George Lopez
Photo: TBS
George Lopez is turning late night into a party, and everyone's invited. On Monday, November 9, Lopez plans to turn the traditional talk format on its head with TBS' Lopez Tonight. He promises the comedy will be edgier, the guest list will be more diverse and the energy will be higher than any audience has ever seen—thanks, in part, to having Michael Jackson's music director on board.

Lopez analyzes the current state of late night, why he thinks it's taken so long for a Latino host to helm a late-night show, what he's learned from other talk shows and why he can't wait to get started. "I don't think I could be more relaxed without a medical marijuana card," he says.

Q: How did you find your voice in comedy, and how will it translate to becoming a talk show host?

A: Well, finding your own voice in comedy, I think, is one of the most difficult things to do because you have to trust something in a profession [where] the audience is different every day. Security and confidence is really not something a comedian always has.

I was helped by Chris Rock's manager in 1996 at Caroline's Comedy Club in New York, who came and saw me and said, 'Can I give you some constructive criticism?' When you saw Chris, you knew where he was politically. You knew what he liked. You knew what he didn't like.

At that particular time, I was really unhappy with my material and the direction that my stand-up was going. He just wanted me to be a little bit more specific. And it sounds like it sounds simple. It was really difficult.

But I looked at my grandmother, and I looked at my upbringing and I started to talk about that. Everything completely changed. That was 1996. Six years later, I had my own sitcom on ABC and the nucleus of that was stories of me and my relationship with my grandmother.

So when I got the information, I went and ran with it really, really hard. It was the one particular thing that really kind of changed me as a comedian. And then from that gave me a confidence that, up until recently, I'm still working on. I don't think you ever really fully develop as a comedian—much like if you were a runner, you would always challenge yourself.

In the 30 years that I've been doing it and who I've been able to reach in my approach to it, in my culture and in my heritage and being able to have crossed over to all groups and not just specifically my own—that will benefit me as being a host of my own show and wanting to bump up the format and change the energy of what I think is a format that's a little bit down and very white.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of late night, and how do you feel like you'll fit it?

A: The current state of late night is much like the current state of the economy. It's in a down time. And the people that are not watching aren't particularly going to any other show; they're just leaving late night altogether. They're not going over to Dave's [if they] aren't watching Conan. They're just leaving.

That audience is pretty much the same audience. So with TBS and the inclusiveness that we want to bring and a diversity that we want to bring, the only thing you really can compare it to what happened 20 years ago when Arsenio [Hall] first started. [He] created what was a party atmosphere and a show that looked different. The approach was different, yet it was inclusive and not divisive.

I'm not getting into this thing to divide audience. I'm getting in this thing to form a new, stronger audience.

Q: You mentioned earlier about sort of the "white guy" aspect of late-night television, and I'm wondering if you have a theory about why it's taken so long for things to get mixed up.

A: Well, it's very exclusive, obviously. And it's always been network-run. In having the sitcom and seeing the commitment that it takes for an executive to put a show into the hands of somebody—regardless of whatever color they are—is a big decision.

You know, Johnny [Carson] was there for 30 years. Then Jay [Leno] inherited that and he was there, I think, 18 years. And [David] Letterman has just been around for almost 30 years. So the opportunities are less.

But with the success of cable, [it's] now making network TV look like it's [almost] standing still when you're talking about Weeds and Californication and True Blood and Bored to Death and Curb Your Enthusiasm and Mad Men and Breaking Bad. [These are] great shows that are on cable that necessarily wouldn't fit on network because they just wouldn't be allowed to be as good as they are on cable. Cable now has become the first place to go when you have a show.


I tell everybody it's not just about doing good. We want to win—and we don't want to win against shows we're not up against. We just want to win for our time, for 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. I'm more afraid of the telenovela than I am about any particular hour drama on another network.

Q: There are so many late-night shows cropping up on cable. You've got Mo'Nique coming up. You have Chelsea Lately over on E. You have The Daily Show. There's a lot of late-night action for people now. Do you find that there is any competition in booking guests?

A: I don't think so. I mean Mo'Nique shoots her show in Atlanta. Wanda Sykes is one day a week. She's welcome to be on my show as much as I believe I would be welcome to be on her show, as well as being on Mo'Nique.

The Daily Show, the last time I checked was not the hotbed of diversity. So I don't think that that's going to be a problem.

Q: You've sort of become a representative for the Latino community in America. I'm wondering what that role could do for a talk show.

A: Well, obviously there's a lot of dimensions to it. I like the fact that with the success of my shows in syndication that it's given me a stronger multicultural audience and that I can still be myself and be very Mexican.

Yet the comedy isn't particularly about Mexicans as much as it is about an economic situation. If you grew up poor, you grew up with less and it isn't just because all Mexicans are poor. That's generalization. But they're stories of my life because that's what my life was about. 


So as a representative of that, yes. We want to be included in the fabric of America. We're part of it. Are we workers and here undocumented? ... Yes. Are we here legally? Yes. Are we doctors and lawyers and nurses and teachers and Supreme Court justices and secretary of the interior and secretary of labor? Absolutely.

So you talk about one thing, and when you're Lou Dobbs, you focus on one thing. And when you're George Lopez, you focus on that one thing and the 15 other great things that are involved with being Latino, which you don't usually get. The show will not be a political format for my political views as much I want it to just be an hour where people are entertained and everybody is with everybody.

Q: You've obviously been a guest on a lot of talk shows. What have you learned from all those experiences that you can apply to being a good host?

A: Well, I've learned that when you're having fun time goes by fast. Like the three times I filled in for Regis with Kelly Ripa. Kelly Ripa makes it fun and she's fun and she's having a good time. And she doesn't grind it out. She just lets it come to her.

When I was a guest with Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy was great. We'd do a little bit of a preinterview and then Jimmy stuck to very little of it.

When I was on Jay Leno, everything had to be structured. You had to talk about the first thing and the second thing. ... And when I didn't, it made me seem to them that I wasn't as good a guest. You know, I'm dyslexic. I have trouble following the line of thought when I just think if you're with a comedian, your thoughts should just be as they are. You should be able to just hang with them.

Doing Conan in New York was interesting because I was a fan of Conan's and of that show. To be able to do it twice was great. I think I'm going to do Craig Ferguson here in the next month, as Craig Ferguson is welcome to do my show. Look, I came from turf wars. I don't think that they belong in talk shows.

If Jay Leno wants to come on my show at 11, he's more than welcome to come on my show. If Craig Ferguson or Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon if he's in L.A., wants to come on, or Wanda, whoever, absolutely they're welcome. I'm not in this game to exclude anybody. I'm in this game to include people.

Q: Are you leaving stand-up?

A: If this works, I will not leave stand-up until I do one more HBO special bigger than the last one—and the last one was 14,000 live. My goal is to do the next one at the United Center in Chicago in front of 18,000 people. That would be my exit plan. And that might be three years.

But stand-up is a great thing to always have because you can generate so much. Not only new material, but it's comfortable to you. I've been doing it since I was 18. I've never done anything since I was 18 that I was really good at. So I'd hate to leave it, because it feels like somebody that's always been with me, that was always looking out for me.

And I've made quite a life for myself just with the ability to write on a blank piece of paper. So I'd hate to just abandon it because I think it deserves more respect than that.

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