Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s undeniable: Paul Rodriguez is a pillar of standup comedy.

Rodriguez has drawn the ire of some of his fellow Latino comedians in recent years because of his support of the Republican Party. Party affiliation aside, however, his loyalty to the Latin community runs deep—no question.

Rodriguez will be stopping by Spotlight 29 on Saturday, Sept. 23, as the headliner of the Latin Kings of Comedy Tour, along with Manny Maldonado, Joey Medina and Jackson Purdue.

During a recent phone interview, Rodriguez said that he still enjoys standup, and tries to keep doing it, no matter what other projects in which he’s involved.

“I’ve been preoccupied with a play I’ve been doing that’s getting some attention called The Pitch. It’s funny, but it’s not a standup show,” Rodriguez said. “In between—to pay the bills, and what butters my tortilla—are standup shows. When I do standup, it feels good, and it’s therapy for me.

“It’s the reason why I’m in show business. There’s no danger of me winning an Academy Award or anything like that—maybe an Emmy. … Standup is what I really enjoy. I never feel as free as I do when I’m onstage. It’s like therapy; you get whatever angst you have inside of you out. I try not to burden the people who come to see it with my problems, and they’re not paying for that, but tragedy and comedy are next-door neighbors.”

One of Rodriguez’s closest friends is Cheech Marin, who put Rodriguez, unknown at the time, in his 1987 film Born in East L.A.

“We remain friends to this day, and I talked to him a couple of days ago. Hardly a month goes by when we don’t talk about something,” Rodriguez said. “We were set to do a TV series with Cheech, my son and myself called Three Generations. It inspired the play I’m doing right now. I’ve always looked up to Cheech, and he’s been one of the most generous people I know. Everyone always says I’m the first Latin standup comedian, but in reality, he was. He precedes me, and he’s maintained his presence, and our friendship has endured. When I met him many years ago, he said he had an idea for Born in East L.A., and he promised me a part. He kept his word, and our friendship has remained strong. I look up to him, although physically, I’m taller.”

The absence of positive Latino representations in film and TV has long irked Rodriguez. One of his 1990s HBO standup specials featured a rant about his hatred of the Taco Bell Chihuahua commercials.

“There have been a lot of great Latino films, but if you look at the credits, the stories aren’t being told by us,” he said. “I would rather have a mediocre story than a fabricated story. It’s a syndrome I call, ‘America loves the taco, but they have a problem with Paco, who invented the taco.’ Case in point: Antonio Banderas is a close friend of mine, and he played Pancho Villa. Pancho Villa was not 5 four 4; he was a monster of a man, and he didn’t talk with a lisp, either. It was Hollywood’s idea of it. Marlon Brando played Emiliano Zapata, but there were others who would have made a better Zapata. Hollywood picks and chooses the things that they want. It’s an ongoing struggle. But if I’m the only squeaky wheel, I’m glad to do that. … I was just reading an article on the Associated Press wire (about how) at the entire Emmy Awards, the Latino community is a blank. There are no nominations, no stories, and yet we are the largest minority. How could this be? There was actually more representation of us in the past. Today, we’re hard-pressed to find something.”

He mentioned that he and other Latino actors such as Marin, Gabriel Iglesias and Anjelah Johnson have had deals with studios for TV shows—yet the projects never even made it to a pilot, staying at script level.

“There are 12 African-American TV shows, and we’re out of the picture,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know why, because our numbers keep growing, and our presence in television diminishes, but yet in other art forms, we dominate. Our music is so strong that we have our own Grammys. … These studios don’t have any Latinos in any position to green-light projects. Their idea of a minority helping a minority is always an African-American person who is able to green-light. Now, I’m not insulting or demeaning the African-American struggle; they deserve what they have because they have protested. What I’m saying is it’s our fault that we’re very passive. … It’s bad for our kids when my grandchildren sit down to watch TV, and they only have Dora the Explorer. We shouldn’t be an apparition or a surprise, but it should be like how it is in real life, where you can’t really go anywhere in any major city and not run into a Latino.”

In 1994, Rodriguez directed and starred in the film A Million to Juan. The film tells the story of a man, in the United States illegally with his son and two brothers, who sells oranges; he encounters a mysterious man who gives him a $1 million check, with the condition that he must give all of the money back after 30 days. It remains Rodriguez’s only film-directing credit.

“That is one of my favorite movies, not just because it was one of the only times I directed, and it was profitable,” he said. “That idea came from a Mark Twain (story) that I read in college called The Million Pound Bank Note, and it was based on the idea that a fool and his money will soon be parted. I got that idea, and it’s an American idea, but it fit into the idea of where Latinos are today. Especially with the DACA thing, for example: There are circumstances that happen where legitimate people born in this country, though no fault of their own, are being displaced.

“One of the biggest Latino icons was (longtime Cathedral City resident) Lalo Guerrero, who wrote the music for Zoot Suit, and people don’t know that despite the fact he was born here, the Eisenhower administration deported many people like him to Mexico. Here’s a story that explains that: Lalo Guerrero, who was born in America, had the right to be an American, and yet was deported. People say, ‘Oh, that’s a made up story!’ No, it’s not a made up story! It happened to Lalo Guerrero! The Million Pound Bank Note was an inspiration, but I turned it and Latinized it into something that I knew about. It has found a place in the hearts of a lot of Latinos. Every Cinco de Mayo, I see that movie played, and it has stood the test of time. I’m proud of that movie. That was my graduating thesis just to prove I could do that.”

Rodriguez also talked about one thing that makes his blood boil … something you may hear about in his comedy show.

“Parking tickets: I don’t understand why 25 cents will give you 15 minutes, but if you’re late, you have to pay $50. Those numbers aren’t even in line with the crime: $50 versus a quarter? That’s a higher rate than the mob would give to you! I now understand why meter maids are now internationally disliked. It’s a civil-service job, but I don’t anybody who wants to have a fundraiser to help meter maids, and they’re just working Joes!”

Paul Rodriguez and the Latin Kings of Comedy will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23, at Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella. Tickets are $20 to $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-775-5566, or visit

Published in Comedy

It’s been a turbulent couple of months for the Cathedral City Public Arts Commission.

The way interviews were done for potential commission members raised eyebrows. The fact that almost all of the newly seated commissioners live in the same area caused concerns. Then the commission made a major change in direction, with new commissioners pushing an aggressive slate of programs and projects that they say will bring increased artistic opportunity and expression into the daily lives of Cathedral City residents.

“You know, frankly I was rather surprised at how it all went,” returning commissioner and new co-chair Alan Carvalho said regarding the interview process. “When I was interviewed before being selected last year, it was in a closed City Council session. This time, it was done in the open, and I don’t think that they were ready for so many people to be applying.

“One of the focuses of the City Council, from what I understood, was that they were looking to give new people an opportunity to contribute to the city. Also, I know that the mayor (Stan Henry) was concerned that we keep at least one person on each of the commissions who was a veteran.”

Another factor that could have influenced this year’s selections stemmed from the ability of the City Council to appoint commissioners who lived outside of Cathedral City. That policy did not make sense to newly appointed commissioner and co-chair Simeon Den.

“I felt, ‘You guys couldn’t find enough people in Cathedral City who would volunteer their time and want to be there on the commission?’” he said. “We got the council to make a commitment that first, we should try to get Cathedral City residents on to the Public Arts Commission.”

Some people have groused about concerns that a vast majority of current commissioners live in the Cathedral Cove area of the city, a fact confirmed by Chris Parman, communications/events manager of Cathedral City, “Of the five commissioners newly appointed, four of the five candidates live in the Cathedral City Cove neighborhood. Please note that Public Arts Commission candidates are not chosen based on where they live in the city.”

To some, it is curious to note that Jim Cox, then the commission chairperson, was recommended for re-appointment to the commission after the interviews on June 6; however, when the June 10 City Council meeting took place, Cox, who is a Cove resident, was not re-appointed, while commissioner Pam Price, who lives further north in the city, was reappointed.

As far as the new co-chairpersons were concerned, the appointments came down not to geography, but the strategic direction the Public Arts Commission would take.

“The group of commissioners prior to us had a different mindset about how they thought the Public Arts Commission should be,” stated Den. “You know how there’s a group of people who consider themselves to be the experts, and kind of top-down want to dictate what should be considered good art and what should be bad art. When you’re working in the government and for the community, the approach and the philosophy needs to be different. You shouldn’t go from the top down; you go from the bottom up.”

Carvalho expanded on that theme.

“With the previous commission I was a member of, there were very few opportunities for people to feel they could come as the public and just be part of our meeting,” he said. “So I really wanted to make sure that those citizens who applied for commissioner positions and didn’t get seats felt that their contribution was wanted and needed.”

Now that the new Cathedral City Public Arts Commission has been seated, Den and Carvalho are painting a picture of a community-service-driven, geographically agnostic agenda. They passionately described plans they say will deliver real value to local citizens looking for support in their artistic endeavors, recognition of their cultural heritage, and the opportunity to experience good art in their neighborhoods.

“This commission would like to continue what was started last year and bring a sculpture that honors the Agua Caliente tribe to the corner of Landau and Ramon, where the city has built a platform for the use of Public Arts,” Carvalho stated. “The Ramon Road project was partially funded by the tribe.”

Den emphasized several efforts. “Alan Carvalho and I are doing a murals project throughout the city, and particularly in the north end, over by Vista Chino and Ramon. We’re considering local artists, and particularly Latino artists, who could create murals that would add to the cultural identity and enable young people to become part of the process. There are kids who I’ve met who grew up here and went to Cathedral City High School. I’ve contacted two of them, and one who’s been doing a murals project in Oakland and grew up here on E Street is going to paint a mural for us.”

Also high on Den’s list is the “Art Block” project, an ambitious proposal to reclaim the Boneyard property at 36600 Cathedral Canyon Drive from the city for use as a workshop and learning center.

As for high-profile events, the commission is sponsoring an exhibition at City Hall of work by well-known painter and part-time Cathedral City resident Ilona Von Ronay. Also, the Taste of Jalisco Festival is slated for downtown Cathedral City on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13 and 14; it will feature a screening of the documentary Lalo Guerrero: The Original Chicano, musical and dance performances, a parade, food stands and a kids’ zone.

“Cathedral City has been known as the ugly stepsister of the desert cities, and we always think of it as the Cinderella, because we love it here,” Den said. “We do have such a rich history that we want to bring forward again.”

Published in Local Issues