Comedian Paul Rodriguez on Cuban Immigration, Carlos Mencia, and Playing the Nice Guy

For over 30 years, Mexican-born American actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez has done almost everything an entertainer can do.

He's starred in over 45 roles between his television and film career. He typically plays Mexican characters, and is an instantly recognizable face among the iconic actors that have found success in the United States from the South. Unlike other Mexican imports Americans try to keep out with giant walls, Rodriguez has been widely accepted.

Along with on-screen success, Rodriguez is even better known for his stand up comedy. He produced and appeared in The Original Latin Kings of Comedy, and in 2004, Comedy Central ranked him #74 comic of the "100 Greatest Standups of all Time."

It was the success of his comedy that originally led him to star in ABC sitcom, a.k.a. Pablo, which was the one of the first U.S. television shows to ever feature a Mexican American family. It's also 45th on TV Guide's "50 Worst TV Shows of all Time," but for the awesome reason of offending Hispanic groups with its use of "Latin Slang." It's a show Pepe Billete would probably have loved, if only he were around in 1984.

Rodriguez comes to the Miami Improv starting June 28, for a series of five shows. The iconic comedian will hopefully bring his trademark Mexican comedy style, along with 30 years' worth of stories from working in Hollywood.

We got a chance to ask Paul some questions about his time in Iceland when he served in the army, his worry over his son, skateboarder Paul Rodriguez Jr. (P-Rod), and the repercussions Carlos Mencia should face for impersonating a Mexican.

New Times: What was the weirdest part of being a Mexican stationed in Iceland? Did they have any decent places to get Mexican food?

Paul Rodriguez: Just being in Iceland was weird enough, it has nothing to do with Mexicans. That year was the longest I've gone without Mexican food. It was brutal.

How many "oh shit" moments have you had over your son, skateboarder Paul Rodriguez Jr.?

The biggest "oh shit" moment of my son's life is when his mother told me that she was late. I said, "For what? We don't have a date today." She said she was "late late."

From that moment on I have had more "oh shit" moments than I can count.

Did Carlos Mencia, a Honduran, completely miss the point of what it means to be a Mexican comic by claiming to be a Mexican and flooding his audience with jokes about Mexican stereotypes?

What Carlos does and doesn't do is none of my business. He's still great performer. But if he continues to pretend to be Mexican, then I'll have no choice but to admit I'm Honduran. I hope I can learn to like fried bananas.

My favorite role of yours was Javier in Born in East L.A. Why does it seem like you always play the "innocent" Mexican guy? Is it unfair that Cheech gets to be the stoner/cop, George Lopez the overly responsible father, and Edward James Olmos the villain or teacher, while you're the wide-eyed nice guy?

It seems that way, but it isn't really. I'm an asshole in Blood Work with Clint Eastwood, and not such a nice guy with Anthony Hopkins in World's Fastest Indian. But if that's the perception then I guess everybody likes to play opposites.

You starred in a Crocodile Dundee movie. Why has no one taken that and made a buddy cop film with the two of you yet? Maybe even a remake of CHiPs, except where you two are a Border Patrol tag team?

Exactly! That's the same exact question I've been asking every studio. What happened is that Latinos are not flavor of the year anymore. Hollywood and Bollywood have made an unholy alliance. If you notice all the sidekick roles now are with people from India or the Middle East.

When you're in Miami what stands out as the biggest difference between our Hispanic population and that of Los Angeles?

That immigration really isn't an issue for Cubans. They have the wet foot dry foot law. Mexicans, however, have to live like Anne Frank for the rest of their stay here.

How has your stand up changed over the years?

I know more and I've seen more. I'm older and wiser, and got more to talk about.

Who would you consider the best Mexican stand up comedian?

The word best is like beauty; it is in the eye and ear of the beholder. But whatever that list is, if I'm not in the top three, they don't know shit about comedy.

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Ric Delgado