Lost amidst all of the hype about Conan and Jay is this development: George Lopez has been signed to host his own late-night talk show on TBS.
The show, which debuts in November, will mark one more milestone in the amazing and unlikely career of Lopez, who brings his “Tall, Dark and Chicano” tour to the INB Performing Arts Center tonight.
Unlikely, because he started from nothing in Los Angeles and went on to star in his own self-titled sitcom for six seasons and to be named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential Hispanics in America.
“I’m a living example of the American dream,” Lopez likes to say in his act. “I came from no place; no mother, no father, nobody in my family who believed in me.
“They all said, ‘You’ll end up on the street.’ They were right. I ended up on the street: the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
He was raised by his grandparents in the L.A. suburb of Mission Hills, where he soon began to idolize Freddie Prinze of “Chico and the Man,” only the second Latino to have his own TV show. (Desi Arnaz was the first.)
“He (Prinze) made me want to be a comedian,” Lopez says in a video on his Web site. “He made me want to be on TV.”
Lopez’s comedy style was heavily influenced by another of his idols, Richard Pryor, the master of the high-wire comic monologue.
However, early in his stand-up career, Lopez didn’t dwell much about his personal life and upbringing. He did plenty of observational bits about American culture and particularly Mexican-American culture, but not much about himself.
That changed after someone told him that he seemed unwilling to let the audience see who he was. Stories of his own upbringing with his not exactly warm and cuddly grandparents soon became a staple of his act and helped catapult him to an even higher level.
His biggest break came from a producer who caught his stand-up act: actress Sandra Bullock.
Bullock was looking for someone to do a Hispanic-oriented sitcom. She went on to be executive producer for “George Lopez,” which ran for six seasons before its demise in 2007.
Lopez has since done movie and TV work (“Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Reno 911”) as well as a number of stand-up tours.
He is also known for a couple of unrelated subjects: kidney disease and golf.
Lopez had a kidney transplant in 2005 and he and his wife, Ann, have been active in raising money for the National Kidney Foundation.
As for golf, Lopez used to open some of his early stand-up acts by saying, “I had a great day today, I played golf. Yeah, I play golf. Because you guys are looking at me like, ‘That’s ethnically impossible.’ ”
Yet he was for years one of the most visible celebrities (right behind Bill Murray) at the AT&T Pebble Beach celebrity pro-ams. He even served for several years as the official host of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs – in the absence of the deceased Hope.
This year, he was replaced by Arnold Palmer, which caused David Feherty of Golf magazine to speculate that Lopez’s brand of humor didn’t exactly fit in with the white, affluent nature of Palm Springs.
“Most white people in this country have no idea how huge George Lopez is in the Latino community,” wrote Feherty.
“… George represents the American dream to millions of people who might otherwise not dare to believe.”