the young ones that used to come. Now the baby boomers have bloomed and they bring their kids to the shows. It really is so rewarding.”
Ontario Improv Comedy Club, 4555 Mills Cir., Ontario Mills, Ontario, (909) 484-5411; paulrodriguez.com. Sept. 13-15. Tickets $25. 18 and over.