George Lopez has had his own sitcoms and his own talk show. But it’s only while standing alone on stage with a microphone that he really gets to speak his mind.
The veteran comic said stand-up continues to be his hardest job, but also the most freeing.
“(Stand-up) is probably the last or only place I’ve ever been able to speak freely and control what comes out of my mouth,” the 53-year-old comic said in a recent phone interview with The Bee. “On TV, clearly you understand the rules; you play by the rules of what you could and couldn’t do. The one thing this business is really about is getting somebody and changing him from who he is. That doesn’t happen in stand-up. They are buying a ticket to see you, they know what you do. So there’s freedom there.”
Lopez’s career has spanned family sitcoms and major motion pictures to late-night talk shows and – of course – the stand-up stage. His “Listen to My Face” tour stops to be heard for two sold-out shows at Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday.
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For six seasons, 2002 through 2007, Lopez was the creator and lead of his self-titled “George Lopez” sitcom on ABC. Following his series run, Lopez went on to host a late-night talk show, “Lopez Tonight,” on TBS from 2009 to 2011. Then, last year, he starred in his own FX series, “Saint George,” which ran for a season but was not renewed this year.
Now a free agent again, Lopez said he is weighing his options. He remains open to another TV project, but also sees limitations in the medium.
“It’s interesting, I’m at the road now I’m not sure it’s what I want to do. I enjoy the sitcom,” he said. “But the way our lives are right now with social media, everything is negative. The perception (is) he’ll get another show and it’ll get canceled. I’ve been on TV every day since 2002. In no way do I view that as anything but incredibly successful. The talk show was a great two years. ‘Saint George’ was an opportunity to do something that was interesting to me. I’m just doing the stand-up tour now. But I’ll figure it out.”
He said he probably wouldn’t return to the late-night grind. While he welcomed the change of pace, which famously including ceding his time slot to Conan O’Brien after the host’s short run at “The Tonight Show,” he said ultimately the gig wasn’t for him.
“It was a difficult job to have. I asked myself, ‘Do I want to spend the rest of my career talking to people about their careers, or do I want to have my own career?’ ” he said. “You’re in the same chair, they come with one movie. When they come back again with another movie, you’re still in the same chair.”
But it’s not like Lopez has been sitting idly since, either. His new production company is set to release the film “Spare Parts” this winter. The drama is based on the true-life story of some Latino students in Arizona who entered a robotics competition and beat teams from MIT, Harvard and Stanford. Lopez stars along with Marisa Tomei and Jamie Lee Curtis, and the film is set to premiere in January.
His films roles in the past have ranged from family fare including “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “The Smurfs” and “Rio” to such critically acclaimed independent films as “Real Women Have Curves” and “Bread and Roses.”
These days, Lopez said social media and the myriad options vying for people’s attention make it more difficult for comics to break out. As an established comic, he can reap the benefits more easily – as his nearly 2 million Twitter followers can attest.
“I’m fortunate that way. The thing I value the most is the diversity and the age range of my audience,” he said. “I’ve done ‘Smurfs’ and ‘Rio’ and then incredibly profane HBO specials and everything in between.”
As one of the leading Latino comics working today, he said he would love to see more shows on television aimed at America’s growing Latino population. In the past, he has starred in the successful Original Latin Kings of Comedy tour and films. But even more than a dozen years after his own sitcom debuted, shows that focused on Latino families are few and far between.
“You just can’t turn a blind eye and all of a sudden see the statistics. Just like Kodak: They were making film and didn’t see the digital (revolution) coming,” he said. “But the business is difficult no matter what color you are. I always tried to do things to reach out to a broader audience.”
Part of that broad appeal, he said, has been an evolution of his comedy. In his show now, he likes to point out the idiosyncrasies of modern life. Everything from our use of hand sanitizer to our fear of gluten and the rise of peanut allergies is fair game.
“Every time I see a kid freak out because his ranch dressing touched his chicken and his parents bring him another plate is beyond my comprehension,” Lopez said. “I saw some kids blowing bubbles, said wow, nice – kids blowing bubbles. And then I got closer and saw it was a gun they squeezed to make the bubbles come out.”