The four “S”’s of comedy hit the Santa Barbara Bowl Sunday, May 22: Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Nick Swardson. For comedy heads, the bill is a treasure trove; a grand return to stand-up for these longtime friends and collaborators.
Sandler, of course, is the long-reigning box-office comedy king. Saturday Night Live alums Sandler, Schneider, and Spade make up half of the two Grown Ups summer blockbusters (Sandler’s most successful recent comedies). Schneider, backed by Sandler’s Happy Madison production company, had a string of hit comedy vehicles in the late 1990s/early ’00s, including two Deuce Bigalows, The Hot Chick (“I think that’s my best picture,” Schneider said), and The Animal. Schneider has also played in 19 of Sandler’s films plus had a role in Swardson’s 2006 cult favorite, Grandma’s Boy.
This nationwide stand-up tour has taken the four of them to San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and, earlier this week, San Francisco. “It’s been nuts,” Schneider said in a recent phone interview with The Santa Barbara Independent. “You have people who saw us in college on SNL and then they bring their kids.”
In-between flights (in which some markets included Norm MacDonald), Schneider discussed this grand return to stand-up for Sandler, Spade, and him after a two-decade reign on the silver and small screen, where Spade played on sitcoms Just Shoot Me!, 8 Simple Rules, and Rules of Engagement while Schneider debuted the mock reality show The Real Rob on Netflix last year. Likening the atmosphere to a comedy Rat Pack, “We’re performing for the audience and also for ourselves,” Schneider said.
Prior to his movie career, Sandler would kill it with his monologues on Late Night with David Letterman. “He’s brilliant,” Schneider said of his buddy and oft-producer. “Comedy is the toughest. He’s a billionaire for a reason. “Adam hasn’t performed [stand-up] in 20 years so he really worked hard. A solid hour.”
The youngest among the four on Sunday’s bill, Swardson has crossover with the Seth Rogen-Jonah Hill-Danny McBride gang, having portrayed a spectacularly idiotic thug alongside McBride in the underrated 30 Minutes or Less. Schneider likes what that generation of comics is doing but takes issue with something 30 Minutes co-star Aziz Ansari said about not wanting to do comedy about people falling down. “Funny is funny. There is interesting and complexity even in your silliness,” Schneider said.
Schneider grew up loving Peter Sellers and Monty Python, with whose primos John Cleese and Eric Idle he recently enjoyed drinks. He remains critical of Hollywood’s daily machinations. “I’m writing a book — not like David Spade’s, I’m gonna make mine good,” he said in jest. “The movie business is trying to do the Super Bowl. They keep making superhero movies.”
Schneider recalled how a snowstorm killed the momentum of an early film by pal Chris Rock (“You only get one weekend”) and explained why a filmmaker such as friend John Landis, the man who gave us Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and The Three Amigos, could not get arrested in Hollywood by the 2000s. “Because John Landis is brilliant and you can’t tell them what to do,” Schneider said, observing how studios prefer directors who’ll roll over. “It’s a fear-driven business. Look, if Hollywood can undermine and destroy Orson Welles, what are they going to do Landis or me. That’s how tough it is.”
Sandler famously does not talk to print journalists because of past hatchet jobs. Likewise, Schneider has a healthy, refreshing distrust of the press. Last year, Schneider acted in The Ridiculous Six, Sandler’s broad Western parody for Netflix in the Blazing Saddles/Three Amigos tradition that suffered a backlash from some Native-American actors on the production. “You can print it with impunity,” Schneider said, lambasting an initial New York Times piece for getting the story wrong and setting off an echo chamber of pieces online repeating the misinformation. “No one walked off the set. That was a complete lie. It never happened. Three people [who were on the set] did not come back the following day.”
Schneider, himself of mixed race and a star of Sandler’s 2008 Israeli-Palestinian comedic peacekeeper, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, knows Sandler doesn’t have a mean bone toward other cultures. Schneider identifies with Noam Chomsky’s likening of mainstream media to a wrecking ball that moves forward without rectifying any damage left in its wake.
He believes the subtext of negative criticism toward Sandler smells like anti-Semitism, plus good comedy — difficult to create — never gets the academic respect it deserves. Look at the Academy Awards: once a decade, a Tootsie or Shakespeare in Love or Sideways gets Oscar love. No disrespect to Alexander Payne, whose film he enjoyed, but “no 12-year-olds are seeing the movie Sideways. I would never see it three times. You can watch The Waterboy 10 times and always find something new.”
Wherever Schneider goes, fans quote his work. “Comedy, like music, has an emotional memory about it,” Schneider said. “It’s special. It’s one of those moments that people carry with them.
Despite his SNL years (1990-94), Schneider has little use for topical humor, which, according to him is as dated as yesterday’s Doonsebury (“It’s almost like song parodies. It’s the lowest form of comedy”). He prefers timeless, un-cynical comedy.
Then Schneider recalled a conversation with the highest-grossing director ever: “James Cameron took all this shit for Titanic before it came out. Cynicism can only go so far. He really got that.”
For Schneider, Sunday will be his first Santa Barbara Bowl visit. Next time he returns, maybe it’ll be to see his daughter perform: Schneider’s oldest girl is singer Elle King, author of the ubiquitous 2014 hit, “Exes and Ohs.” “She loves it and she’s very talented,” said proud papa Schneider (who has put King in his films), noting her new album is imminent.
So take Real Rob with its intended wink-and-nudge. The real Rob Schneider, as it turns out, is simultaneously down-to-earth, astute, conversational, philosophical, and literary — none of which should negatively impact his free wheelin’ comedy when he takes to the Bowl stage.
Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Nick Swardson play Sunday, May 22, 7 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Bowl. For information, visit sbbowl.com