Despite tour dates on both coasts, and many places between, comedian Paul Rodriguez said his upcoming Merced show gives him cause for the most hand-wringing.
“Believe it or not, out of all of the gigs I’ve done, the ones that are close to my relatives are the ones that are most nerve-wracking,” he said, adding his phone has been ringing with calls from his family. “They’ve known me all their lives and heard every joke I got. I really have to be on my toes.”
The 58-year-old funnyman, whose been performing for more than 30 years, said he has family up and down the Central Valley. “Just look at the phone book, I think I’m related to every Rodriguez in the whole valley,” he said. “There’s a bunch of us, we’re prolific.”
Rodriguez is set to perform in front of that family and any other ticket-holders at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Merced Theatre, 301 W. Main St. Tickets range from $25 to $35.
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Rodriguez said he prefers not to plan out too much of his show, so he has the freedom to make it fit each audience. He also said his comedy is not “particularly blue.”
Born in Mexico, Rodriguez grew up in Compton. Since beginning his stand-up career, he’s been in more than 45 movies, including “Ali,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Bloodwork, as well as concert film “The Original Latin Kings of Comedy.”
He has also made appearances on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and other programs, as well as done voice work in “King of the Hill,” “Dora the Explorer” and “The Proud Family.”
Rodriguez said stand-up comedy remains his favorite venue for expression. He said he sees stand-up as therapy – his own personal “Ritalin” – referring to the drug prescribed for those with hyperactivity.
“Television, movies – that is work,” he said. “For me to get up on stage and act a fool, that is easy.”
Rodriguez said his family has always been funny, and he was able to channel that energy into a career. “Thank God that there’s a job in America that I could do,” he said. “In any other country, they lock us up.”
When he’s away from the stage and spotlight, Rodriguez has been known as an advocate for water rights in California. He said his first run-in with water issues in California came shortly after buying a farm in Orange Cove for his mother. That’s when he heard of the Delta smelt.
“Farmers live basically from crop to crop, but that doesn’t matter to this law,” Rodriguez said, referring to environmental protection laws related to the fish.
He was part of a 2009 march farmworkers staged on the Westside of Merced County to draw attention to their struggle. They strode 50 miles over four days, from Mendota to the San Luis Reservoir.
About 200,000 people were affected, beginning in 2008, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put in place policies to restrict the water pumped into Central Valley farmland. The policies protected the endangered Delta smelt, but made work scarce for migrant farmworkers.
Rodriguez said he wasn’t looking for a cause, but happened upon one. He said there needs to be a balance struck between farmers and environmentalists.
“We had cities like Huron and Firebaugh with more than 50 percent unemployment,” he said. “The entire valley depends on agriculture.”
A few years ago, the city of Fresno named him Humanitarian of the Year for his work related to water conservation. “Our water system is broke, and I’m going to continue to meddle and stick my nose into things,” he said.
However, Rodriguez said showgoers to Saturday’s performance need not worry about water rights or any other serious business at the show, because he’s there to help his audience forget all their troubles.
“Folks, if you lower your expectations, you’ll get a better show,” he said with a laugh.
Next on his plate, Rodriguez said, is a pilot he will be shooting in February for a sitcom he wrote called “Three Generations.” He said he will co-star with his real-life son, professional skater Paul Rodriguez Jr., and Oscar-nominated actor Edward James Olmos.