Following the cancellation of his eponymous CBS sitcom ¡Rob!, star Rob Schneider could have easily kept on his merry way picking up small roles in his buddy Adam Sandler’s movies or putting himself through the wringer of developing another show for a major TV network. Instead, the 52-year-old actor and stand-up comic decided to go it alone. Using his own money, Schneider and his wife Patricia (a former TV producer from Mexico) financed the writing and production of a new series, Real Rob, with the intention of selling it to a streaming service. The gamble paid off as it was snapped up by Netflix, who dropped he show’s eight episodes into the world on December 1st.
The sweet-natured and occasionally outlandish show stars both Rob and Patricia, playing versions of themselves as they navigate the choppy waters of both show business and marriage with the “help” of their bubble-headed assistant (comedian Jamie Lissow). And true to the show’s title, a lot of the situations that take place throughout the first season were inspired by incidents in their own lives.
Paste caught up with Rob Schneider as he negotiated L.A. traffic to talk about the process of creating a sitcom from scratch and how to keep one’s professional and personal lives in balance when working closely with a loved one.
Paste: When I watched a couple of episodes, my first thought was, “It must be nice for him to not have to watch his language.”
Rob Schneider: Whenever you’re watching a network show, you’re always reminded that you’re watching a network show because of that. Swearing doesn’t necessarily make things better, but it doesn’t create a sense that these people are actually having a conversation. I probably swear too much. I hope that’s not the only thing you got from the show.
Paste: No, no! It just took me by surprise for a second before I remembered, “Oh yeah, they can get away with that here because this is going online.”
RS: That’s the thing. It was almost at NBC, but we had to cut it down to show the folks at the network and…I just didn’t like it as much. In the back of my mind, I always wanted this at Netflix.
Paste: A lot of the situations in the show are pretty outlandish but from what I’ve read some of it does come from your own life and experiences. How much of the “real Rob” wound up in these episodes?
RS: It’s an exaggerated thing but there’s a lot of things that really happened in my life that we really take off from. You have to remember you’re there to entertain so you have to use that at a starting point. I’m there to tell a funny story but at the same time, it’s riskier to delve a little deeper. Where else is show business going to go? If there was no risk there, that would be a problem.
Paste: One of the biggest risks you’ve taken is that you paid for the production of this show yourself. What was it like to go down that road?
RS: It was completely liberating. I didn’t have to worry about advertisers. I didn’t have to worry about the network. I didn’t have to worry about money. We just did what we did and shot what we wrote. To be perfectly honest, I wanted the chance to do something great. And I don’t know that the network system and the studio system if that’s really possible. Every once in awhile there’s a show like Seinfeld, but they had the worst pickup in the history of pickups. They had the pilot and then they had four more episodes. And the next season they had 12. They had three years to do less than 20 shows. And these guys are geniuses! It’s tough to make anything work.
Paste: There’s a little bit of commentary in the episodes I saw as well with the network execs changing the concept of your family sitcom into something ridiculous with zombie vampires.
RS: I had a good experience with CBS. I wish they would’ve kept me on. They hired a great little actress to play my wife, but they didn’t want somebody with an accent. And I thought, “Well that doesn’t make any sense.” Once you start making those decisions, it starts to become you trying to manipulate a show rather than coming from that initial burst of creative excitement. With [Real Rob], we really were true to that. We didn’t question it too much. Even though you don’t have somebody telling you what not to do, we had to tell ourselves. We had pretty good bullshit detectors. We were pretty honest with each other.
Paste: Do you think, especially since your wife Patricia has worked in TV before, that it was inevitable for the two of you to work together on something?
RS: Yeah, I think so. Like with the CBS show, she was the one who brought Eugenio Derbez to America. That guy’s a big star now. He did Instructions Not Included. That was her idea. CBS loved him after because he’s brilliant. She knows what she’s doing. But she never acted before. I told her we could get someone else but I knew she’d be great. So I put her in a three-month acting course and put Jamie in it too. And we just went over the lines and over the lines and over the lines. I called it “Acting Bootcamp” for them. Once you get out there and see what works and what doesn’t work, you learn fast. She’s super smart. And she’s a natural. I’m very proud of her.
Paste: The rapport that you and Jamie have on the show is really great.
RS: We literally are two stand-up comics and so we have that timing. You have to react quickly when you’re on stage, figure out what’s working and what’s not working and make adjustments. When the two of us are in sync making something work, it’s exciting! He deserves a break. This guy was signed with the biggest manager in comedy at the same time as Louis C.K.. Louis got all the attention and Jamie fell off the map. He went back to upstate New York and started working morning radio. That’s where I discovered him and I said, “This guy’s a genius! Let’s do something together.” We kept in touch and he did some stuff with me on and off. I’m really thrilled that America’s going to see this new comedy star.
Paste: The show has an interesting mix of staged scenes, stand-up and then even some talking head scenes. How were you able to balance all that out?
RS: We spent nine months editing this. I shot an entire concert, two shows at a big theater and we ended up using none of it. We reshot the whole thing in a smaller club because it felt better. We ended up throwing out almost all of the talking head stuff, too. You just kind of have to trust your instincts. Those things can be kind of a crutch that can help you make connections or have shortcuts but if it’s not done well, it can hurt you. I wasn’t too keen on sticking with them if they weren’t going to help us.
Paste: You also wore a lot of different hats with the show as actor, writer, producer, and even director. Was that easy to juggle all those roles?
RS: We had really good people around us. We had the best cinematographer Carlos Hidalgo. I told him, “I’ll get you to America and get you your Green Card so you can work, just give me your great work.” One of the things we were able to work with these new cameras so you’re not wasting time going back over looking at playback. We would just keep shooting. Try a different take, try a different angle, do it differently, hit it again, hit it again, pick up the pace. It forced us to take more chances and shoot more. If you have your own money in the game, you better make sure to make this right. I guess we did good enough because Netflix bought it.
Paste: What about the delicate balance of your professional and personal life working as closely as you did with your wife?
RS: The first two days were rough, particularly on Patricia. She’s acting not only for the first time, but also not in her first language. So to get the syncopation and rhythms and timing for comedy was tough enough. Thankfully she had a lot of experience as the producer of one of the biggest comedy shows in Mexico, La Guerra de los Chistes. At the same time, I know she’s tough. I pushed her and pushed her doing like nine, 10 or 11 takes of one line. I had a choice. I could push her really hard and maybe we’ll have an issue with our relationship but she’ll have a performance she’ll be proud of later. Or don’t push her hard and have a mediocre performance that she’ll be unhappy with later. The easy choice was to push her and get that really good performance. It was only the first couple of days that were really rough. After that, she was just a rock.
Paste: Are you already thinking about a second season?
RS: We have an outline in place for a second season that we want to do. And some more interesting places that we want to go that are more dramatic. I think you can do stuff about careers going up and down, and the friction in relationships in a way that’s truthful. I tried to be nakedly honest as I could. The thing I’m most proud of is that there’s not one moment in the show where you ever doubt that these people love each other. That’s what adds a sweet heart to the show. I want to maintain that and see what happens. I’m not sure how long I want to reveal intimate things about myself and my wife and my family but I’d like to keep going. We’ll just have to wait and see how it’s received and whether Netflix wants another season.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.