talk show host, sitcom star hits INB for stand-up special
George Lopez has hosted his own talk show, starred in his own sitcom, appeared in movies and on the radio, and he’s provided voice acting for animated features such as “Rio” and “The Smurfs.”
Along the way, he’s collected oodles of awards while breaking boundaries and blazing a trail for Latinos in entertainment. In this interview conducted in advance of tonight’s show in Spokane, Lopez talks about his upcoming stand-up special, being only the third Latino lead actor to have a show make it into syndication, and smurfing immigration laws.
IJ: What’s on your list of things to do for 2012?
GL: During the holidays everything kind of shuts down, but it’s going strong again. I’m back on the road. I just signed a deal with a debit card company. I’m trying to get myself in position to do another show and get back on TV. For the better part of the last 10 years people know me from being on TV. I love the production and doing something like that, being seen as a Latino on television. I made my identity being on TV and a lot of people like me for that. Not everybody … but a lot of people do.
IJ: Are you looking to do another talk show or sitcom?
GL: The talk show was great for two seasons, but it’s a grueling schedule. The half-hour show schedule is … like banker hours in showbiz. You do one show per week and it’s time to go home. The talk show is great because you get to meet people you never thought you would meet, but it’s like cramming for a test every day. And when that show is over, you have to run and get more information for the next day, so you’re doing the same thing every day but with other people. It’s like “Groundhog Day.” It’s interesting, but I’m not sure I want to spend the rest of my life talking about other people’s careers.
IJ: You’ve been doing more voice acting as of late. How did that start?
GL: Voice acting was completely unexpected. That came out of an opportunity to do a small part and I had a great relationship with the director so I was able to expand the part and ad lib. That led to a part as Grouchy Smurf, then “Rio” and others. I love it. Kids already know my voice and face. Now when they see a toucan they say, that’s George Lopez. I never thought I would be a Smurf. It’s like being a mobster and being a made man, there’s only six Smurfs.
IJ: You’re working on a new stand-up special for the summer. What’s the process like when you’re putting together a new show?
GL: When I’m putting together a special, I transcribe my shows and go back and look through notes and start to pull out the old stuff and make room for the new stuff. With this being an election year and not knowing who we’re going to end up with in the presidential election, and immigration is a hot button, it’s a good year to have a special.
IJ: Are you still thinking of running for mayor of L.A. sometime down the line?
GL: Possibly. I just ran over a pothole, that reminded me of my platform, getting these streets fixed.
IJ: In the context of being a Latino comedian in America, where comedy is one of the places where it’s OK to make jokes about race and ethnicity, what’s your sense for the level of sensitivity and taboo around race in America?
GL: Whether it be Middle Eastern, or Latino, or influences of the melting pot that has always been America, race is a taboo subject and there’s always a bully. Whenever we have an economic downfall the weakest link, like Latinos who come here, or even Latinos who were born here, become the target of focus. Immigration affects all of us. It’s as important as health care, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, no pun intended.
IJ: Being that there aren’t a lot of Chicano entertainers in the spotlight, who were your influences growing up and how does that affect you in your position today?
GL: I grew up watching “I Love Lucy” and “Chico and the Man.” Mine was only the third show with a Latino lead to make it into syndication. So being a little kid and dreaming of being a comedian and then standing alongside my idols growing up … that could have only happened in this country, and I appreciate the opportunities this country has given us. There’s a long way to go, but there are more Latinos on camera than there have ever been and I’m happy with that. We’ve made more progress than we had 10 years ago when my sitcom first premiered.
IJ: You’ve accomplished so much in your career thus far, as far as awards and recognition. In our country celebrities, especially entertainers, are treated like royalty. You are who so many kids want to be. What is your message to young people?
GL: I came from meager and humble beginnings and I focused on something and I didn’t let anybody tell me what I could or could not do. I did what I wanted to do and I believed in myself and own abilities.