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George Lopez talks late-night TV, Puig-mania, raiding the White House and why he won't do other comics' podcasts

Robert Sebree



The man who got caught in the crossfire between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien tries to be political about what happened to his talk show. But even when he’s being political, George Lopez doesn’t like to mince words.

“Listen, when Conan lost his job to Jay Leno, he spent probably two years beating the drum, complaining about his treatment at NBC,” said Lopez, whose show Lopez Tonight was moved to midnight, then canceled outright when TBS signed O’Brien in 2010. “I took my hit and went away. So I wish him and the guy following him and everybody else the best of luck, but it is definitely a genre that I don’t miss at all.”

Why should he? Lopez is doing just fine on his own. Last week, Forbes ranked him as the eighth-highest-earning comic in America, pulling in $12 million thanks to stand-up, endorsements, his HBO special It’s Not You, It’s Me and books, like his new I’m Not Gonna Lie: And Other Lies You Tell When You Turn 50.

He’s also developing a family sitcom, Saint George, for FX, which gave Lopez a coveted “10-90 deal” — meaning Lopez will produce 10 episodes, and if the ratings are high enough, he’ll automatically get 90 more. (Charlie Sheen has a similar deal with FX for Anger Management.) It’s a deal Lopez has earned, based on the success of his eponymous ABC sitcom.

“I don’t think they’re gonna follow in 10 episodes somebody that they’re just getting to know,” Lopez said of Saint George’s potential viewers. “Usually those shows don’t go past just a couple of weeks. Nothing is secure, but also, it’s TV, so nothing would really keep me up at night about TV, anyway.”

On Friday, Lopez will bring his “It’s Not You, It’s Me” tour to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg (click here for tickets and details). Calling from Los Angeles, where he was preparing to read Saint George scripts with potential castmates, the comic talked about late-night TV, raiding the White House and why he doesn’t do other comics’ podcasts.

Would you call Saint George a family sitcom?

Well, it’s FX, so it’s more mature than it would be if it was on ABC. It’s more mature than the last one. It’s still a family sitcom, but with more adult themes.

I really enjoyed you on Reno 911!, when you played the mayor of Reno. It was kind of a different, darker turn for you, but it was really funny. What appealed to you about taking on that role?

I did Balls of Fury with (Reno’s) Tom (Lennon) and Ben (Garant), and I didn’t really watch Reno 911! at that time, but I knew that they rotated mayors, so they said, “George ought to come in and be the mayor for a couple of episodes.” The thing that appealed to me, that frightens a lot of people, including myself, is that there really was not a script per se, other than just a theme. “Accomplish this.” Same thing when I did Curb Your Enthusiasm. There’s really not so much of a script as a loose template. Not even a template; a loose template. The rest is just improv.

Had you really done much improv?

I never really did. In stand-up, I never really do the same show twice, and I always have been able to think on my feet, which is really tough. Anyone who does improv on a regular basis — and even a lot of actors that do it, and do 20 different takes, and they have 20 different choices — it’s really impressive. That’s the hardest thing to do.

 Are you basically touring your latest special, It’s Not Me, It’s You, or are you touring with new material as well?

It’s a little bit of both. I love HBO; they’ve been great to me I’ve done three specials in, probably, six years? It depends on what happens with Saint George, but I’d love to do one more. Stand-up is really a gift; it really is an honor to have people come and see you, and to be doing it as long as I’ve been doing it, and people still want to come and see you. I’m very appreciative, whereas maybe 10 years ago I would have just thought it was automatic. It’s a good tour. We’re having a lot of fun, and that area of Orlando and St. Petersburg-Tampa has always been really great for me.

On the special, you have a great bit about visiting the White House, and how you like to steal things. How much presidential swag do you have in your possession?

Well, let’s see. I have some napkins from a cocktail party. I have my little decorative Mexican-American name-holder — allegedly. And then I have some napkins from the bathroom, and I have some M&M’s that the Secret Service gave me from President Bush’s dressing room at Ford’s Theatre, some presidential red, white and blue M&M’s. That I didn’t steal. That actually was a gift.

At this point in your career, as you’re getting quality face time with world leaders, do you enter these incredible life opportunities thinking about the potential for comedic bits?

Yeah, I think you have to. President Obama and I, we’ve been pretty cool. I’m not particularly happy to be in such a high tax bracket, but since I met him in 2007, he’s been nothing but direct with me. I don’t see him as much anymore, but I always have a standing invitation at the White House, and I think he appreciates what I delivered to him in ’08 and in ’12, which was my commitment to have Latinos get out and vote. I think we’ve come a long way as voters in six years, and hopefully in 2016, regardless of who we vote for, we come out in strong numbers again.

 Do you still ever think about running for office?

You know, it’s changed. I thought (former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio) Villaraigosa brought a coolness to it that was too political, but it was very cool. Now with (L.A. Mayor Eric) Garcetti and the city being a little more complex and a little more financially stressed, I’m not sure that a ceremonial mayor is the right thing that the city needs. (laughs) If I had been following politics from around 2000 and kind of kept my hands in it, then maybe, but i’m not qualified. I think Magic Johnson would probably make a better mayor than I would.

Do you miss late-night television?

I have to say, I miss the people. I don’t miss the politics of it. I was never really into the politics of the show. Unfortunately, I had to get involved in it because of the lack of support. I miss what we were trying to accomplish, and not necessarily anybody at TBS.

A couple of years ago, you were down in Tampa for the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, and this happened to be the same week that TBS signed Conan. I chatted with you for like five minutes after your round, and at the time, you seemed optimistic about the “Team LoCo” pairing — of course, what else could you say at that point? But in retrospect, when that was announced, did you have a sense that your days on TBS might be numbered?

Well, clearly, if you move to midnight, there are fewer people watching television. But when you are told that you are going to be promoted as a block, and you are not, then clearly you’ve been misled. If there are less people watching at midnight, then I’m gonna suffer. I don’t think Conan’s numbers are that earth-shattering that warranted me losing my job. I mean, if I had stopped doing Lopez Tonight and his numbers went through the roof and he beat everybody, then I’d think, maybe I was holding him back. But if you compare my numbers to his numbers, it’s not that big a difference.

Are you suprised they’re launching another midnight show under the Conaco banner, the one with Pete Holmes?

I’m not, no. But I wish them the best of luck. I tried to follow him, and I couldn’t, and people knew who I was. So I wish them all the success.

You’re still an inquisitive guy, and it seems like you have a natural curiosity. I was surprised to find out that you briefly hosted a podcast last year. I listened to your interview with Tommy Chong, which was pretty good. How come you haven’t done more of those?

Just for the time that those things take.  I was trying to do it as kind of a, “if it landed in my lap.” But I did enjoy it. It’s just with trying to get Saint George off the ground, and making sure that it is successful, it has more value than trying to get people to do my podcast.

Have you been approached to do other people’s podcasts, like Marc Maron or Adam Carolla?

Oh, yeah. I turn 'em all down.

Why do you turn 'em down?

Podcasts are very personal. It’s a longer interview than if you did a television show, and I’ve said a lot of very personal things in the past. I’ve kind of already said them all. Everything personal now, I’d like to keep personal.

You do still seem like a curious, inquisitive guy, though. Like, you’re a Dodgers fan — if somebody offered you the chance to sit down and interview Yasiel Puig for an hour, you’d probably do that, wouldn’t you?

Yeah, I’d probably do that. I wouldn’t campaign for it, but if it was offered to me, I probably would.

As a Dodgers fan, where does Puig-mania rank among the most exciting Dodgers phenomena from your lifetime?

Well, Fernandomania is still the biggest. They were selling T-shirts and buttons at my grandmother’s job. I remember she came home with a T-shirt and button, and I’m like, “Where did you get this?” She’s like, “They’er selling them at work.” That was impressive. She worked at a factory in Van Nuys, selling Fernando shirts. That was pretty special. The attention of the person was bigger with Fernandomania, but the actual effect and direct influence on the team is bigger with Puig, because I can’t remember the Dodgers ever being a hotter team than they are right now.

Is it more so than, like, Hideo Nomo or even when they traded for Manny?

Oh yeah. And just because of his effect on the game and the fact that he’s so young. Even when he makes an out, it’s exciting. We haven’t had a player like that. Fernando pitched every five days; this guy, he gets hurt and he comes back the next day. He’s 23, so he’s very impressive.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 11:14am]


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