A Chat with Rob Riggle

Given how long Rob Riggle has been doing stand-up, it’s actually kind of funny to think that there are lot of folks who don’t even know that he does stand-up. Then again, given that he’s been on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show,” as well as in “Talledega Nights” and “The Hangover,” it’s not like you can’t understand why some people only know him for his TV and movie work. On March 5th, however, Riggle will be taking the stage once more for an episode of “Comedy Central Presents,” where he’ll be giving viewers 22 solid minutes of stand-up. I had a chance to chat with him about the special, as well as his work on “SNL,” his two and a half year stint as John Oliver’s officemate, and some of his upcoming film projects.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Rob!

Rob Riggle: Hey, Will! How are you doing?

BE: Pretty good. Well, welcome back to the stand-up scene on Comedy Central!

RR: I know! I’m excited! Very excited…and I haven’t even seen it yet!

BE: It’s very good. I caught it on the online screening room.

RR: Oh, well, thank you. I’m glad to hear that. I’ve literally only seen a couple of clips, so that’s good. You never know how those things go, because I think I did, like, 34 minutes, and they cut it down to 22, so you’re, like, “Uh, okay, I hope it’s good.” I’ll be very interested to see what they cut!

BE: I can only presume that the 10 minutes they cut were the slowest minutes. (Laughs) So how often do you even get to do stand-up? Because you’ve certainly got plenty of acting keeping you busy.

RR: Yeah, well, actually, I’ve been very lucky with the acting, but I try to get out as often as I can…which, in my humble opinion, is not often enough. But I book gigs whenever I can, and to answer your question directly…I dunno, I’d say probably two times a month. At least right now. There was a time where I was a lot more consistent. It just depends on the work schedule, y’know? If there’s a gap, I’ll get out there and pound it out three or four times a week, but it just depends on my work schedule, that’s all.

BE: So are you forever honing material, just in case you might have a free night for a gig?

RR: Yeah, that’s the constant work, I guess. I’m constantly waking up in the middle of the night and jotting down notes, and I have a stack of notes and thoughts and premises that I am dying to explore… (Laughs) …and I hope to have the time work them out, but I just haven’t been able to get to them yet. But one of these days I will, and hopefully I’ll be able to develop a new set. That’s what everybody’s got to do.

BE: So what was the case with this Comedy Central special? Was it planned out well in advance, or did you just get a last-second phone call saying, “Hey, Rob, come on back to the family”?

RR: No, y’know, I was just very fortunate that they came and saw me do stand-up at…I think it was right there in New York, at Comics Comedy Club. I was doing a weekend there and they came down, saw me, liked what they saw, and asked if I wanted to do it. And I was flattered. I was, like, “Yeah! Count me in!” So that’s how it all came about. And, y’know, I love Comedy Central. The people over there are awesome, and I have a good relationship with them, so…it’s all good.

BE: Well, in particular, the routine during the special that hit home for me was the bit about men’s rooms in stadiums.

RR: (Laughs) Oh, how true is it, my friend?

BE: It is extremely true, to say the least.

RR: Now, that experience…well, pretty much everything I talk about, I tell stories that are either true stories from my life or things that I genuinely experienced. And that story comes from Arrowhead Stadium, in Kansas City, and it is the most painful place in the world to go to the head.

BE: Now, with that said, as a stand-up, I’m sure you’ve played plenty of venues that had sketchy lavatories, too.

RR: Oh, yeah. (Laughs) They all have that smell of beer and urine that’s been soaked into the wood for 20 or 30 years, and it’s awful.

BE: Obviously, once people see your special, they’ll see that you’ve got your future Academy Award speech planned out already…

RR: Yes! Y’know, I worked on it, so now all I have to do is actually win the friggin’ Academy Award!

BE: So what do you think? Best Supporting Actor for “The Other Guys,” maybe?

RR: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s the plan. I think that’ll be the one to do it.

BE: Speaking of your movie roles, you’re the third person I’ve talked to who’s been affiliated with “The Goods.”

RR: Oh, yeah? Who else have you talked to?

BE: Well, when it first hit theaters, I talked to Adam McKay, and when it hit DVD, I chatted with Alan Thicke.

RR: Awesome!

BE: So what was it like working on a film with that large and that funny an ensemble?

RR: Well, you know, I’m just such a fan. I’m an audience member and a fan first, so I sit around and I see these people and I’m just blown away at their talent and how much fun they are. And they’re just so excited to be there! It’s a great thing. I know it sounds very stereotypical to say things like that, but it is! It truly is. You get there and you see these people that you’ve watched for years, and you know how funny they are and how talented they are, and then you see them in action, and you’re, like, “Oh, man, that’s the best!” And then you realize, “Oh, God, I’m in the scene!” (Laughs) And then you’ve got to focus. But, yeah, it was a great experience. And, of course, it was a little weird for me, because I was playing a 10-year-old boy with a pituitary problem, which was…interesting.

BE: Yeah, you had some funny if disconcerting scenes, that’s for sure.

RR: Oh, man, Kathryn Hahn is hilarious! She’s crazy talented. So that was a joy, a pure joy.

BE: So I’ve read a little bit about your history with Rob Huebel…

RR: You know, the show I was in last night…we do an improvised show called Facebook here in Los Angeles, over at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and I did that with Huebs last night.

BE: How did you guys first meet? Was it in college?

RR: No, we just met at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. We were all in the same improv troupe together for…God, almost seven years, I think. And then he and I did a two-man show together that we took to Aspen. We got into the Aspen Comedy Festival.

BE: And from there, you became a talking head on VH-1.

RR: (Laughs) Yeah, then we did a bunch of VH-1 stuff together. But we still hang out, and we still perform together, and he’s…crazy. And he’s also a crazy talented guy.

BE: You were also in quite a few episodes of “Human Giant,” too, which stands to reason.

RR: Yeah, absolutely. And Paul Scheer, who’s also in Human Giant, was in our improv troupe, too. And he was in the show we did last night as well. Yeah, we’ve been together for a long time doing comedy, and those guys are amazing. Amazing guys. Funny, funny guys.

BE: I know you were on “Saturday Night Live” for a period of time, and I’ve got a stock question that I ask former cast members: do you have a favorite sketch that didn’t make it to air that still sticks in your mind?

RR: You mean one that I was in personally?

BE: Yeah.

RR: Yeah, I had a character who…well, he made air on “Weekend Update,” but when we did a sketch for him, it made it to dress rehearsal twice and got cut. It was selected to go to air, but it got cut for time, ‘cause the band played too long or something. I don’t know. But it was a character named Leviticus, and we had a pretty funny sketch for him, but it just never saw the light of day.

BE: What was the premise?

RR: Leviticus was this born-again super-Christian who’s just a little crazy. Just a little. His whole mission in life is to save everybody around him when they don’t need saving.

BE: So what was your “SNL” experience like overall? Was it enjoyable?

RR: Oh, I mean, it was a dream come true. You know, I’m like every other kid in America: I grew up watching “SNL,” I always wondered what it’d be like to be on there, and dreamed about it. So it was literally a dream come true. It’s a crazy work environment… (Laughs) …and I’ll just say that and leave it at that. But it was a dream come true, and I’m incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to be part of that.

BE: It’s arguable that you made your biggest name for yourself as a part of “The Daily Show.”

RR: Oh, yeah, “The Daily Show” was amazing. Completely amazing. And it was amazing because of Jon Stewart. He really gave me room to grow, room to learn, room to make mistakes and not feel like I was going to be fired or anything. He really made it safe to develop, and he was a great comedy mentor. Just being around him, you learn. I mean, I could literally just sit here and gush on him for about an hour. (Laughs) I won’t bore you, but you get the idea: it was an amazing experience. And then I got to share an office with John Oliver for two and a half years, which was amazing, because he’s one of my best friends. That’s what I miss on a day to day basis: going in in the morning, seeing John Oliver, and just talking about whatever we ended up talking about…which was usually nothing. But we’d do that all morning, and that’s what I miss the most.

BE: Did you find yourself picking up his accent at all?

RR: (Laughs) No, but my mission in life was to…he wanted to learn, like, a Jersey / Brooklyn accent. Like, ‘y’know… (Offers up a broad Jersey accent) “Hey, fuck you, you fucking jerk-off!” So we worked on it, and it’s still one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard him do…because it’s so fucking bad!

BE: Was it nice for you to be able to enjoy the 2010 Olympics in the comfort of your own home?

RR: (Laughs) Yeah, it was much, much easier.

BE: What was the experience of going to China like?

RR: Oh, that was great. I’d obviously never been to China, and it was an amazing experience. And it came down to the wire, too. We had to put in requests for visas and do all of this stuff, and the Chinese were dragging their feet, and then they wouldn’t let us in, and then they would. Then, at the eleventh hour, they finally approved our visas, and then we had to pre-plan and pre-schedule a bunch of camera crews and stuff, so it was, like, “Well, this is either going to work or we’re going to be out some serious money here!” But it worked, and we got over there, and we were able to do our bits… (Pauses) I apologize if I’m a little distracted. I’m merging into traffic.

BE: That being the case, I’d rather you were distracted.

RR: (Laughs) But, yeah, it was great. It was a good time. Beijing was really polluted, though. You know, I saw all those reporters over there before I got there, going, “Oh, the pollution’s terrible, blah blah blah.” And I’m, like, “Ah, gimme a break. They’re exaggerating, they’re making a story out of nothing.” I got over there, and it was so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was unbelievable. So that’s what I took away from the experience. (Laughs)

BE: Of your TV roles, as opposed to “SNL” and “The Daily Show,” do you have a favorite of your appearances?

RR: I really enjoyed being Captain Jack on “The Office.” That was a good time. But, you know, I’ve got to say that I’ve…oh, well, now I’m going to curse myself, so I probably shouldn’t say it, but…I’ve had a great experience on almost everything I’ve done. I mean, I’ve had no bad experiences. So, of course, now something’s going to go wrong.

BE: Absolutely. Especially since I’m planning to put that sentence in bold.

RR: (Laughs) Oh, great. Thanks for nailing the coffin shut!

BE: I mentioned that you’ve got “The Other Guys” coming up, but I see you’re set to be in a couple of other films as well. First of all, you’re in “Furry Vengeance.”

RR: Yeah, I have a cameo in “Furry Vengeance.” I think I’m right at the beginning of the movie, in the cold opening, so I’m in and out of that one pretty quick.

BE: What’s “Killers” about?

RR: “Killers” is going to be…it’s an action comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, and I play Ashton’s good friend. It should be a lot of fun. They shot in Europe, they shot here, it’s got a James Bond-y comedic feel to it…I think it’ll be a fun movie.

BE: Based on the cast alone, I’d think that “Going the Distance” should be pretty hilarious.

RR: Yeah, oh, my gosh. Again, I have a very small scene in there, but it was with Jim Gaffigan, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Christina Applegate, and June Raphael. So it’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be a fun scene, and I think the movie’s going to be really funny, too.

BE: And, lastly, what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

RR: Hmmm. What would it be? (Considers the question) Maybe “The Goods,” actually, because I thought it had some good stuff in it, and I thought…I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was the marketing…? I don’t have a clue what happened, but I thought it maybe could’ve gotten a bit more love, anyway.

BE: I feel like “Blackballed” is going to be hailed as a comedy cult classic sooner than later.

RR: (Laughs) You know, the fun thing about “Blackballed” was that that movie is 100% improvised. The only thing we did was that we had a “beat sheet,” so we kind of knew what the beats were, but every word of dialogue is made up by the actors, ‘cause we’re all improvisers. Everybody in that movie is an improviser from the Upright Citizens Brigade. But we did have beats, so it was, like, “Okay, here’s what information we have to try to get out for this scene.” But that was it. The rest was totally up to us. So that was definitely a fun experience. But we had to shoot it on the weekends over the course of an entire summer, because we all had day jobs. (Laughs)

BE: Do you have a favorite bit from the film?

RR: Just being down in the basement, in my bunker, talking about all of the conspiracies and just ranting and raving.

BE: Ranting and raving would lend itself to improvisation, I’d think.

RR: (Laughs) Absolutely.

BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Rob.

RR: Thanks a lot, Will! Glad you liked the stand-up. Now I’m looking forward to seeing it myself!

  

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