Top comic Paul Rodriguez has learned in his 30-plus year career that the key to being a successful comedian and actor boils down to being observant.
This was the lesson Rodriguez imparted on the burgeoning thespians of William Virchis’ “Acting for TV and Film” class, where he was a guest lecturer.
“On your own time, I want you guys to sit in the busiest part of the campus,” Rodriguez told the class. “Just watch everyone, see how they move, how they behave, assess them. Invent your own story for them and work from there.”
Born in 1955 in Mazatlan, Mexico and raised in East Los Angeles, Rodriguez first studied to be an attorney, but found that comedy was a more appealing route. After honing his craft doing stand-up at various comedy clubs throughout Los Angeles, Rodriguez was noticed by television producer Norman Lear, who developed such shows as “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “Maude,” among others. Lear created a short-lived show centered around Rodriguez called “a.k.a. Pablo” in 1984.
Since then, Rodriguez has risen to the top of the comedy food chain and was ranked one of the “100 Greatest Standups of All Time” by Comedy Central in 2004 and has starred in such films as “Born in East L.A.,” “Ali,” “Tortilla Soup” and “Made in America.”
“If you want to get into this business because you want money, you’ll have better luck in Vegas,” Rodriguez said. “You need passion, passion for what you do. Otherwise, why are you even doing it? That’s all you really need.”
Rodriguez has plenty of passion, said Virchis, who has known him for many years and is directing his play “The Pitch” at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
“When I first met him, he was this young guy with long hair and he had such a fire in him,” Virchis said. “When I look at him now his hair may be shorter, but he still has that same fire in his eyes.”
Rodriguez said that the best acting advice he ever got was from Russell Crowe.
“We were doing a scene (for the 1995 film “Rough Magic”),” he said, “and the actors would be doing these poses you learned in acting school, ‘I am a tree, I am a chair,’ all that stuff, and Russell just said to me, ‘That’s a bunch of bullshit.’”
Virchis said that Rodriguez is a master of his craft.
“I think he was born with this immense gift to perceive,” he said. “He, like all comedians, has a way to grasp pain, internalize it and make it funny.”
Before the class let out, Rodriguez had one last lesson to impart, this time courtesy of the great Anthony Hopkins.
“I was working on a movie with him a while back (“The World’s Fastest Indian”),” he said, “and I was nervous. He turned to me and asked if it was because of him and I said, ‘yeah,’ and he lets rip this really loud fart. And in an instant he went from Hannibal Lector to a nasty old white guy. I had to roll down the window, it was that bad. Then I thought to myself, ‘Man, this vato from the barrio has really come along way.’”