“Saturday Night Live” has pulled off the nearly impossible task of staying on the air for over 40 years, providing some hearty laughs and a literal feeding ground for Hollywood to cherry pick their next round of comedic stars. Of course not all periods in “SNL’s” storied history have been great, but to those who were lucky enough to be a part of one of the legendary casts, becoming a comedic icon was a near certainty.
Rob Schneider falls into that category. Schneider enjoyed his glory days at “SNL” during the early ’90s, at a time when the show was arguably at its strongest. His castmates included veterans like Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon and Phil Hartman, but Schneider’s true peers were fellow newcomers like Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade and Chris Rock — a list of names that would go on to dominate the comedic landscape in America. But if you ask Schneider, those guys were not even the funniest people at “SNL.”
On Thursday, Feb. 22, our sister publication A.C. Weekly held its annual Nightlife Awards at…
“Truthfully, the writers were funnier than the performers when I was there,” he says. “Robert Smigel, Jim Downey, Jack Handey and, believe it or not, Al Franken. I thought they were the funniest. Plus, there were some guys who had been there a few years and were kinda over it by the time I got there.”
Schneider, who heads to the Levoy Theater 8 p.m. Friday, March 2, has kept pace with his peers, starring in lead roles in films such as “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” “The Hot Chick” and “The Animal,” as well as appearing in his own Netflix series called “Real Rob” that will go on to film its third season. But he still makes time for standup. So, is live performance Schneider’s true love? Maybe, but it all depends on how that night is going.
“I’m a fan of whatever is going good,” he says. “You could have a really s***y night of stand-up and that sucks. I’m having less and less of those these days though. When people pay specifically to see you, there is an incentive on their part to have a good time.”
It’s hard not to have a good time with Schneider though. His naturally funny presence shines through whether onstage or chatting during an interview. And he seems to genuinely appreciate the fans. While many of his movies and “SNL” sketches provided a wealth of quotable lines, he doesn’t mind if folks throw out some of their favorite quotes when they see him.
“I don’t mind anything. The thing about comedy is that it has an emotional memory attached to it. It’s like music. People remember where they were and how they felt when they heard you tell a joke or a line from a movie. Because it’s fun to laugh. If you laugh really hard, it’s a real experience that you hope to have. So it’s hard to take that in a bad way.”
While it may be fun to laugh, it’s not always easy doing comedy. And in today’s social and political landscape, it can be even harder, with many people seeming to have more and more trouble laughing at themselves or their belief systems. Political correctness has never been good for comedy.
“Comedy ebbs and flows,” he says. “There are some things they were able to do on ‘SNL’ in the ’70s that we couldn’t get away with in the ’90s. But you also can’t be afraid to offend. John Cleese once said to me ‘the most sensitive members of society should not be the ones deciding what everyone gets to listen to and enjoy.’”
And one place where it’s particularly easy to offend is in a room telling jokes to a live audience. So does the potential to offend people cause Schneider to hold back onstage?
Spring is almost here and there is no better way to greet it than with the Atlantic City Bee…
“I’m going to be completely honest with you and answer this question honestly for the first time. Yes, I am affected by their (the crowd’s) sensitivity. And I have to deal with it. So in my act I talk about the specifics of being overly sensitive. I say to the audience, ‘I gotta be careful because somebody could be videotaping me. I don’t want to be taken out of context, or even worse, in context.’ But then I say ‘You guys gotta be careful of what you laugh at, too, because somebody could be videotaping YOU.’ And everybody laughs hard at that because it’s true. Everybody is so concerned about what they laugh at. So I basically let them off the hook there and let them know that I know that they know that I know that they know. I hate that I have to do it though, I’ll tell you that.”
But while there are aspects of his career that Schneider may find frustrating, he is clearly someone who feels blessed, particularly when reminiscing about some of the highs at “SNL.”
“The copy machine guy sketch was pretty thrilling … to play Edward G. Robinson to Charlton Heston … to be out on the same stage as Adam Sandler when we did the Italian waiter sketch with Kirstie Alley …. to have Paul McCartney sing songs for us was probably one of the highlights of my life. I wish somebody would have slapped me back then and said, ‘Hey — the ’90s is the ’20s all over again. Enjoy this!’”