Monday, January 28, 2013

Rob Schneider was a gentleman and someone I could talk to for a long time as he really is a student of comedy.

Rob Schneider is more than a successful comedian. Speak to him for just a few minutes and you realize he is a true historian of comedy.

The former "Saturday Night Live" cast member, who has starred and co-starred in a string of popular movies will be performing at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee for two shows on Dec. 28.

Among Schneider's credits are films such as "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," "The Hot Chick," "The Animal," "You Don't Mess With The Zohan," "The Benchwarmers," "50 First Dates" and "The Longest Yard."

Schneider explained to Reminder Publications that he has been doing more stand-up comedy in the last few years in part because the late George Carlin inspired him. Schneider started out as a stand-up comic, but said, "I never got to the place where I thought my stand-up was great. I never conquered it."

When he saw Chris Rock perform, he decided to get back on the road.

"It feels good," he said, but readily admitted that traveling was tiring.

He said the difference is now — since there has been a 20-year gap in performing live — "I feel I can take the audience further and talk about things that interest me."

Schneider also enjoys the freedom of performing live on stage, a freedom that he didn't find during his recent television series, "Rob." A mid-season replacement series, "Rob" was based on one part of Schneider's life: his marriage to Mexican television producer Patricia Azarcoya Arce.

Although the show attracted 11 million viewers a week, it was cancelled.

Like all television shows, network execs tried to tweak the comedy.

"It's frustrating to get notes from people who don't know as much about comedy as you do," Schneider said.

He is philosophical about the cancellation, though.

"It's their money, it's their stage. You're just renting it," he said.

The show did give him the opportunity to work with one of his comedic heroes, Cheech Marin. Half of the legendary comedy team of Cheech and Chong, Schneider remembered the joy he had as a child listening to their comedy albums. Marin, he added, has "a lot of charisma and is very funny."

Marin, Schneider explained, like many successful comic performers has been typecast.

"Very few people can break [a typecast]," Schneider said. "You're stuck, but it's a good stuck. At least you're being cast."

Despite his less than pleasant experience with a television series, Schneider is looking at another potential show, this one based on a hit Australian series called "Mother and Son." The premise is about a man who cares for his aging mother who may or may not be suffering with dementia.

Some of the Schneider's film work has been in starring roles, while others have been co-starring. In "Judge Dredd," Schneider's character did a spot-on impersonation of Sylvester Stallone to the action star's face and Schneider recalled Stallone telling him, "You better be funny or you're dead."

His association and friendship with Adam Sandler has been without any death threats.

"Adam just gives me the opportunity of playing different ethnic guys," Schneider said.

Currently Schneider is working on an animated feature, "Norm of the North," playing a polar bear Norm. He is enjoying the work as he said it allows him to "really create."

Since he and his wife are recent parents, he is interested in finding work such as this assignment that keeps him closer to home.

Schneider believes that there is a renaissance of comedy going on today and has a theory that when the economy has its problems, the arts flourish. He noted that after WWII, Great Britain was having problems returning to its pre-war conditions.

"There was a feeling things were not going to get better for the English," he said.

In reaction to what was happening, came the very successful comedies starring Sir Alec Guinness from the Ealing Studio, Schneider noted. Post-war Great Britain gave birth to Monty Python, which Schneider said "was the high water mark for comedy in the 20th century."

Schneider sees performers such as Louis C.K. as part of that renaissance born out of our own problems.

He said that he would like to produce a television series on the history of comedy. Considering his busy personal and professional schedule, Schneider added, "Eventually."

© 2013 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Olive A. "Sue" Dobbs 1924 to 2013

My mom and me when I was probably two years old.

What my brother and I have gone through in the past several weeks is in the big picture nothing special. Every second of every day someone loses a parent.

It’s the hope of most people that they do not have to go through this event until they are in their middle age, but too many of us face such a loss when much younger.

My mom died in the morning of Jan. 9 at the age of 88. I’ve written about my father from time to time, but in our family there was no one more important in many ways than my mom.

She and my father, Gordon L. Dobbs, had a relationship, that least to me seemed pretty typical of the time during which they were young: my father had the career and my mom stayed home. It’s fair to say, though, what my dad wanted for his life could not have been possible without my mom.

My dad died in 1996 and while his death was a blow to me, there wasn’t the more profound sense of finality until my mom passed. Now, my brother and I are the oldest in our small family. Will our kids look to us as we looked to our parents? I doubt it. It’s a different time and place and we are all different people.

My mom came from pioneer stock and hers is a very American story. For instance, her great-maternal grandfather was a Dutch shipping heir who secretly left his vessel in San Francisco harbor when he learned of a plot against his life. He went into the gold fields of northern California and met a young Bavarian woman who had come to America with her sister. Her sister was married and the brother-in-law knew what a commodity he had in gold country: a single young woman. The Dutchman, as my grandmother Edith Gage would say, married this girl to keep her from living the life of a prostitute.

There is much more to this story and to others in my mom’s history. I know relatively little about my father’s family, although I now have a book on the Dobbs side that I will read.

My mom grew up in small towns and communities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California where the Feather River played a prominent role cutting a zigzag through the mountain canyons. Her father, Shirley Gage, came from a hardscrabble family in Texas and my mom used to say that he was born a century too late. He was an outdoorsman who spent much his life working hard jobs: lumber and mining. He loved to fish and hunt and there are many family photos showing him in the woods.

Although my mother said she never thought her family was poor as a child growing up in the Depression, she spent considerable time living with her mother’s family in Oroville, Ca., simply because her dad was having trouble earning enough money or finding a place for his small family – my mom was an only child – to live.

Mom in Oroville with a favorite doll.

Oroville was a big city compared to the hamlets here she lived. Her maternal grandfather, Emil Kessler, who was often described to me as “bantam rooster,” adored her. Emil was from Switzerland and had a well-known temper. He had nasty nicknames for many people, but for my mom he was a pushover.

When she was born, she was named for one of my grandmother’s brothers, Oliver. Her birth name was Olive Adell Gage. My great-grandfather, though, looked at her and declared, “She isn’t an Olive; she’s a Sue.”

From that moment on, the only people who called her “Olive” either didn’t know her well or was referring her in an official sense. She was “Sue” for the rest of her life.

Following graduation from Greenville (Ca.) High School in 1942, my mom attended a secretarial college in Chico, Ca., where she met my father who was training to be an Army Air Corp pilot. They were married in 1944. Days later, my father shipped out to Europe commanding a B-17.

My mother not long after her marriage.

My dad stayed in the Air Force for 26 years. He flew bombers over Korea as well and, after a serious injury, could no longer fly but switched to the maintenance side. He ended his career at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam.

My mom sat out three wars, the last of which with two kids. That was not an easy thing to do. I never heard her complain. I never heard a regret.

If there were issues at that time, I never knew. My parents wrote frequently to one another but those letters were destroyed. I came across several as we cleaned out her home, but I didn’t look at them. It would have been an invasion of their privacy.

My mom also supported my father in his vocation as a furniture maker. My admiration for my father’s skills is immense. He could look at an antique, make a few measurements and notes and reproduce it. These skills, along with what he accomplished in the Air Force and as a high school teacher, have long put my own ambition into perspective.

He couldn’t have done it without my mom, though and he knew it. When my brother and I was moving a piece of furniture he built late in his life, there was an inscription on the back written by my dad in marker. It detailed how my mom saved his life and made things, such as the furniture, possible.

Here is my father in his crowded shop in the basement of our home at 104 Navajo Road in Springfield, Mass. in the early 1960s.

My parents were not perfect and neither was their relationship, but they gave my brother and me a great childhood. My dad never understood my interest in movies, but bought a wonder Super 8mm Bolex camera for me to make my own films.

My mother, although a movie fan as a kid, never appreciated my love of horror moves, but she gladly typed the printing masters for my fanzine Inertron.

Although my dad did have a plan for me – I was to be a schoolteacher – he only gave a small amount of resistance to me bring a writer. He never cared for my choice, although my mom said he was proud of me. I hope so.

My mom had much artistic talent, although she always downplayed it. She was a shy woman who made friendships for life. Although not a churchgoer, she read many books on religion and spirituality and was intrigued by true mysteries of the universe.

Mom was one of biggest animal lovers I ever know, aside from my dad who often declared he would rather be around animals than people.

We had a small farm in Granby, Mass., and my mom loved her herd of goats. My brother Patrick, a very talent photographer, took this photo.

They were both museum people and book people who held education very dear. In high school, I would be quizzed about how I did on a test and once I revealed the mark, if it didn’t meet Mom’s standards, she would reel off the names of my friends and asked what grade they received. She could be tough.

My mind is a jumble right now as memories come flooding back. Mourning is a surreal activity. One moment everything is fine, while the next is a mess. I know that I will think of her, as I’ve thought of my father, every week for the rest of my life.