George Lopez Talks Talk Shows
The Mexican-American comedian is the latest hopeful in late night talk with "Lopez Tonight"
With late night TV under the microscope more now than in recent memory, it may be the best time for a comedian like George Lopez to launch a new nightly talk show, which he does with "Lopez Tonight" on Nov. 9th at 11 p.m. ET/PT on TBS. It may also be the worst time. For every successful talk show berth in the last decade or so, there's been at least twice as many failures (Megan Mullally, Bonnie Hunt), and not since the launch of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2003 has a talk show managed to stay on the air for more than a season or so. But George Lopez, the star of a successful sitcom of the same name, may just have the broad audience to do so, particularly on TBS, a network that has seen terrific numbers across the board, not just amongst minorities. On the eve of his debut, the comedian did a conference call with journalists to discuss the state of late night, how he'll approach the format and his career in TV.
On finding his voice in comedy: "Finding your voice in comedy is one of the most difficult things to do because you have to trust something in a profession where the audience is different every day. I was helped by Chris Rock's manager in 1996 at Caroline's Comedy Club in New York. He came and saw me and gave me some constructive criticism. When you saw Chris you knew where he was politically. You knew what he liked and what he didn't. It sounds simple, but it was really difficult. So I looked at my grandmother and at my upbringing and I started to talk about that and everything completely changed. Six years later, I had my own sitcom on ABC and the nucleus of that were stories about me and my grandmother. So when I got the information, I went and ran with it really hard. It was the one particular thing that really changed me as a comedian."
On how late night is dominated by white guys: "It's very exclusive obviously and it's always been network-run. Johnny was there for 30 years and then Jay inherited that and was there for I think 18 years. Letterman has been around for almost 30 years, so the opportunities are less, but with cable almost making network TV look like its standing still -- with "Weeds" and "True Blood" and "Mad Men," which wouldn't necessarily fit on a network -- cable has become the first place to go when you have a show. Look at Ted Danson. He did fantastic work all those years on "Cheers" and "Becker," but he's amazing on "Bored to Death" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It's a completely reinvented Ted Danson. And it looks like he used network TV as a jumping off point to really do what I believe is some of his best work. With the opportunity that I have -- and FOX saw the pilot and passed, so network had a chance to grab the show and did not -- I think TBS and their audience, which is 20 years younger than the people that watch "The Tonight Show," a hugely successful African-American audience and the huge Latino audience -- it's not risky when you look at the demographics."
On the current state of late night: "The current state of late night is much like the current state of the economy: It's in a down time. And the people that are not watching aren't going to other shows, they're just leaving altogether. They're not going over to Dave. They aren't watching Conan. They're just leaving. But the inclusiveness and diversity we want to bring, the only thing you can compare it to is what happened 20 years ago when Arsenio created a party atmosphere and a show that looked different. It was inclusive and not divisive. And I'm not getting into this thing to divide audiences. I'm getting into it to form a new stronger audience."
On the format of the show: "I don't think [the show] follows a traditional late night format. A monologue almost sounds like a dissertation to me. I will not stand in one place. I will move like I do when I do my standup. The material might be a little bit edgier or political, but why fall into a traditional talk show when the traditional talk show isn't doing well? We're going to bump up the energy. We're going to bump up the music. We're going to have a more diverse and inclusive array of guests and I don't want it to be a springboard for my punch lines."
On being a representative for the Latino community: "Obviously there are a lot of dimensions to it. With the success of my show in syndication, it's given me a stronger multi-cultural audience. I can still be myself and very Mexican, and yet the comedy isn't particularly about being Mexicans as much it is about an economic situation. If you grew up poor, you grew up with less and it isn't just because all Mexicans are poor. That's a generalization. But it is the story of my life because that's what my life was about. We want to be included in the fabric of America. We're part of it. Are we undocumented workers? Yes. Are we here legally? Yes. Are we doctors and lawyers and nurses and Supreme Court justices and Secretary of the Interior? Absolutely."
On whether he'll have trouble booking guests amidst a busy landscape of talk shows: "Mo'nique shoots in Atlanta, Wanda Sykes is one night a week, "The Daily Show," the last time I checked, was not the hotbed of diversity, so I don't think it will be a problem."
On whether he'll quit standup if the show is successful ala Ellen Degeneres? "If this works, I will not leave standup until I do one more HBO special bigger than the last one. And the last one was 14,000 people live. My goal is to do the next one at the United Center, in the round, in front of 18,000 people. That would be my exit plan. And that might be three years. But standup is comfortable. I've been doing it since I was 18. I've never done anything since I was 18 that I was really good at, so I'd hate to leave it because it feels like something that's always been with me and looking out for me. And I've made quite a life for myself just with the ability to write jokes on a blank piece of paper. So I'd hate to just abandon it because I think it deserves more respect than that."
On what he's learned from being a talk show guest that can apply to being a host: "I learned that when you're having fun, it goes by fast. On the three times I filled in for Regis with Kelly Ripa, Kelly made it fun. She doesn't grind it out. She just lets it come to her. When I was a guest with Jimmy Kimmel, we did a little bit of a pre-interview and then he stuck to very little of it. When I was on Jay Leno, everything had to be structured."
On what he's been doing to get prepared: I've been meeting with my writers. I've been going over what I'd like to do with them and how I work. I talk to them and we've gone to a couple of Dodger games as a group. You just kind of acclimate to people you're going to go to battle with. I'm trying to get my rest at night and I've been on the road doing standup on the weekends. I don't think I could be more relaxed without a medical marijuana card. But that would be cheating! This is natural.
"Lopez Tonight" airs Monday thru Thursday, premiering Nov. 9 at 11 p.m. on TBS.
Yes, I do believe in diversity in Late Night. It's so true. The last BIG late night minority show was Arsenio Hall. That was like a million years ago. I don't think white vs... latino... vs. black etc. is really the thing. I just think it's more of the format. Today's format and host is SO boring and predictable. Bottom line... just mix it up. We need energy. I personally went to a taping for Lopez Tonight on wednesday. (before it airs officially on 11/9). There's a good vibe to the show. He is genuinely happy to be there. I was good energy all around... including the audience. George has a large following... and it's not just latinos. He's very animated... is all over the stage... is happy to see his audience (appreciates it)... good to his guests, etc.
I really wish him luck. I want to make it to another taping. It was a lot of fun!! Oh my gawd!!... It's G-Lo!!! :)
I was a huge fan of George's T.V. show, but I recently saw his HBO special, "George Lopez: Tall, Dark & ****", and it STUNK. It was beyond stinky...it was absolutely pathetic.
He was on par funny as Bob Saget.
Unfortunately, the last few times I have seen George Lopez's comedy, he seemed angry.
I think the "On how late night is dominated by white guys" was off the mark. Anyone with talent can successes, it is not a white vs. Latino thing.