The man’s fabulously honest and outrageously funny. For 30 years luminary Rob Schneider has been making us belly-laugh. He’s been a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, a stand-up comic, an actor and a reigning member of Adam Sandler’s comic family. Now Schneider sits down with HUSTLER to talk about his Netflix hit Real Rob, Henry Miller, hiring a stalker as an assistant and driving around rural France with Dad in search of the infamous Jackie O HUSTLER.
HUSTLER: How did you get your start?
ROB SCHNEIDER: I didn’t know anybody in show business, and my parents thought it was just a phase I was going through. Of course I think phase was their code for loser. [Laughs.] But then, when I got on TV at 20, my parents realized there was potential, and they helped me. I had a Volkswagen Bug with an exhaust leak and no working windshield, and because of the exhaust leak, you had to have your head out while driving. An unsafe vehicle to say the least, and I don’t know how much brain damage I suffered from that. But after I was on TV, my parents felt bad and helped me upgrade my vehicle to a used Honda Civic. That made a difference because I could safely drive to gigs.
This was San Francisco in the 1980s?
Exactly, and thank God for Robin Williams. He’s the reason there was a comedy scene in San Francisco. Audiences would show up hoping he would pop in, and more times than not he actually did. Some club would have four to six people in it, just a bar with a microphone and a small stage really. Then Robin Williams would come in. People would pile in off the streets, and Robin would usually do an hour. Most times the audience would leave with him, but sometimes a few drunks too wasted to get on their feet would stay, and we’d have a small little audience after his show.
I was part of that stand-up comedy boom in San Francisco. Two great talents came out of that city: Robin Williams and the incredible Dana Carvey. Carvey was famous before he was famous. He would just pack comedy clubs because people knew what a great standup he was, the most dynamic performer to come out of his era.
When would you say you hit it big?
When I got on David Letterman, that was probably my first break. Letterman was brilliant. You knew he knew what funny was. When I was first on in ’87, it was before they miked the audience, and I remember doing my first joke, and the only person who laughed was Letterman. By that point I was enough of a performing veteran—I’d probably done 2,000 shows—that I knew instinctively to let the audience hear him laugh. I did the second joke, and Letterman was the only one to laugh again, but by now the audience was hearing him. By the third joke the audience figured out that if Letterman thought I was funny, I must be funny. So the third joke I murdered, and by the end of the set I was basically carried away by a group of network people, and I had to move to Hollywood the next week. It was one of those dream things that I don’t know exists anymore.
It was kinda bing, bang, boom: I got on David Letterman, The Young Comedians special, then Saturday Night Live, and all of that was possible because of the very generous and talented Dennis Miller. Dennis Miller is directly responsible for helping launch the careers of Adam Sandler, Norm Macdonald, David Spade and myself.