George Lopez on Comedy and Race

The late-night talk show host discusses how America’s changing demographics will affect what makes people laugh

Comedian George Lopez
"I see it [comedy] changing by having the comedy club come to your house," says comedian George Lopez. Kevin Scanlon / The New York Times / Redux

On his nightly talk show, “Lopez Tonight,” on his HBO specials and at clubs and auditoriums, the comedian George Lopez takes aim at ethnic stereotypes. In a recent monologue, he noted that babies born to minorities will soon outnumber babies born to whites in the United States. “You’ll have to learn to clean your own house!” he joked (to whites). Some audience members booed. When his ABC sitcom, “George Lopez,” was canceled in 2007 after six years and replaced by “Cavemen,” he blasted network executives. “So a Chicano can’t be on TV,” he said, “but a cave man can?” His angry-young-man reputation has been softened by charitable works, including a foundation he started with his wife, Ann. He received Harvard University’s Artist of the Year award in 2004 for “humanitarian efforts to prevent youth violence and support community arts resources and education.” Lopez was interviewed by Lorenza Muñoz, a journalist in Los Angeles.

Where do you see comedy headed in the next 40 years?
I see it changing by having the comedy club come to your house. Everything will be seen on your computer or BlackBerry or whatever devices we will be seeing in the future. Comedians will put their content on whatever server and send it to you specifically. We may even lose the live performance.

What was it like when you started out?
A club used to be like your house, where you could say something and it would stay there. I saw people bomb, get in fights, walk off the stage, people getting kicked in the face, and it all stayed in the club because nobody was taping them. Now with BlackBerrys and iPhones and iPods, whatever is said at a club can be seen around the world.

How will comedy change in 40 years?
Comedy will become more diverse, more political. There will be more taped pieces and personal pieces. I don’t know if the art of stand-up will survive. Stand-up seems dated. Now you can do a mini-movie or a short with a beginning, middle and end. A guy standing there seems a little old—especially when you can go on the Internet and see Funny or Die. 

How has race and ethnicity changed in comedy? 
If you look back in time, comedy was always insensitive to people of color because our country, and comedy, was dominated by whites. That is why Amos and Andy could paint their faces black and make “black” voices and everyone in the theater who was white thought it was hilarious. You can’t do that anymore. Then there was “All in the Family” or “Sanford and Son” or “The Jeffersons.” Then we got overly sensitive and politically correct. But you can still do [ethnic and racial comedy] if you tell the truth. If you do it out of meanness, it’s no fun.

Do you think race and ethnicity will be an issue in 40 years?
Hopefully we won’t be as cynical and mean as we are now. Twitter and MySpace sometimes feed people’s dark sides.

Have you been surprised by the way technology has made you known all around the world?
Yes. I was in Europe on vacation and this 14-year-old Israeli kid wanted to take his picture with me. I get mail from the Netherlands and South Africa and India and Australia. Carlos Santana told me that to think of yourself as a citizen of the U.S. is narrow. You have to think of yourself as a citizen of the world. You should be global.

Will you still be doing comedy in 40 years?
Hell, no! I am not going to be some 88-year-old dude wandering around like that. I will live forever, though. Freddie Prinze was my idol and he died, and there is not much of his stuff to look at. But now, your comedy can live on forever. I love comedy and I love people, but you have to say things that are the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts.

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