For most of Carlos Alazraqui's career, his voice was more famous than he was. He's been the title character the on Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko's Modern Life, the lead penguin in Happy Feet and Gidget the Taco Bell Chihuahua. Since Alazraqui premiered on Comedy Central's Reno 911!, his face — and the hideous '80s mustache he and the other male characters wear — have become more familiar to the public.
Reno 911! is a spoof of Cops, filmed at a real-life police station outside Los Angeles. Actors improvise their dialogue, leading to some of the most hilariously un-PC stuff on television. Alazraqui plays Deputy James Garcia, a racist Mexican cop with a Southern twang. He and castmate Cedric Yarbrough ("Deputy S. Jones") will be in town today for the University of South Florida Round Up, a back-to-school night of entertainment that also includes comedian Mike Birbiglia. Alazraqui and Yarbrough will perform stand-up, battle in an "impression-off" and choose an audience member to join them in a Reno 911! improv skit. They'll also leave time for fan questions, autographs and photos.
Alazraqui called from his Hollywood, Calif., home to discuss the show.
Why Reno 911!? Why not Vegas or Hollywood or some other city?
I think Reno's just a big crystal meth town.
What do real cops think of Reno 911!?
They dig it. We had two cops last night, campus cops at Tennessee Tech University. They really love it.
Have you been pulled over since you started on the show?
Just recently when I (visited) Longboat Key. Two-thirty in the morning and I pull into the wrong resort, and I go to the cop, "Do you watch Reno 911!?" He said, "Nope." I said, "Oh, okay, we're not off on the right foot here, but here's what happened: I'm a tourist, yadda yadda yadda." And he let me go. But he did not even know of Reno 911! It may be better that he didn't in that case. But no, I have not been pulled over and gotten out of a ticket because somebody's a fan of the show.
Do real police officers share stories that they'd like to see turned into material on the show?
No, I haven't gotten that one yet. I did get an on-set cop, who are generally the older guys. Hollywood sends out these cops that are retired on bikes to watch the set. We were talking about PCP and blah, blah, blah, and he gave me the line, "Sometimes if a guy's on PCP, he just needs a little extra stick time." And I said, "Well I'm going to be using that for my character, thank you very much." So I stole it from him.
When you all take breaks on the set, do you stay in character?
No, it's too hard. I actually physically peel off the mustache.
Who decided that Garcia needed a mustache?
I think we all did. We all just knew that (the male characters) did. Every cop you've ever seen — in most of the cheesy movies the person has some kind of a cheesy mustache. … I think it makes you look more manly, like those old Tom Selleck Magnum P.I. deals.
Do you watch other mocumentaries like The Office for inspiration?
Only the British Office. Watching the American Office is like the difference between watching the Beatles and the Monkees to me. … I think we were just trying to copy Cops. … You can't get funnier than the real Cops. You just can't. Turn it on and watch it and the things we do on Reno are tame.