George Lopez is having a very good year.
The presidential candidate for whom he spent much of 2008 tirelessly campaigning is now in office. His self-titled sitcom is a smash in syndication. His live comedy act sells out arenas. And he was among the first actors signed to Garry Marshall’s upcoming Valentine’s Day, an ensemble comedy starring a multigenerational who’s who of talent from Taylor Swift to Ashton Kutcher to Shirley MacLaine.
So how is he celebrating this string of successes? By hosting a show in which everyone else gets to gab about theirs. Beginning Nov. 9, Lopez plans to reinvent the role of talk show host on Lopez Tonight, airing Monday-Thursday on TBS (HD). And, as he told us, the timing is downright serendipitous.
Congrats on the new gig! Did the show come about on the theory that not everyone is looking to be lulled to sleep at 11pm?
Geroge Lopez: This was proposed to me when I was still doing my sitcom — we were probably in the 30s for episodes — so 2004, maybe? I had no desire to be a talk show host because I was doing the sitcom, but they said, “Well not now, but when the show’s over, you’re going to need something to do.” And I said, “Well, the show isn’t going to be over for a long time … ”
But then going out with Barack Obama and campaigning and seeing the people that were coming out to see him, and the unifying affect that he had — the ages of the people and the faces of the people and the color of the people. You know with the success of my sitcom in syndication more than it was in production, it just kind of spoke to me that maybe the work wasn’t done. Maybe there was a chance to do another one and maybe one that’s more meaningful, and I think that it’s this talk show.
When we did the pilot — over a year ago now! — we turned a lot of people away. It was kind of covert because we didn’t want people to know we were doing the pilot, so we just put it out to some of the employees at Warner Bros. and, I think, a radio station, but we didn’t tell them what it was for. We just told them to show up. And that audience was younger and they were really excited — and they weren’t handpicked. They were a regular audience.
And then I asked Sam Jackson, who I’ve known forever, and Eva [Longoria Parker] — we’re very close — and Dane Cook and Kayley Cuoco, and it just kind of fell together. It felt right. Even in just one.
At 48, I’m better prepared for this than at 38. The last 10 years have been great a experience for me to be able to host my own talk show. I wanted to do a sitcom because it hadn’t been done. And now this is an opportunity to score really big at a great time in this country.
TBS seemed to be crafting a niche as the net of family-oriented comedy, but you look like you’re about to cut loose. So is this not just a new era for late-night talk, but a new era for TBS as well?
I think this show was meant for cable, because more people are turning to cable as a first option and not just network first and then let’s see what’s on cable. Cable now has first-run shows that people invest in, and shows with people who’ve been nominated for Academy Awards and won Academy Awards.
It’s a little bit overwhelming, I think, for network that they are losing so much of their audience to cable.
When I went to ABC, Stu Bloomberg was there and he had been there for over 20 years and he was responsible for a lot of great comedy. Dharma & Greg and Roseanne and Drew Carey. A lot of the comedies that were about the talent first. And in the six years I was there, it became more a business, and the numbers meant more, and sustaining of the numbers and retaining of your audience and if your number wasn’t big enough, you weren’t asked to come back.
It really became more of a numbers network than a talent network — and I think that’s all of the networks now.
But what cable does is it gives an outlet for what I think TV was created for — for writing, for producing, for creating characters to invest in. I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad. But I never thought that I would ever invest myself in watching AMC — I’m not even sure I know what AMC is. But I watch Mad Men, too. Jason Schwartzman, Bored to Death (on HBO) — that show looks amazing. Just from the promos, I’m going to watch it. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Weeds. The Closer. Great, great shows. My mother-in-law watches Glenn Close’s show. Religiously. Like, that’s her show. I didn’t even know they had that show!
I believe that we don’t live in a cookie cutter world any more. Nothing is the way it was and the approach shouldn’t be the way you used to make a show. It has to be different now. And some people can’t figure that out.
I think that we figured that with Lopez Tonight.
First of all, you have to have a host that everybody knows, and everybody knows me in some aspect or another. Either from standup, which is very adult. Or from the sitcom, which has given me an audience of even 2 year olds — from 2 to 82.
And doing standup, you’re comfortable in front of a live audience. I’ve been on all the [talk shows]. I know a lot of the celebrities. And my intention isn’t to do anything other than what Johnny Carson was doing so brilliantly. Which is listening, giving people a place to come, and to showcase them without a fear of being blindsided by something. Just trying to do a comedy show for an hour — that’s all. Simple.
And bands you’ve heard of — but also some you may not have heard of. Breaking new talent, but also honoring musicians who, at one time, were on top of their game, but maybe they’re not anymore. But they’re still out there. If you haven’t sold a hundred million records, that doesn’t mean that you’re not important.
I love music, and music is very important to the show. I mean, I’m 48, so I came through some really great stuff. Unfortunately, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know a lot of the new bands right now, so I have an iPod Touch that’s being loaded with music so I can understand what the kids are listening to.
I became very friendly with Slash because his kids went to my daughter’s school, and Slash is going to come on. He’s got an album that he’s working on that’s going to come out in November. And you know, when you have a buddy like that that can just come on and hang out and talk about his music. This was a guy that was really shy, and he said, “Am I just going to play, or can I come on and talk about the album?” I said, “No, you can talk about the album.”
A lot of times bands just play and go. I want for them to talk and then play.
Are the people you are having on the show always going to have a project to shill, or are you also inviting folks you think would just make for good conversation.
A little bit of both. When you’re starting a show and you’re starting in November, obviously a lot of the new shows have already started and a lot of movies are getting ready to come out, so you want to cater to the bigger people. Sandra (Bullock) was a creator and executive producer of my [sitcom] and she’s got a movie coming out in November, so we’d like to have her as a guest.
You want the credibility of being able to pull a larger movie star, but also some relevant people who aren’t huge movie stars, but are highly talented and should be exposed to a larger audience.
You’re a go-to guy for other talk show hosts. Has all that experience helped you prepare for what to do — and not do — as the guy who’s now asking the questions?
It won’t be where I’m going to ask these five questions in order and then you’re going to leave. If they want to put their feet up on the couch, they want to take their shoes off, they want somewhere where they can make themselves comfortable … that’s this place.
I saw Lewis Black when I was doing The View and I asked him if he would do the show and he said yes. But he said, “We’re not going to do a pre-interview, are we? And I said, “No, not with you!” Because the pre-interview can be a little bit daunting, even for me. I’ve done some pretty tough pre-interviews and then gone on the show and done maybe 20 percent of what the pre-interview was about.
I’m not that structured. And I don’t want my show to be that structured. You know, you go over things and you cover them. But it’s not a memorization test — talk about your movie, talk about your kids, talk about vacation and then you’re gone.
We’ll obviously cover what they need to cover to make the publicists happy and the movie companies happy and then go from there. [Laughs]
And I don’t want it to look like it could be a show on any night — I want it to be specific to THAT night. Being of color, there are things that are going to come from a different angle. And, you know, I’m very political in my standup.
On that subject, you are one of the most successful standup comics in the country today. Was it hard to sign on for something you’re going to be doing four nights a week for the foreseeable future in terms of no longer having as much freedom to tour?
I gotta tell you, when they showed me the schedule, I said, ‘What are these?’ And they said, ‘Those are your work weeks.” It started in November and it went until July. I woke up the next morning and went to hit golf balls, and suddenly I just stopped and was like, “What the HELL did I get myself into? This is an overwhelming schedule!”
But I like being The Guy. When I had my sitcom, I liked being The Guy. I liked being George Lopez. I liked what that was. And I got away from that for two and a half years. This is a down market — this is a great time to buy in.
It’s pretty hard to impress my children with my interview subjects, but you scored big for me. Now could you please tell them to turn off your sitcom during dinner?
[Laughs] I was just in Hawaii and a guy came up to me and said, “I had to ground my kid from watching your show,” and I said, “Why? He wasn’t doing his homework?” And he said, “He wasn’t doing anything.”
I am not sure why it has that thing, but I think it is that, when we did the show, I wanted it to have the feel of being a real family. That father is a real father. He’s not right all the time. He tells his kids that when they turn 18, he’s gonna kick ’em out. That’s what parents really do.
Even with George and his mother. Moms love you, but they’re not always pinch-your-cheek, rosy things. But inherently they love each other. And I think that’s what’s captivating to all these kids is that they look like a real family, and that they look like people that they know in school.
You always look really, really great, no matter what you’re doing. Golfing, on the political stump, on other talk shows. Is that your own doing? Mrs. Lopez’s? A little of each?
When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t always have a jacket. I still don’t bring a jacket. I never prepare myself.
But I never had a jacket, so I’d never leave with a jacket. But when I started doing TV, I knew it was important how to look.
I remember, when I worked during the day, I think it was in ’84 … I’ve been doing standup since ’78 … but, anyway, I wore something like jeans and a polo shirt, and a guy I worked with said, “Hey kid! You can’t dress like that! You have to be better dressed than the people that come to see you. They’re coming to see you and if you look like that, the first thing they’ll think is, “This guy looks like a slob!” I don’t even remember his name, but he worked where I worked and he was a lot older than I was — and from that time on, I started to dress up.
I did Arsenio 20 years ago — I was on that show 15 times — and I’ve talked to Arsenio about this show. If there’s someone you can talk to about doing something different and being a success at it, it’s Arsenio Hall. He’ll have a place on this show. He and I talked about a month and a half ago — we hadn’t talked in years — and we talked like we used to talk before every show, for like 45 minutes, and it was like no time had passed.
But even when I’d come on his show, going back all those years, I would spend the money that I was making on that show, for scale, on clothes. I was spending money that I didn’t even have so I would look good for that show and so that when you looked back, I always had my own look.
When I was a kid, we always believed that the important people wore suits. So for me, every time I work, I’m always in a suit and a shirt and a tie. And it’s always a dark suit. I feel great in a suit. I wiggle around a little bit like Rodney Dangerfield though, and I’m not sure what that is. I pull at my jacket a little, pull at the back of the jacket and it isn’t that the suit was uncomfortable. I just got this twitch.
But I’m very meticulous with that stuff. My room may look like a mess, but I know where everything is. I’m not sure — is it considered a mess if you know where everything is?
I looked and I looked and I looked and I cannot find anything that explains the connection between you and “Low Rider.” What’s the connection between you and “Low Rider”?
Well, when it first came out, War was a tremendous band. And it was used in Up in Smoke with Cheech and Chong, and I was a huge fan of Cheech and Chong.
And when I was doing standup, I would walk to the stage and no one was clapping — back in ’83-’84. I went to a radio station in Indianapolis and they played “Low Rider” as part of the show and said, “This is George’s song right here,” and everybody laughed. So I asked them if they would make me a copy, and they put it on a white cassette tape and they put a label on it that said “George Lopez — Low Rider.” I would take it to the shows, and when they introduced me, I would tell the guy “hit it” and it would play and it gave me a little bit of an identity. Even though they didn’t know who I was, it gave me a little bit of a flavor that wasn’t there just in a natural introduction.
So it felt like home to me. And when I was traveling — I traveled alone — and I felt alone all these times when things weren’t great, I always had it. And it was a feel of home for me. I’d take the cassette with me and I’d guard it and everything, and it became kind of a theme. So then when we did the sitcom and we needed a theme and we were trying to figure out what song and I brought this in and it just clicked.
Now, I don’t even get introduced. They just play “Low Rider.” The music is my introduction.
Now for this show, I told my wife we might get another theme and she was like, “What?! What are you going to do that for? That’s your song.” And I was like, “Yeah, but that’s already been done now.” And she’s like, “No, no, no. That’s it.”
So it may start “Low Rider” and then blend into my own theme. But it will start “Low Rider.”
Before I let you go, you are costarring in Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day with approximately everyone in Hollywood. What was the first day on that set like?
Let me tell you something, everybody could not have been more eager to work with Garry! I’ve known him around a little bit but I never thought I’d work with him. They sent a script and everyone wanted this part. I read it early and said, “Oh I’m interested. That would be fantastic.” And none of the cast that’s now in it was attached yet. I was one of the early ones.
But when you work with this guy — the success that this guy has had and the way he directs a movie and the ease he does it with, the manner and the humor — everybody wanted to be in this movie. They didn’t care that it is a big ensemble cast. Taylor Lautner’s in it. Taylor Swift. People were just coming by to work for the day, even — that’s how into it they were to work with Garry.
You seem to have made a new best friend — and Twitter mentor — in your costar Ashton Kutcher …
All my scenes are with Ashton — and some with Eric Dane. But we’re in pink, so Ashton would say, “When the movie goes pink, that’s when you know we’re coming.” Because we’re florists and our company colors are pink, so he’s like the movie has all these different colors but when it goes pink, we show up. We’re like Men In Pink.
He’s such a great kid. He’s so connected to people and to causes, and he uses Twitter to promote change. He’s so amazing at what he does. I’m still using Twitter to make fun of people.
But I think that if you’re looking for a guy who could possibly have a career in politics, I think it’s gotta be a guy like this. He’s really fascinating.
I’d met him a couple of times before; I got punked, that was one of them. But in this character that they had written for me, he was more of a philosophical type person — I don’t know that he was necessarily humorous. But I made the guy humorous with a heart and he looked after his buddy. It became a little more heartfelt than what was there. And that was the relationship between Ashton and I, just working together.
I remember the first day that we worked, it was like, “I’ll see you next time.” And then as we went, he’d come over and say, “Hey, are you done yet?” I’d say no and he’d say, “Well, let me say goodbye to you before I go!”
And when the movie comes out, you should be good for Lopez Tonight guests for a while …
I think when Valentines Day comes out, I could have a Valentines Day week with just the cast members on the show!