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George Lopez

Saint George: Funnyman George Lopez returns with a new TV series

"Yes, the stand-up has been a tremendous wealth of a place to take personal experiences and bring humor to them."

by Jerry Nunn
Funnyman George Lopez returns with a new sitcom, Saint George, that premiered this month on FX. Lopez is known for his hit sitcom George Lopez that lasted for six seasons on ABC, his live stand-up acts, and movies.

Saint George will be Lopez's first scripted role since George Lopez. The plot revolves around a recently divorced Mexican-American, who has become successful as an entrepreneur.

Nunn spoke to the Saint himself about comedy, childhood, and celebrities.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, George. What inspired you to make another sitcom?

GL: (George Lopez) When I was in the clubs and I looked at guys who were creating sitcoms like Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, and particularly Tim Allen. You know, Tim Allen had all of Home Improvement in his stand-up, and clearly you could see that there was a show there.

With my stand-up, I didn't particularly have a focus or a particular point of view until around 1996, when somebody who works for 3 Arts, who represents me now, told me that I probably needed to become a little bit more focused on a couple of subject matters. I decided to focus on family and cultural differences, and then five years later we started working on George Lopez with Bruce Helford who had done Drew Carey, and through that kind of experience with him—because he had worked on Roseanne and he had created Drew Carey, that he was great at turning the stand-ups into TV shows.

So that worked for me, and that was really a very educational, a good time to learn. A lot of comedians were still on TV, Raymond and Kevin James, and Damon Wayans was on, and Will & Grace was still on, Seinfeld was coming to an end, I think Frasier might have even still been on. So it was a great comedy time, and then when I finished the first show, I did the talk show, and that actually is probably the hardest work that I think an entertainer could have in TV, because it's every day, and it's very difficult.

But getting an opportunity to work with the guys who created Tim Allen's show, I had a deal at Lionsgate, and then they signed David McFadzean and Matt Williams so that sparked my interest because it all comes from the guys that I admired as show runners. To create the first show with Bruce Helford is an honor, and to work on Saint George with Matt and David is something that I didn't expect, and I think the show in the ten episodes is really good, and the cast of actors is great. And it's funny because people say, well, you know, you have 10 shows to try to get 90. In the first show, my first order was only four episodes. So, I like what we've done with Saint George. I think the people will like it, and I'm excited about Thursdays.

JN: Where did the title of the show come from?

GL: You know, some titles make sense, you see Everybody Loves Raymond, you see How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family. Saint George is, needless to say, a pretty interesting title. I think you don't become a saint until the end of your life, and how you live your life depends on whether you become a saint or not. I'm not sure that in my particular life I will become a saint any time soon, but it is a great title, I love the title.

JN: In your book you mention some bad teachers in your past. What made you decide to play a teacher on the show?

GL: I think opposites are great for comedy. In my particular education, I didn't have the greatest teachers. As a matter of fact, in the book I wrote about a teacher that I knew was a comedian in high school, and then he actually told me that for him to teach me comedy would be wasting his time. I actually in my life have used negative things to inspire me to become positive.

So, the show, the guy giving back, we wanted to show that as a way to have a sense of a place where you could go to have specific humor about specific topics, and being a teacher and giving back, which I do quite a bit. That really doesn't get covered as much but we thought that that would be a great venue for comedy.

JN: Now in the first episode we see George being put in an uncomfortable situation, trying to deal with the single scene, and a little birdy told me that there's going to be something to do with like a prostate exam that's coming up. Is the point of every episode going to be to put George in uncomfortable situations?

GL: Well, I think that the little birdy should have told you that it's not George's prostate that's getting the exam. It happens to be Danny Trejo's. He's the one that's getting checked, and he's never been checked. In life, not necessarily culture I think that guys don't particularly take the best care of themselves. I know sometimes that I don't take the best care of myself. I think that every day we should try to take care of ourselves and not be our own worst enemy. Sometimes I've been. In creating the Trejo character, he's almost like an alter ego of George. So there's a good George and a bad George, and sometimes bad George wins.

JN: How is it having Danny onboard?

GL: Initially that character was a friend that I have, a guy named Vern. He's kind of like a right-hand guy, and when we pitched the show to FX, they didn't like that he was a friend, they wanted him to be a relative. I started to write a relative that I had, an uncle that I had that was very competitive with me, and that my grandmother, it was her oldest son, that she thought he could do no wrong. I thought that was a good place to be, because he has never worked in his life, he's covered with tattoos, he had been in prison, and yet my mother hangs on his every word.

You know, Danny Trejo hadn't done any multi-camera. Forget about the regular schedule of multi-camera, but the 10/90 multi-camera is twice as fast. I remember Danny saying that usually he would stand there and scowl, and the camera would come in on his face, and he would say, "I'm going to kill everybody here." They would yell, "cut," and he could go to his trailer.

JN: Is Danny tough in real life? Did you want to seem tough when you were younger?

GL: That's a good question. When I was growing up, I didn't have a father figure, and my grandfather was not a bad guy. He had some demons as well, he wasn't my biological grandfather, but he was my grandmother's second husband. He drank a little bit, I saw that growing up, and he never had kids. I think our relationship suffered a little bit in that, but I started playing golf in 1981. It's always been a great outlet for me, but it doesn't take the place of a human being.

I've never really had a system of a man in my life that I could communicate with when I had issues, but I've talked to Danny Trejo, who is Machete, and is intimidating with tattoos, and he spent time in prison, but also he hasn't had a drink in 45 years.

I've talked to Danny a couple times over the weekend, and to move forward in Saint George and into the back 90, and think that I would for the first time be around a couple of guys who would actually be useful to me in my private life. I look forward to spending a lot of time with Danny in the near future, and getting some guidance from him would be fantastic at this point.

JN: You have been busy with movies recently.

GL: Yes, I was doing a nice run of films after the sitcom was over, Valentine's Day was good, and then there were some other movies. The actual waiting around was really very difficult.

I did a movie with Jackie Chan, and this is where I made my decision to go back into TV. I made a movie called Spy Next Door with Jackie Chan, it was in New Mexico, and it was freezing. Half of my trailer was warm, and half of it was cold, but the cold part was the part I got dressed in. In that trailer while I was waiting for Jackie Chan to beat 15 guys up in a warehouse, I decided that maybe waiting around in a trailer wasn't particularly good for me particularly. For everybody else, hey, that's cool. But for me I decided that I always liked TV. I like the immediacy of TV. I think it's an honor to be on TV, and I'm excited about actually getting another opportunity with such a great group of actors. These actors are all very, very good.

JN: Will there be any familiar faces from George Lopez?

GL: I think past the 10, if the show continues into the back 90, I would love to revisit some of the characters. You know, the father-in-law character, Emiliano Diez, was a tremendous well of comedy. And then the mother character, Belita Moreno, was fantastic. I think mothers meeting each other and becoming friends for an arc would be great, and yes, they're all great actors, so I've been blessed in the arena of TV to be surrounded by really, really good people.

JN: Did you see Olga Merediz perform during her In the Heights days?

GL: You know Olga was I believe in the first full season of George Lopez, the ABC show. She played my father's sister, and she just appeared in one episode. But yes, we had seen her In the Heights, and she was tremendous.

We had had another actress in that part, and Olga came in and took over the part for her, and made the show so much better, so much easier for the other actors to work in. Danny, David, Jenn Lyon, and myself all really are very fond of Olga, and looking forward to continuing to work with her.

JN: She was hilarious from what I saw. How has the landscape of television changed since George Lopez first aired?

GL: There's been a lot more single-camera with The Office, Modern Family has had some success. There's also been Big Bang Theory, multi-camera, and How I Met Your Mother, New Girl is single camera. There's been a balance more of single camera and multi-camera, but back in the first show the single camera was foreign to TV. So that's succeeded.

I think also back then there was much more reality. Like toward the end of my first run, reality TV was huge. Everything was reality TV, and it's not as much ten years later as it was ten years ago. Those are some of the changes that I've seen.

JN: For the people that didn't tune in to George Lopez why should they tune into this show?

GL: First of all, one was a network family show on ABC. This one is a cable family show on FX, and there's no real similarity as far as the standards and practice guy on ABC. He'd always run down and tell us what we could say and couldn't say, and cover up a logo, and you couldn't do this, you couldn't do that. On FX on this show the humor is a lot edgier and diverse.

Modern Family succeeded with having a very diverse group of actors, not necessarily ethnicity wise, but how they behaved and who they were in life. I think this has a lot of the elements of that. I think people would enjoy this show. It might be a little shocking with some of the stuff, but FX's slogan is fearless. I wouldn't say this was necessarily the craziest show on TV, but it is a lot different than my first one.

JN: What advice would you give late night TV hosts these days?

GL: I enjoyed my two years, it was very difficult, but I had some great guests and if you look back on some of those things, Kevin Hart was really just kind of popping at that time, and he was tremendous on the show. I had Prince on the show. I had a tremendous band and the guests were amazing, and the audience was I think one of the more diverse and bigger audiences.

Jimmy Fallon's off to a great start, Seth as well, and Jimmy Kimmel's doing great. It's a tough thing, there's a lot of traffic, but all of those guys seem to be finding their own place.

JN: What have you been most proud of in your career so far?

GL: When I look at my career up and to this point the thing is that there hadn't been a successful show with a Mexican-American star, I don't believe in the history of television. Freddie Prinze was Puerto Rican, and Desi Arnaz was Cuban. So as far as a Mexican-American there had not been one. It was named after me; those guys, their shows, weren't named after them.

I think of getting the star on the Walk of Fame the day of the 100th episode, when a show really hadn't gone past three episodes previous to that, is one. It's hard to pinpoint that actual proudest thing, but one of the things I'm proudest of is having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, because as a 15-year-old I would go to Hollywood and we were walking through the stars, and clearly everyone imagined their name there, but no one ever thinks that that's going to happen. So that's been a pretty great thing.

JN: I want to say your stand-up in Chicago was so great. I just got to see your show not too long ago, and you're just really funny. So come back soon.

GL: Thank you. Yes, the stand-up has been a tremendous wealth of a place to take personal experiences and bring humor to them. So I appreciate that, thank you.

Lopez leaves them rolling on the floor Thursdays on FX. For more on the comedian visit www.georgelopez.com.
 
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