George Lopez has his own late night show ("Lopez Tonight"), he's had his own sitcom, and, for the third time, he's been nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Comedy Album (for "Tall, Dark & Chicano," out on Comedy Central Records). So, when I pick up the phone at our appointed interview time, fully expecting an assistant or publicist on the other line, I confess to be surprised to hear him instead.
"Hi, this is George Lopez," he says, with no preamble, and it's an advantage point for Lopez; I like a man who makes his own calls. And Lopez makes them all the way. The comedian chatted with Billboard about his very Latin show on TBS, hiring Michael Jackson's musical director, and who will win at the Grammy awards.
I've watched your show, and it's peppered with Spanish and Latin cultural references. Do you ever think it's too Latin?
No. I am who I am and I know that with the sitcom it became very popular with everybody and not once did ABC or Warner Bros. tell me it was too Latino. And I was sneaking stuff in there like orale. It was never an issue
And I'm me. They wouldn't tell Chris Rock to be less black.
But it's not a show everybody would pick up, don't you agree?
Well, Fox turned it down, so I do agree. But if you see the way this country is turning; it's kind of like Obama being in the White House. A Latino having his own late night show is not as important but it's groundbreaking in that it's never happened. Because you have to find a specific talent and find the right guy and someone who appeals to everybody, and they way I approached that was being myself.
When you hosted the Latin Grammys, you joked that all the Cubans in Miami lived in a single apartment in Hialeah, or something along those lines. I thought it was quite funny, but Spanish language radio blasted you afterward.
You can't make everybody happy and I'm a comedian. So, you're going to offend some people along the way. I heard about people being upset, but I'm a comedian, so you just go as you go. Bill Cosby said, "I don't know the secret to success but the secret to failure is trying to make everybody happy." I'm not trying to make everybody happy, I'm just trying to entertain. For a comedian to try to make everybody happy, it's a little like the old days of kow-towing down to what's perceived to be general audiences. We're the general audience.
With your show having so much Latin content, what do you think is its mass appeal?
Once you look at the material it's more economic than it is about being Latino. It's more how to survive with not as much as everybody else. It's about appearance, it's about a tough love, it's about grandmothers and grandfathers and uncles and aunts, and its about the way we treat kids now. And it's coming from somebody from color who is not trying to make something PG-friendly for everybody.
Musically speaking, what were your aspirations, if any, with "Lopez Tonight"?
First of all, I love music. I have guitars, I respect music and I love music, and I love people who really play, who write songs and who are performers. I come from the time when bands really played and they went on the road. So, in the show, I wanted a band that could play every genre of music. When Michael Jackson passed, Michael Bearden was his musical director and I understood we had an opportunity to make him the bandleader because he was a fan of my stand up. We talked about music and about winning a battle that we had never been participants in, which was late night. And he agreed. Then, Santana really validated form the first show that it was a place to come and play. He asked me, what do you want me to play, and I said, I want you to play what makes you happy. He was great.
Musically-speaking, how would you like your show to be defined?
Now, you're up for your third Grammy. How important is this for you?
It means everything as a comedian, but also because of where I come from. I wrote from my heart and from my soul. [When I was young] I wrote on anything I could get my hands on and I still write all the time. So, to win the highest honor a recording artist can receive, for me, it would be unimaginable what I would feel winning that. Because I would take myself back to when I started writing. The competition is stiff, and it's a little bit of a mixed bag of nominees. But I'm good with that.
You're a very sharp dresser on your show. What are you going to wear for the Grammy awards?
I'll probably wear some crazier clothes, more patterns, y la chinagada. Kind of like a smoking jacket y asi.
I think Lady Gaga will win. Because at this time she's captured music and has developed an incredible following and is pretty avant garde and is a very talented performer. And she's fresh.
Record of the year?
Black Eyed Peas.
I would say Taylor Swift is having a pretty good run. And I think Taylor Swift has the inside track. And she's a very talented artist.
Going back to your show, is there anything you've changed since it went on the air? Anything that didn't work?
No. But we do a thing called bullet wound and not a bullet wound which is really racial profiling and that's been a bigger hit than we expected it to be. I've even been uncomfortable some times, but I'm not the one giving the answers!
Are you an equal opportunity racial profiler?
Absolutely. I've always been. I come from the era of comedy before political correctness.