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Rob Schneider talks Zen and the art of stand-up comedy 

If your only knowledge of Rob Schneider comes from the idiotic roles he played in movies like Grown Ups, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and The Hot Chick — or from the bizarre characters he portrayed as a cast member on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s — be prepared to be surprised. The 47-year-old actor, director and screenwriter is set to take the stage June 23-25 as the debut act at Charlotte's brand-new Comedy Zone (see sidebar). In lieu of this rare local appearance, Creative Loafing tracked down Schneider and chatted him up about politics, family, religion and (yes) comedy.

Creative Loafing: Everyone knows you from sketch comedy and from acting in movies, but is stand-up comedy something you've always done on the side?

Rob Schneider: Stand-up is something I've always avoided, to be honest with you. I know how much work it takes to get really great at it. But I was also envious of the guys who got great at it. And I was like: "Oh God, I know I could do that." By the time I got a good half hour, I had become famous and started doing TV and movies. In the back of my mind, it was always something that I knew I had never accomplished. So, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler got in my head about it, and I started doing it. It's been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. Not the most, but one of the most.

So, what's the most rewarding thing you've done?

Well, the most rewarding thing in my life, honestly, is my relationship with my wife. I just got married a month ago. That's the most rewarding thing in my life. You always realize how guys like Stevie Wonder and guys like Jerry Seinfield ... are really great artists and then they stop. And you're like, "What happened? Why would they do that?" I mean, Stevie Wonder did five albums in like three years, Songs in The Key of Life, you know, incredible stuff. And I'm like, "Why did they just stop?" And it's because their life became their art. They had kids and they had something more beautiful, and I get that. It finally happened to me. Now, I'm not comparing myself to Stevie Wonder, but that experience — I get it.

What is the Rob Schneider stand-up show like?

I do some of the characters from the movies, because I don't want to disappoint people. But mostly, it's a crafted stand-up act, but with more modern stuff in it. And it's just my kind of take on the world and what's happening with America. I compare the decline of the American empire, which we're definitely in; right now, there's like a strange money grab from the poor and middle class. They don't want to go after the rich people. And I just can't believe how nice and well-intentioned Americans are that they are even putting up with that. Grabbing teacher's pensions, going after workers in Wisconsin and Ohio so they don't have the right to negotiate a decent wage. There's plenty of money out there. We're the richest country in the history of the world, still, and they're not going after the super-rich people. One percent of the population owns 99 percent of all the money. We know where the money is, but politicians, it just doesn't make sense for them to go after them. We're still paying corporate welfare, but we're going after people who really need the welfare. If we really want to go find the money, people have to stand up and stop being so nice. But they are distracted by having to work hard and the media; 98 percent of the media is owned by eight companies, and they really don't want to tell what's happening. They don't mind talking about disasters, because that distracts people. But they don't want to talk about what's going on, on a daily basis. I touch on that, but you can't do it too much. It's nice, though, because I can talk about it when a reporter wants to talk to me. I'm a disciple of Michael Parenti, who's a University of Berkeley professor, and he's brilliant. Also, I love Noam Chomsky. These are the guys who tell what's really happening in America, and it's a crime. I love this country, but it's being besieged by people in this country. I touch on those things ... and I tell jokes about what's happening with me and my wife.

Do you think when people see your stand-up set that they're surprised by what they hear?

Yeah, but I think it's all in the same tree. I think of drama as a tree. One branch is theater, one branch is writing, one branch is television, one branch is movies. But it's all the same tree, and it's storytelling. It's primitive, and it's the one thing that I find bonds us as human beings ... I think [the audience] will go with me, as long as I'm up there trying to be funny. Nobody wants to hear what I think about Sarah Palin. I will say it, but I'll do it with a joke. [If I] make people laugh in movies, they like me. It's a thing where they're willing to go with me and take a chance. I've not disappointed them before — maybe I have — but they are there to see me, and they're going to give me that little bit of room. I'm there to entertain. I'm not going to get into too much of the corporate welfare state.

Going back to your movie career, are there any roles that you haven't done that you'd like to do?

Yeah. I did a movie called The Chosen One. It's a nice drama. It's Steve Buscemi and me. It's a little tiny movie that I made that I'm trying to get released worldwide. It's a nice movie — that very few people have seen. It's about a family that's stuck, trying to survive the suicide of their father. There are still a few things I want to make. There's a story about my mother and surviving World War II. I'd like to make that, you know. It's about the Japanese occupation, and she considers it the most exciting time in her life. It's also the saddest time in her life and a beautiful time in her life. She's finally put her memoirs down, and I'd like to make that.

Critics have panned many of your movies in the past. How do you deal with that?

I understand it now. I didn't used to understand it. But comedy's an arrogant thing. It's: "I'm gonna make you laugh now." And there's a certain arrogance to that. Now, if people are receptive to it and they find it funny, that's fine. The difference is, if you ask somebody, "Are you a good cook?" — they'll say, "Well, I'm not that good of a cook. I can cook a couple of things." They'll be honest about that. They'll be objective about that. But if you ask them, "Do you have a good sense of humor?" — everyone will say "yes." It gets to the core of who they are, and how they see themselves. What I've learned is, the critiques are more about themselves. "I didn't get it. I'm angry that these other people are laughing at something I don't find funny." And my humor isn't elitist. I'm for the average person. I try to do things that make me laugh, and the people who get into that are also just people who are looking at it from the same perspective.

How long did it take you to reach this level of understanding?

This level of Zen? Oh, I'm a Zen Buddhist. I've gotten to a lot of levels now. [He laughs.] But Zen Buddhism is not about getting anywhere. You're already there. You're already where you need to be right now. Whatever you want to call it, you have it right now. You're in a place of peace. You're in the center of the universe wherever you are. Then, you know, things don't get to you.

Rob Schneider performs at the Comedy Zone (900 Seaboard St., Suite B3) June 23-25. Tickets are $30 and up. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 704-295-4242 or visit www.cltcomedyzone.com.

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