Still “Livin’ La Vida Loca” even if it’s only in Rush Hour Traffic to the Airport

By Gita Balakumar

rodriguez-01Paul Rodriguez’s reputation of hilarity, sincerity and perseverance is all wrapped up in a style of comedy that is unique, grounded and enduring for more than three decades.

WHAT DOES PAUL RODRIGUEZ HAVE IN COMMON WITH THESE THINGS?: Nintendo gets plugged in, “Back to the Future” makes us time travel, “MacGyver” fixes all things single handedly, Calvin and Hobbes runs in our imagination, start of David Lee Roth’s solo career, detention-angst teens in “The Breakfast Club” sulk, and the global love song ‘We are the World” triumphs? Thirty years of solid fun and laughs. Paul Rodriguez’s reputation of hilarity, sincerity and perseverance is all wrapped up in a style of comedy that is unique, grounded and enduring for more than three decades.

Paul Rodriguez is not only one of the Original Latin Kings of Comedy, but an admired comedian, actor and humanitarian. From Mexico to Los Angeles by the age of two, Paul’s fortuitous detour into stand-up comedy started from acting classes ventured somewhere between the Air Force and Stanford law school aspirations.

AZSAL Magazine had an exclusive interview with Rodriguez recently after the news that he, and his business partner Paul Hopp announced that the nearly opened Arizona location, once recognized by USA Today as “The No.1 comedy club in the nation,” the world famous Laugh Factory is coming to the valley! Yes indeed, Stand-Up Live and Improv comedy fans, this historic comedy club will soon open its sixth location and certainly will “kill ‘em” with the fans and the other two big clubs in town, showcasing to hearts, or shall I say wrenching stomachs, some of the top comics in the country.

AZSAL asked Rodriguez how he thought it would’ve worked out for him at Stanford Law School and he replied “Basically, I took some acting classes and that’s all lawyers are … are actors.” I would have been a per- fect one.” This solidifies that there’s more to comic greatness, Paul Rodriguez. But don’t get all deep now … he was on a roll. Rodriguez and Hopp also would like to offer comedy classes for unwed mothers at the Laugh Factory, which he proclaims, is “Self- serving,” jokes Rodriguez.

Q: What were some of your influences or inspirations?

He didn’t profess to have a lot of these but the key for Paul was motivation with a capital M.

A: “I wanted to get outta Compton.” However, Paul’s moment of clarity was when he saw Freddie Prinze. “I saw him on the Tonight Show and thought ‘He looks like me and he’s funny.’ (Back) Then, there was no such thing as a Mexican-American comedian. We weren’t allowed to be funny.” Paul knew he was a funny guy with his friends, but never thought of it as a profes- sion. He wasn’t the class clown as some may assume. He was determined and with the work ethic of migrant farm workers, Paul will be the first to tell you “I took care of business. There’s a time and place for everything. It’s what you make it.”
A career involved and evolved beyond comedy to acting, teaching and charity. He acknowledges that, “Acting is a byproduct of comedy.” Comfortable with doing what he does and performing the roles he’s offered, you get the sense that he is sound in his principles while not taking it all too seriously. Even directing plays has allowed Rodriguez to take this as a teaching method.

Q: What is something that people don’t know about you?
A: “Well they don’t know my social security number, I hope.” He goes on to describe himself, “I have a private life with a very public job.” He straddles the line of telling us who he is versus what a lot of people think he is on stage.

Q: How are you connected to Phoenix?
A: “I started in Phoenix. I worked in Phoenix before L.A. There was one saguaro and you could go a put a hat on it.” Rodriguez pounded the payment and came up through the ranks with the likes of Richard Belzar and Paul Hopp, even enter- taining Arizona state prison inmates.

Q: How do you handle the fame?
A: “I don’t have fame that stops traffic. I was in Northern California doing a movie with Clint Eastwood (Bloodwork, 2002) and we go to a club. We walk in and everyone in the whole club freezes and stares at him. I turn and say, ‘These people never seen a famous Mexican comedian?’”

Obviously, there’s some immunity for the draw of fame for Rodriguez. However, it is the stage that still calls out to him. He sends out a tweet describing his own smitten derangement for comedy: “Stand- up comedy is being butt naked in a room with the air conditioning on full blast and a bunch of strangers looking for a laugh from you.”

Q: Can you elaborate, Paul?
A: “It’s a scary place for some people. You’re controlling your nerves and putting yourself out there in front of a bunch of strangers in a cold room. And we all know what the cold does to a man’s genitalia, but they are staring at you.”

Q: But why do it?
A: “It’s a like a disease.”

Q: Laugh Factory is something close to your heart. How long have you’ve been a part of Laugh Factory?
A: “A lot of good comedians have come out of there.” Rodriguez was offered by Jamie Masada to invest back in 1994- 1995 and thought “Is this guy out of his mind? It’s down the street from the Comedy store. It was ridiculous because the Laugh Factory could only hold 15 people in there; it’s a hole in the wall.”

Rodriguez recognizes that extending the Laugh Factory to Phoenix is a great way for stand ups and comedians to hone their stand-up chops without the struggled commitment to Los Angeles. “Phoenix is a great place for comedy; it always has been.” The Laugh Factory has been named by USA Today as the “The No.1 comedy club in the country.” Rodriguez, an investor, states the club will provide amateur night for newbies while providing acting classes and a comedy camp for 9- to 14-year-olds. The comedy camp is where comedians like Rodriguez coach underprivileged kids’ creativity and positivity through humor.

Q: Who is your wish list for the Laugh Factory?
A: “Of course, Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Drew Carey…”

Laugh Factory will extend its reputation to Phoenix by March 2015 delivering novices and seasoned comics. If it’s true what he says about comedy, then bring a sweater cause we hope they turn up the A/C at the Laugh Factory.

Laugh Factory is located on the northwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard.

AZSAL FAST FACTS

  • Rodriguez, once upon a time, 
was a driver for Richard Pryor.
  • Has a professional gold-medaled skater son aka “P-Rod.”
  • Chairman and advocate for the California Latino Water Coalition.