A Conversation with Rob Schneider

Reprinted with permission of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Visit www.jewishjournal.com.

In his grossout doofus comedies, Rob Schneider plays the ultimate schlamazl. He gets pummeled, maced, urinated on and tossed about like a hirsute rag doll. Expect no reprieve when he returns as America’s favorite prosti-dude in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, the sequel to 1999’s sleeper hit, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Besides the requisite physical abuse, the “he-ho” will again service “Janes” such as a giantess who dresses him in a diaper and an accident victim with a male appendage in lieu of a nose.

It’s the kind of raunch-fest made famous by Schneider’s mentor and producer, Adam Sandler, although Sandler’s persona is more class clown than class wimp. Both performers have been lambasted for their juvenile, belch-ridden films, but Schneider also has been attacked for turning himself into a human punching bag. Yet like Sandler, he is among a handful of comics (think Mike Myers) who star in their own name-above-the-title films.

As to why he plays losers, the actor, who is half Jewish and part Filipino, said he relates to the underdog. “I love how directors used Jimmy Stewart as an Everyman, so I like to play a guy who’s slightly less than the Everyman,” the self-described “Filipino Jew” added. “I want viewers to look at me and say, ‘My life’s s—, but that guy’s got real problems.”

He identifies with Deuce because “things just end up happening to him and he thinks it’s going to be great and it’s always horrible,” he said. “He imagines his life would be better if he just had this or that, but the way he tries to get it, he makes his situation ‘way’ worse, and he has to struggle and scrape to barely get back to where he was in the beginning.”

The self-deprecating, affable Schneider could be describing his own life–at least until Bigalow grossed more than $100 million and made him a superstar.

Even Schneider’s forbears experienced Deuce-worthy humiliation. His maternal grandfather, an Army private, was unceremoniously shipped off to the Philippines after bedding his captain’s wife. There, he married a native woman. Their daughter, Pilar, eventually moved to San Francisco; as president of a club for single parents in 1961, she snatched up and wed the group’s only male member, Marvin Schneider, a real estate broker.

Because Marvin was a secular Jew who loved comedy, the Judaism in Rob’s childhood home focused primarily on humor, Mel Brooks’ comedy albums and joke-telling at Uncle Norm’s. The Jewish humor provided a survival tool for Rob, an anxious child with a stammer that made the girls snicker. “One day the kids were laughing at me, and I told a stupid joke but it killed, and I’ve been the funny guy ever since,” he said.

He began performing standup at age 15; by 1991, he was a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” although the show’s 100-hour work week and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle almost killed him. “After four years I found myself in the hospital with kidney stones, a broken ankle, staples in my throat from thyroid surgery and tubes everywhere,” he said. “I had to make sure to get out of bed in time to get into the wheelchair to make it to the toilet.”

Four months later he quit the show; his new work–playing repulsive sidekicks in bad movies–placed him, figuratively, “in the career toilet,” he said. “I was the least likely person you’d ever expect to become a movie star.”

Until his SNL buddy Sandler cast him in his own highly successful films and bankrolled Deuce in 1999. The movie was inspired by Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, wherein supermodel Lauren Hutton hires an escort, “which was ridiculous,” Schneider said. “Any woman can walk into a bar and get a guy. So I thought, ‘If there were women who truly needed gigolos, they’d have gigantic feet or have uncontrollable swearing syndrome, and it would be nice if there was a sweet guy who tried to make them feel good about themselves.”

The sequel takes Deuce to Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal; during production there, Schneider peeled off his magenta threads to visit the Anne Frank house, a somber pilgrimage he makes every time he’s in Amsterdam. “To me, Anne Frank is the human face of the Holocaust,” he said.

While critics have denounced his films as demeaning of unattractive women, Schneider insists he uses laughter to advocate tolerance. A Los Angeles Times reviewer agreed in 1999 when he wrote that Deuce “encourages adolescents to respect the dignity of all persons, even the height and weight challenged.”

Schneider said his persecuted character can’t help but have Jewish blood. He added, laughing: “I know for a fact Deuce Bigalow is circumcised–because I am.” But don’t expect a sequel entitled Deuce Bigalow: Rabbi Gigolo. “I wouldn’t want to alienate the goyim,” he said.

Naomi Pfefferman

Naomi Pfefferman is Arts and Entertainment editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.