That time I talked to Rob Schneider about Harvey Pekar

Back in 2010, former Saturday Night Live star Rob Schneider was coming to Des Moines to do a stand-up comedy show at the Funny Bone. I was offered the opportunity to interview him.

I wasn’t especially excited, mostly because I have a terrible track record of getting comedians to be funny. I’ve had some great conversations with comedians, then when I go to look at the notes, there’s nothing especially funny to break out. After I turned in an interview with Mitch Hedberg (about a month before his death), my editor called me over and said “Do you have any examples of how he’s funny?”

I saw two entry points for my interview with Schneider, neither of them especially great opportunities for comedy. Mel Gibson had recently had another breakdown and a few years prior Schneider had slammed Gibson and pledged never to work with him.

The other? The then recent death of comic book icon Harvey Pekar.

The latter stood out as something I had to ask about. Why? Because at one point Schneider was interested in playing Pekar in a film. Instead, Paul Giamatti ended up nailing the role in the award-winning  2003 film American Splendor.

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In the link above, Pekar’s wife, Joyce Brabner, said “we knew it would be an absolute disaster for him to play Harvey.” It’s hard to argue with that, Schneider’s filmography doesn’t provide a lot of hope for a dramatic turn (Rob Schneider is… The Pekar). But Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and even Adam Sandler have made the leap from SNL to semi-serious roles. Maybe this would have been the role to break Schneider out being pigeon-holed as whatever he currently is.

Schneider’s stand-up show got rescheduled, and by the time it happened Pekar’s death and Gibson’s crazy weren’t timely anymore and didn’t end up in the article that ran. Pekar died six years ago today, so I decided to dust off my notes from that interview.

Sorry Mel Gibson fans, this is strictly Harvey-related. I didn’t even get to finish my question before Schneider started talking about him.

Q: Earlier this week Harvey Pekar died…

A: Yeah, you know I was the one trying to get the rights to that movie, years ago. I’m in one of his “American Splendors.” He talks about meeting me in Hollywood and having a movie star play him in a movie.

I wanted to do that film and tried to get the rights to it. I called his wife, because she was the one handling it. I think Helen’s her name. She was just so crazy and so disrespectful. I didn’t want to have anything to do with her, because life is too short.

So anyway, I thought the movie was good. Paul Giamatti’s a great actor. But “American Splendor” was a little meaner and a little dirtier and I thought that they made it too much of a love story. I didn’t love the movie as much as I liked “American Splendor.”

What I liked about him was he didn’t have this idea of what people wanted in America… He didn’t care about like money or… He wasn’t trying to be anything he wasn’t. There’s a real beauty in that and, you know, and honesty. And integrity.

I found his life… On the outside of it, you might just think it’s kind of pathetic and sad. Any life, if you look at it, can be fascinating and interesting. There is no dull American life. It’s just how you interpret it and how you decide to present that. And he’s proof of that.

So I think he’s one of those unsung heroes who didn’t go unsung. He had his moment to shine. And he was sick for a lot, a lot of years. I remember talking to him. He was nothing but a respectful guy. He was probably the most avid reader in America. Maybe in American history. If there was like one book or two books you would read on Henry Miller he would read everything. He’d read his short story books. He’d read his critique of… The Italian absurdist. What the hell’s his name? The guy wrote “12 Chairs.” (I think he meant “The Chairs”) Ionesco? I think it’s Ionesco. He would tell you “He figured it out! Enesco was an absurdist because he didn’t speak English! He would only read phrase books and that’s why his sentences seemed so odd. Because he didn’t understand the language!”

He was a guy that if you spent a little bit of time talking to him who had an incredible depth of knowledge from a lot of areas. He just spent his whole life reading.”

Back to me here. I wanted to include a bit of info on two related things. First, Schneider and his wife, Patricia Schneider, are following in the footsteps of Pekar and Brabner and are creating their own comic, Centurion & Emperador, coming out in the fall/winter.

The other is that Joyce Brabner is organizing artists to come to Cleveland to do draw cartoons about the Republican National Convention later this month. There’s a Gofundme raising money for the event, which has almost reached its goal.

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