Rob Schneider broke into show business as a stand-up comedian but gave it up for more than 20 years after “Saturday Night Live” made him a star and got him a foothold in television and film.
Now he’s back onstage, courting controversy in a rhetorical bomb-throwing act that rails against political correctness, what he calls “Democratic liberal McCarthyism” and aims to make uptight audiences laugh at themselves.
Schneider, 54, makes his Aspen debut with two Valentine’s Day shows at Belly Up on Wednesday.
“Eight years ago when I started doing stand-up again, I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to talk about?'” he recalled in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “And here it is. It’s like the 1950s all over again in the sensibility in the audience, the attacks on thought and ideas.”
Yes, Rob Schneider, best known for playing “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and the “You can do it!” guy from “The Waterboy” and the “Makin’ copies!” guy from “Saturday Night Live,” is a fierce free-speech advocate and cultural critic with a keen eye for the absurd and hypocritical.
His public stances have led to some friction, including an odd recent Twitter feud with Seth Rogen. But the heated political landscape of 2018 and what Schneider calls “the war on language” is fertile ground for comedy.
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“It’s a weird time socially, culturally, politically and linguistically,” he said. “It’s a freaky, weird time.”
He plays with audiences’ expectations around political correctness, getting laughs by warning crowds that they may be taped laughing at the wrong thing. He has a joke about Syrians pining for the Obama era when they were “being bombed by a tolerant and well-spoken president.” Schneider reserves much of his venom these days for Democrats and liberals, but he’s an equal opportunity offender across America’s red state-blue state divide.
“I’m a Chomsky-ite,” he said. “Anyone who attacks me as a conservative doesn’t know me. … I always s— on the people complaining the most.”
At a time when everyone else is bashing Donald Trump, Schneider is more interested in finding laughs by going after Trump’s critics and what he sees as a dangerously oversensitive political left.
“The Republicans admit what they are — selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, out for themselves,” he said. “They’re not interested in ruining language, whereas you have the crybaby liberals who are just ruining the language and the culture, and it’s all in the guise of openness and tolerance.”
Unsurprisingly, Schneider is disappointed in the partisan turn that “Saturday Night Live” has taken since Trump’s election.
“They’ve lost their center,” he said. “The whole point of political comedy is to keep the audience guessing where you are, where your loyalties lie. My loyalties lie in the joke. My loyalties lie in showing the absurdity.”
“Saturday Night Live,” he argued, has usually had similar loyalties. He pointed, as an example, to brilliant sketches during the 2008 Democratic primary that lampooned the media’s pro-Barack Obama leanings and its harsh treatment of Hillary Clinton. But he’s uninspired by the way the show has piled on President Trump.
“In my mind, there’s zero courage in attacking Trump,” he said. “Anybody could do it. … He makes it too easy.”
And Alec Baldwin’s burlesque Trump impression, Schneider believes, is undercut by Baldwin’s activism off camera.
“How Alec Baldwin tweets about how much he hates Trump, it hurts the bit,” he said. “The laughs are not rewarding when you’re preaching to the choir. If I can make liberals laugh at themselves, that’s really rewarding.”
While stand-up touring is his main focus these days, Schneider said he’s also currently writing a book and expects to take a break from the road at some point to make a third season of his Netflix sitcom “Real Rob.”
Schneider said his old friend and “Saturday Night Live” cast mate Chris Rock convinced him to go back to stand-up.
“He said, ‘If you do this you could be the best at it,'” Schneider recalled. “And that’s what excited me. But to be the best at it, you can’t just go out once a month.”
So he’s been touring a ton in recent years, beginning in small, out-of-the-way clubs where he tried to get his chops back, and building steadily to more high profile gigs like his recently completed world tour with Adam Sandler.
“I felt terrible for the audiences in the beginning,” Schneider said, recalling his slow and clumsy start in Kentucky and Florida, where he did his first stand-up sets in decades. “It’s taken me eight years to get where I am now, where I feel like I am one of the best comics in the country.”