George Lopez is telling another mostly Latino full house some things they already know: the differences between Chicanos (as he prefers to be called) and their Anglo neighbors.
“Chicanos don’t drive hybrids,” he says. “We still chop down trees and throw used oil on the side of the house.” God forbid a Chicano is overheard ordering a chicken Caesar salad with, you know, the dressing on the side. “Más put!'” he exclaims (a slang expression which, roughly translated, refers to … something appealing to a fellow’s “feminine side”). “We don’t want less, we want more! And we want it on top!”
Lopez’s unmistakable appeal to live audiences — Latino and non-Latino alike — continues to result in sold-out concerts. That includes seven recent shows at the Gibson (formerly Universal) Amphitheater in L.A.; 6,000 tickets (out of 11,000 seats) sold the first day for a gig in Austin, Texas; and two recent sold-out shows at the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center, where his “Why You Cryin’ ” Showtime special was recorded two years ago.
“He was huge before the TV show, and now he’s a monster,” says fellow comic Bryan Kellen, who’s opened for Lopez on and off for the past eight years.
The comedian’s act is made up of tales about what it’s like to be Chicano in America, drawn mostly from his own life experiences.
“Many comics have pieces and bits they do, but it’s usually in a certain area they’re known for,” says Ron De Blasio, Lopez’s manager. “When you talk about your own life and what you experience, as George does, you’re really laying yourself bare. And he’s able to speak as if he’s still back there.”
“He’s shockingly honest onstage,” says Kellen. “He’s able to talk about some terrible moments in his life and just make them hilarious.”
That kind of honesty hasn’t always come easily for Lopez.
“When I first started 25 years ago, I was painfully shy, completely inept in conversation,” he explains. “I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, but I’ve learned through the harshest business of all how to come out of my own shell and still be compassionate.”
He regularly meets with fans backstage after his 90-minute concerts.
“I went to enough Dodger games growing up to know what it’s like to have somebody walk by you and make you feel like you weren’t even there. I sometimes spend more time backstage than I’ve spent onstage.”
Lopez’s onstage act always includes a message encouraging the audience to support their children in their dreams, something he says he never had. “I say, ‘Tell them they can do whatever they want, even if you don’t believe it.’ To be bigger than you, and better than you.”
He also touches on another serious subject, something comics usually don’t: his recent kidney transplant (Lopez received a kidney last April from his wife, Ann).
“He encourages the crowd to take care of their health, which is certainly something that sets him apart,” notes Robin Tate, Lopez’s concert promoter.
Unlike fellow comedian and latenight talkshow host Jay Leno, who plays comedy clubs at a breakneck pace, Lopez squeezes in concert gigs whenever possible. Typically, he’ll perform at the start of his hiatus week from his TV series once a month, and at least one weekend each month, with more during the summer.
“I still have a poor man’s mentality,” Lopez explains. “I go out there and work because I’m still just afraid of being poor.”
The writers from his series often attend his live shows in Southern California to help them stay true to his onstage persona.
“Every time he’s in town playing, there’s always somebody from the writing staff there,” says De Blasio. “They listen to what he’s saying and try to put it in the show, to make it work. George then will review the script, to make sure that it’s still his voice.”
Lopez gets onstage with subjects that are on his mind.
“He doesn’t do the same show every night,” notes Kellen. “He just goes by what’s on his mind and works the material as he’s saying it onstage, which is a very difficult thing to do.”
“It’s really like jazz for me,” Lopez says. “Carlos Santana turned me onto this kind of thinking. I told him my daughter wanted to play guitar, and he said, ‘Pretend that there are strings connected from your heart to your arm, and you’re playing the strings.’ I’m just playing the strings. You just go out there and you feel it and play the notes. I know the notes.”