22 Jump Street opens tomorrow, and while Rob Riggle doesn’t exactly play a huge part, he does what he does quite often – show up for a few minutes playing a comedic heavy to spout a few memorable lines and continue on his way, a workman-like performance (he makes an even briefer cameo in the Dumb and Dumber To trailer). At 44, Riggle is an outlier in today’s niche-ified, Balkanized comedy world, a retired Marine who’s worked on SNL, the Daily Show, the NFL Network, and now has a Father’s Day gig with Craftsman. Not a lot of people from the improv world of UCB, SNL, and The Daily Show get offered gigs going after the Joe Sixpack audience of the NFL and Craftsman, but Riggle is that husky unicorn, a bit of a throwback to the days when each socio-political interest group didn’t have their own favored comedians and comedy actors.
IN A DIVIDED WORLD, ROB RIGGLE UNITES US! Okay, let’s not get carried away. But he is a pretty nice guy and he even laughed at a few of my questions, so you can see why he works a lot. He does that thing where whenever you ask him a small talk question like “how are you?” or “nice talking to you,” he always turns it around and asks you right back. It makes an impression on people like me, because I can’t even pretend to care about strangers’ lives, let alone some dork asking me dumb questions over the phone.
I talked to Riggle a few days ago, and got the chance to ask him about getting his dick shot off in 21 Jump Street, what made him want to stop being a pilot and start doing comedy, and all the little gigs along the way. Enjoy.
Vince Mancini: How are you?
Rob Riggle: Good, how are you?
V: Not too bad. How many interviews is this for you today?
R: Ohhh, we’re gettin’ to, I don’t know if we’re double digits or not, yet. I think we probably are. Just starting in the double digits.
V: Alright, well, I hope you’re really, really bored for me.
R: No, no way. I’m ready to go!
V: Okay, first question. A lot of people say that comedy is a defense mechanism, or a way to compensate for not fitting in. What do you think it is that’s broken inside of you that you’re trying to fill with laughter?
R: [laughs] Oh, love the easy questions right out of the gate. Uhh, I think I started turning to humor when I was in junior high. Everyone around me went into puberty, and became big and strong, and I stayed small and weak, and was scared all the time because I thought I was gonna get beat up. I think I turned to comedy as a defense mechanism to keep people smiling. When they’re smiling, they’re not punching. I think that was my turn. Other than that, I’ve been blessed with a pretty emotionally healthy life.
V: It’s kind of ironic that you’re sort of the big manly-man of comedy now.
R: I know. I think all my prayers got answered at once. All of a sudden I turned into this big beast!
V: On that note, being that you’re a marine and stuff, you seem to get offered a lot of the sorta manly-man kind of stuff, with the NFL, Craftsman, etc. Have you been offered any kind of gigs based on people thinking you’re a manly-man that you’ve had to turn down, or weren’t quite you?
R: Yeah! I mean, a lot of the characters I play are not “me,” per se. I play a heightened version of authority figures. I’ve met many authority figures in my life, so I take those people that I’ve met and I blow ’em out the roof. Playing characters with arrogant ignorance is, to me, always funny. I just think it’s a funny way to do it. So I end up playing a lot of those roles. But yeah, every once in a while you get some that are not funny, or just not what I want to do. and i’m lucky enough now to decide, sometimes, maybe I won’t do that.
Here I didn’t mean acting roles as much as I meant endorsement opportunities. Being a retired Marine and a comedy actor, I can almost guarantee you Riggle gets offered all sorts of weird shit (see: Jimmy Johnson’s weird dick pill ads, or Chuck Liddell’s car batteries), but he seems too nice to throw the ones he turned down under the bus.
V: I got to interview Rob Huebel at Comic-Con a few years back, and I know you guys have done a lot of stuff together. Having known him for a few years, what’s the worst thing that you’ve ever seen him do?
R: Ohhh, gosh… Darnit. The sincere, honest answer is: nothing. He’s just a really good guy. The comedy answer is, probably, I watched him do some sort of tap-dance show with Rob Blagojevich, or something like that. But no, I don’t have anything bad. I’ve never seen him do anything bad. The guy’s just a good dude.
Come on, Riggle! Name names! Dammit, I don’t know why improv people are so damned nice. Stand-ups are all bitter assholes who hate each other.
V: Blagojevich. That’s a deep pull.
R: [laughs] It’s something I’d like to see.
V: At what point did you realize that comedy was going to be a full time career for you?
R: Ummmm, probably when I got on SNL. That was my first job. Ever. And, you know, it was a lot [laughs]. But, I had a feeling that I could probably, probably, hopefully, fingers crossed, make a living doing comedy at that point, and wouldn’t necessarily have to have a day job. But I say that and, at the same time, after SNL, there was a little gap there. There was a year gap between that and The Daily Show. And when I auditioned for The Daily Show, I thought I had blown the audition. And, I remember thinking, “Okay, well, that didn’t go well.” I could still go back on active duty, I was still in the Reserves at the time and I thought, “You know what, I’ll go back on active duty. They need people right now.” So actually I was prepared to go back, but I got the job as it turned out, so I didn’t have to go back to active duty.
V: Does having a military background keep you from having to do the—
R: Oh you know what! I just thought, I’m sorry to interrupt you—
V: No, go ‘head.
R: The worst thing I think Huebel ever did was when he got up at the Grammys, no the MTV Awards, and he took that award away from Taylor Swift.
V: Oh yeah, yeah, that was a big scandal.
R: That was the worst thing I think I’ve seen him do.
V: Did having a military career to fall back on, did that keep you from having to do the usual crappy part time jobs that people have when they’re sorta coming up in comedy? Like waiting tables or doing temp work or whatever?
R: Hmmm, yeah? I guess it did. It was, for many years I was on active duty, here in New York. So I would do the Marines during the day. Every night I would go down to the UCB theater and do comedy. And even if I wasn’t doing comedy, I would go down there and do the lights, and sound, and tech for other people’s shows. Just so I could be around the theater, so I could meet other people, and watch other shows. And get plugged in a little bit to the NY comedy scene.
V: Was getting stationed in NY, and being able to be on active duty there, was that hard to do? It doesn’t seem like the normal place that people end up.
R: No, I mean it’s a small office. It’s a little public affairs office here in NY. Every branch of the service has one. It’s like a little four-man office. And that’s it. We do public affairs work in the city, and it’s actually a pretty regular job. During that time, obviously, headquarters of the Marine Corps. called me and asked me to deploy, so I ended up going to Albania and Kosovo at that time. I also—when I was in the Reserves—got called back to Afghanistan. So there were interruptions during my “training,” or comedy development time. But it was all worth it. All worth it.
V: Was going into the public affairs angle of it, was that something that you did based on having a theater background?
R: Well I mean I started as a pilot for the Marine Corps. I had a guaranteed flight contract and my pilot’s license when I was an undergrad. But when you pin your wings on, they’re on you for eight years. At that point you’re probably already in for two or three years before you get your wings, so you’re looking to be in for 11 years. You’re not going to retire at that point; you’re probably going to see your career out. So, I was looking out on a bill of maybe 20 years, which at the time I didn’t necessarily want to do. At some point in my life, I knew I wanted to pursue comedy and acting. So, that’s when I stopped flying and became a ground officer.
V: Very cool. So, you got 22 JUMP STREET, you’re in that coming out this weekend. I think when we left you at the end of the last one you had gotten your dick shot off.
R: This is true. [laughs] I’d like to just say for the record: that was my character that that happened to. Me? Rob Riggle? I’m fine. Everything’s working great. I can’t tell you how many drunks come up to me at bars, or wherever, and go, “Eyy, man! You gotcha DICK shot off!” And I have to remind them that it’s just a character.
V: Right, that’s your cross to bear. Without getting too spoilery, what’re we gonna see with the evolution of that character in this next one?
R: You will meet Coach Walters again. This time he’s in prison. And some hilarity ensues that You Do Not Want To Miss Out On. Soooo, go check it out! This week! It comes out! June 13th! [laughs]
V: It looks like you got your eyebrows waxed for that part, is that right? Was I seeing things in the trailer?
R: [laughs] You might’ve been seeing things. There was no waxing of the eyebrows.
V: No waxing. So you’re just a very clean man up there.
R: That’s right. Prison changes men.
V: [Laughs] So can you tell us about that Craftsman Father’s Day thing you’re doing?
R: Yeah, it’s actually called a ‘Make-cation,’ like a staycation. It’s essentially a four-day man camp. Like a fantasy man camp. It’s gonna take place out in Lake Arrowhead out in California. They’re bringin’ in experts in all kinds of different fields—wordworking, survival skills, how to work a grill, how to make your own whisky. Just like, any man skill you can imagine, this is the place to go learn it all, from experts. Real hands-on experience. It’s just a cool thing, I think. When they asked me if I wanted to along with it, I said yes mainly because I wanted to go myself. [laughs] My man skills are not like my dad’s. My dad had real man skills; I have none. So, I figured this would be a good chance to learn some of those man skills. And all you do is go to CRAFTSMANMAKECATION.COM, and you can win tickets to go, or you can actually buy tickets. So it makes for a nice gift for your husband, or your dad, or whoever. Whoever the man in your life is that’s lacking man skills. I’ll be there. I’ll be out there. It’s gonna be a good time.
V: Awesome. Sounds great. Thanks for talking to me.
R: You bet, thanks for talking to me.
FYI, you can hear the audio version of this interview on this week’s Frotcast. I forgot to ask him what C-Tates smells like. I’m sorry, you guys, I really blew it. But I’m guessing KY and strawberry e-cigs.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.