Comedian George Lopez presents himself as your buddy. He's the friend you can always count on for a belly laugh when the chips are down. This Latin television star ("George Lopez," "Lopez Tonight") will bring his feel-good vibe to the NYCB Theatre at Westbury Friday night for the Long Island stop on his "Listen to My Face" tour. Here's what he had to say.
What was your first time onstage like?
I went on June 4, 1979, and did horribly. But the third time went incredibly well. I experienced feelings that I never felt before. I felt proud of myself. I've done better than that and gone on longer than that, but there's nothing like that time.
What initially drew you to comedy?
I'm an only child and my grandparents raised me. They were not funny in the least. There's a beautiful mask [in the pairing] of tragedy and comedy. I thought in the tragedy of this disconnection there had to be something funny. I'd act out with my friends and be shy around people I didn't know.
Were you painfully shy?
I think so. My grandmother would always tell me, "Don't answer the phone or the door." Still today if the doorbell rings, I won't answer it.
What made you get behind the mic?
I had uncles who were listening to Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Cheech and Chong. In school there was a kid who did stand-up from another high school. My friends said, "This guy is doing stand-up at the Comedy Store and he's not even that funny." So I figured I'd give it a shot.
Your humor is flexible between being blue and family-friendly. How do you keep the balance?
The sitcom ["George Lopez"] was under the family-friendly umbrella. The talk show ["Lopez Tonight"] was edgier. I was thinking, "How come my talk show isn't on anymore?" But we drank on camera, we smoked weed in the building, we gave out weed as gifts and we didn't leave until four hours after each show. That's not the reason it's not on, but it would eventually become the reason.
What do you make of the current late-night landscape? Do you wish you were still in the game?
I love Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon. Those guys are friends of mine. Fallon is doing amazing. They finally found his voice and they are writing to him. He's musical, plays guitar and sings. I like that he's in New York. Craig Ferguson is the hardest-working dude, like a cobbler. He's out there flying by the seat of his pants, which is admirable what he has put together. For the two years I was doing it, I thought we did something different and nice.
Sandra Bullock produced your sitcom. How did you two connect?
In 1999, I was really in the middle of nowhere. I didn't have a big touring schedule. I went to the same clubs two to three times a year. I got a call from a producer that Sandy was going to come and see me at the Ice House in Los Angeles in August 2000. She said, "I want to do a show about what you have in your act. It's a train wreck, but you can't look away." She would meet people at the door and sit them down herself. I was shocked. She had my back and didn't take "no" for an answer. I told her what you are trying to do has never been done successfully in TV before. She said, "Why don't you let me worry about that and you worry about being funny." That was it.
Did it surprise you that your sitcom did better in syndication than when it was first on?
When it was going to be syndicated, the outlets in New York said, "There's no way this show is going to appeal to anybody but Latinos." It hurt the initial deal because we went for a lower price. There are shows that got licensing for way more that are not even on anymore. The one thing with me is there's always been an underestimation of my talents.
Are you happy with your two sitcoms ("George Lopez," "Saint George") or is there anything you would have done differently?
No, I'm happy with them. "George Lopez" is still on in reruns and people love it. The 10 episodes of "Saint George" that we did [earlier this year] I liked. Nobody found it, but each week it was growing in the ratings. It didn't start high and end low. It started low and ended high.
Can you see yourself doing more in sitcoms or do you feel restricted?
I miss the talk-show part, but I'm looking at a lot of things right now. I have a film coming out in January called "Spare Parts" that's more dramatic, which I like. It's got a "Stand and Deliver"/"Rudy" kind of vibe. I play a teacher. I like doing stand-up, but the goofy, loud over-the-top broad character is not what I'm comfortable with anymore. I'd like to do more dramatic acting.
You very publicly got a kidney transplant. Do you think your health problems endeared you to the public?
I don't think all of them, but some. When I was sick, I told my doctor that I didn't want to be the poster boy for kidney disease. Two days after my surgery, I felt so good that I thought it would be a disservice not to help people who were sick. I have a foundation that still does that.
Do you get in trouble when you poke fun at your own race?
Poking fun is comedy. Every comedian that's been valued by the public speaks of things that they know about. What I'm doing isn't different than what Jackie Mason does or what Woody Allen does. It's OK. Comedy comes from conflict, whether you don't go to the doctor, drink too much or yell at your kids, there's some humor in that.
What did it mean to you to get your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
When I was 15, we didn't live too far away from Hollywood Boulevard. Every day at 10 a.m., we'd drive there, get out and walk around. I remember seeing George Burns' star and imagining my name on there. Now having one of my own and knowing what it took to get there, the good and the bad, it's quite emotional for me. It's something I think about all the time. On Instagram, there are pictures of families that pose on it, and that means a lot.
How do you feel about returning to Westbury?
Westbury is one of my favorite places to work. I've done well every time I've been back there. I love the history of who has been there and the fact that it's kind of tucked away. It's one of the last few great theaters in the round. I like the feeling of being surrounded by the crowd.
What does your show focus on?
The show is about where we came from as a society, where it looks like we are going and whether or not we'll be happy when we get there between the peanut allergies, gluten and trying to be friends with your kids.
What does "Listen to My Face" signify?
Parents and grandparents a few generations back would say, "You're not going to go. I don't know what part of 'no' you don't understand," which is essentially, "Listen to my face!"
WHO George Lopez
WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 8, NYCB Theatre at Westbury
INFO $49.50-$69.50; 800-745-3000, livenation.com