From his days as a Saturday Night Live cast member and The Daily Show correspondent, to acting roles in films like 21 Jump Street and The Hangover, comedian Rob Riggle has built quite a resumé for himself. Then again, the retired United States Marine Corps Reserve officer and one-time Colonel Sanders has also made a name for himself in the sporting world as the head of Fox NFL Sunday‘s comedy sketches, which he took over from Frank Caliendo in 2012.
Riggle also dabbled in the world of stand-up (which Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver forced him to do), but sketch comedy and improv have always been the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater alum’s first loves. Hence why his new guest stint on Angie Tribeca, the brainchild of fellow ex-Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell and his wife Nancy Carell, is a match made in heaven. For as Riggle explained to us, the goofy series’ self-aware homages to Police Squad! and The Naked Gun are just the kind of silly comedy performers with scripted and free-form experience yearn for.
Angie Tribeca is a pretty goofy show by some old friends of yours, the Carells. Is that how the job came to you?
I hope that’s how it came to me. Sometimes you never know with these things. You just get a call. They say, “Hey, you want to do it?” And obviously, with something like this, you say, “Yes, please.” So that’s how I came on board the show. I was lucky enough to get the chance to do it.
Had you been watching it before that call?
Of course! It’s a funny show, with a style of comedy that I greatly appreciate. There’s not enough of it out there, so I love it. I was thrilled when they asked me to do it.
Definitely. I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of this kind of humor — either Police Squad! or the resulting Naked Gun movies with Leslie Nielsen. I mean, I don’t think we’ve seen anything on like it on television in a long time, so it’s kind of refreshing to have something like Angie Tribeca out there. It’s so much fun to return to, and pay homage to, a kind of comedy where it’s just bam, bam, bam — joke after joke after joke. There are no apologies or subtleties. You just go for it and I love doing that. It’s a lot of fun.
It’s a scripted show, obviously, but this kind of comedy rewards strong sketch and improv performers. Has this been your experience?
Absolutely. It’s got the best of both worlds, or every world for that matter, because you can go into it with the sketch attitude. You can bring improv into the mix, but at the same time you can really commit to the character as it’s written. You can commit to the scenes as they exist on the page, but have the freedom to expand beyond it and blow the roof off of whatever you’re doing. It’s this great mix of being able to come in and out of all your favorite parts of comedy.
How much freedom did you have to play with your character?
For the most part, it’s all on the page. They have such amazing writers over there, as well as a great producing team that pitches in on occasion, so the written material they give us is really great from the start. You just come in, take a look and commit to it. You really have to commit to the reality of the scene and the character as they’ve created them, to give them plenty of gravitas and grounding. The comedy pops out from there because they write it so beautifully and so hilariously that if you give that character a nice base, the wording already makes everything pop. Like I said before, it’s really a great combination of so many different kinds of comedy.
Not to mention all the sight gags. More than anything, silly comedies like Angie Tribeca reward multiple viewings.
Oh, absolutely. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this genre, especially the way this show goes about performing this style of comedy. After a second or third viewing, you can catch so many things you may have missed when you first watched it. To me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I love this style.
Your background is primarily improv and sketch, but you dabbled in stand-up a couple of years ago. Have you ever thought about doing it again?
When I was on The Daily Show, I shared an office with John Oliver. I used to drag him down to the UCB Theater to do improv with me on the condition that he would drag me down to comedy clubs to do stand-up with him. I kind of dragged him into my world, so he dragged me into his. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I ended up building a set and really enjoying it. I even started touring for awhile. I did that for about three or four years, actually. But it’s a hard life, especially when you have a family back home, so after hosting the ESPYs I kind of backed away from stand-up.
To be totally honest, if I wanted to get back out there, I would need to build a new set and that takes time. So it’s one of those things where I’m very fortunate to be working regularly in television and film right now. I haven’t had the time, quite honestly, to build a new set. Plus, it’s tough to build a brand new stand-up set in Los Angeles. You don’t get much stage time. In New York, on the other hand, you can get a lot of stage time. If I ever do it again, which is something I would love to try, I’d have to take some serious time off to build a new set, work on it and get it up to speed, and hopefully take it on the road. But nothing is in the plans, for the moment.
That’s kind of surprising, as I thought there were plenty of clubs in L.A. for stand-up comics at all levels to go out and work on their sets.
I think it’s just a matter of logistics. In New York, you can go to five open mics in a relatively quick amount of time because everything’s close together. It’s all compacted. In L.A., however, if you’re trying to get over to the Improv on Melrose, you have to get on the list, wait around for your slot, and knock out five or ten minutes on their mic. But then you have to get in your car, rush over to the Laugh Factory, try to get on their list, perform, then leave and do the same at the Comedy Store. You have to drive everywhere and get on lists, and it takes a lot of effort and time. You don’t get the quantity of mics you do in New York, I think.
I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. Travel time between gigs is an important factor.
Exactly. That’s all I mean. You can get the work done here in LA, no doubt, but it’s tough. It takes half an hour alone to get from one gig to the next.
This is going to seem random, because it is, but I noticed you co-star with at least three other Robs in How to Be a Latin Lover. Rob Huebel, Rob Corddry and Rob Lowe. It’s simply a coincidence, but I feel like it’s a missed marketing opportunity.
It’s finally happened. We’ve been pushing for the “Four Robs” for a long time, and we finally did it. Big thanks to Ken Marino, the director, for making that happen. I love Rob Corddry. He’s another UCB guy. We’ve been doing comedy together for years in New York. Huebel, obviously, is one of my good friends and a comedy partner of mine for years. I did a pilot with Rob Lowe before this movie, too, so I got to know and fall in love with all the Robs before How to Be a Latin Lover came about. I was so glad we all got to work together.
Rob Riggle’s first episode of Angie Tribeca, “Murder Gras,” airs tonight, April 17th at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.