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He Makes the Calls

Paul Rodriguez, Who's O.C.-Bound, Counts on Himself for Career Help

July 25, 1996|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"In my spare time I sell Tupperware. That's where I really make my money."

Paul Rodriguez is only joking. Then again, given the veteran comedian's indefatigable and ambitious nature, it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if he was peddling food containers besides pursuing his many other projects.

Stand-up comedian, movie producer, director, actor, talk- and game-show host, public speaker, boxing analyst (for a pay-per-view telecast of the recent De la Hoya-Chavez bout) and tireless self-promoter. Those are some of the roles filling the 19-year show-business resume of this Culiacan, Mexico-born and Compton-raised funnyman.

"My colleagues are always asking, 'Man, how do you do it? You're always on this or that [show],' " Rodriguez says. "Well, it's very easy to disappear in this business, to become yesterday's hot comic or yesterday's almost was. So what I do is, I get up earlier than they do and go to bed later than they do. I realized Hollywood was not going to come to my door. I opened up my own production company. I'm always going through my Rolodex. I knock on doors, and I call about auditions."

Unfortunately for some of his longtime fans--including those who will attend his performances at the Orange County Fair on Sunday--Rodriguez's growing ambitions in TV and film may soon cause his profile as a stand-up comic to dramatically diminish.

It was as a comedian that the Pasadena resident first came to public attention in the early '80s. But Rodriguez, 41, says he's accomplished just about everything he wants to in stand-up.

He's appeared more than a dozen times on "The Tonight Show," has been part of HBO comedy specials and has participated in the annual "Comic Relief" benefits. Rodriguez has also performed in front of a variety of audiences, including inmates on death row (he's done three televised concerts from prison) and contributors at a recent fund-raiser for President Clinton.

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This son of a migrant farm worker knows how to tailor a show according to audience type. At his Orange County Fair appearance, expect a presentation that will be far more family-oriented than the show he did live on HBO from San Quentin State Penitentiary.

"I've worked county fairs before, and I know what material will go over with children, and I know what material won't go over," he said. "What am I going to do, open up with really blue stuff in front of kids? No. The things I'm going to talk about are very household things. There isn't going to be any political message. I'm bringing my own kid. I'm going to be talking about high school, college, getting old, my father, my mother, baggy pants."

The success of his independently produced 1994 film, "A Million to Juan," has made Rodriguez believe he can be a profitable filmmaker outside the Hollywood studio system. He wrote, directed, produced and starred in this corny but sweet work. A Mexican American interpretation of Mark Twain's story "The Million Pound Bank Note," the film cost $165,000 but took in more than $13 million.

Now his small, Beverly Hills-based company, Paul Rodriguez Productions, has three more low-budget movies in development. The first, "Lady of the Light," is scheduled to begin shooting in Arizona this fall. The film involves an apparition of the Virgin Mary that appears every Christmas in towns with large Latino populations.

"The idea for the film came out of a [stand-up] routine I used to do about how whites always see Elvis at Burger King, blacks always see police conspiracies and Hispanics always see the Virgin, like on rusty doors, Chevys or oil stains," he said.

Rodriguez is no stranger to the mainstream Hollywood film and television industries. He's starred in three short-lived TV series--the sitcoms "a.k.a. Pablo" in 1984, "Trial and Error" in 1988 and the action drama "Grand Slam" in 1990. His feature film roles include appearances in "Born in East L.A." and "D.C. Cab."

Two years ago he ended a four-year stint as the star of the popular Spanish-language chat show "El Show De Paul Rodriguez."

Rodriguez is currently co-hosting Showtime's "Latino Laugh Festival," a 13-episode series devoted to showcasing the talents of Latino comics. This fall the similarly oriented "The Paul Rodriguez Comedy Showcase" is expected to begin airing. He's also lobbying for a syndicated U.S. talk show, which he says would be geared more toward black, Latino and Asian audiences.

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Like any shrewd businessman, Rodriguez is constantly looking for opportunities.

"These ideas keep me awake at night," he says. "I sit around and I study television. I just had a meeting with all the executives at Taco Bell in Irvine. One night I was watching TV, and I noticed Dana Carvey was sponsored by Taco Bell. I thought, 'Wouldn't I be more perfect for this?' I'm trying to get them to be one of the advertisers on the 'Paul Rodriguez Comedy Showcase.' I've had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but now at least they're considering things."

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