George Lopez on living up to his birthday’s namesake, slaying his own personal demons, in FX’s Saint George

Nobody asked about Windsor.

And yet, time after time in a conference call on Monday, George Lopez made references to what he’d endured the night before a stand-up comedy gig last week in Canada. It seemed timely enough to remind reporters that he is not a saint.

After six seasons of family-friendly comedy on ABC and two seasons of late-night partying on TBS, Lopez is back fronting another sitcom tonight with the debut of Saint George on FX. It’s based in part quite literally on Lopez’s birthday, April 23, which is Saint George’s Day. The multi-camera series stars Lopez as “George Lopez” — only he’s no stand-up comedian; rather, he’s attempting to be a stand-up guy as a divorced businessman and father who decides to teach history at night to students in downtown L.A. It’s on a 10-episode order with a back-90 renewal triggered by FX and Lionsgate Television if the ratings meet contractural benchmarks.

The episode titles riff off classic rock songs, such as “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” “Having My Baby” and “Superstition.”

Lopez may also personally and professionally be trying to go legit himself — to borrow a title from another comedian-fronted sitcom on the FX Networks. Truth is, though, he’s already ripped several pages from the playbook of another 10/90 FX sitcom and star in Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management. Sheen’s showrunner for his comeback journey is Bruce Helford, who just so happened to co-create ABC’s George Lopez Show. Previously, Helford was an executive producer on Roseanne, which in turn was co-created by Matt Williams, who co-created Saint George with Lopez and David McFadzean, who earlier had joined forces to launch and run Tim Allen’s Home Improvement.

Life and time are flat circles?

Lopez is no saint yet, but he has time.

“I think you don’t become a saint until the end of your life, and how you live your life depends on whether you become a saint or not. I’m not sure that in my particular life I will become a saint any time soon, but it is a great title, I love the title,” he said Monday.

Here’s an outtake from Saint George featuring Lopez’s co-star Danny Trejo. I’d like to imagine the sitcom is more like this outtake than the polished version.

Lopez on developing a sitcom voice:

“When I was in the clubs and I looked at guys who were creating sitcoms, you know, Jerry Seinfeld, and Drew Carey, when Drew Carey’s first show was going on, and particularly Tim Allen. You know, Tim Allen had all of Home Improvement in his stand-up, and clearly you could see that there was a show there. With my stand-up, I didn’t particularly have a focus or a particular point of view until around ’96, when somebody who works for 3 Arts, who represents me now, told me that I probably needed to become a little bit more focused on a couple of subject matters. And then I decided to focus on family and cultural differences, and then five years later we started working on George Lopez with Bruce Helford who had done (The Drew Carey Show), and through that kind of experience with him — because he had worked on Roseanne and he had created Drew Carey, that he was great at turning the stand-ups into TV shows. So that worked for me, and that was really a very educational, a good time to learn. A lot of comedians were still on TV, Raymond and Kevin James, and Damon Wayans was on, and Will & Grace was still on, Seinfeld was coming to an end, I think Frasier might have even still been on. So it was a great comedy time, and then when I finished the first show, I did the talk show, and that actually is probably the hardest work that I think an entertainer could have in TV, because it’s every day, and it’s very difficult.”

Lopez brought up his experience in Windsor — where he passed-out drunk in the casino, then performed there the following evening and joked about it. “You know, I’ve been doing stand-up a long time, and I continue to do it, clearly; I did it last weekend in Canada, in Windsor, a great show. And as experiences happen to me, I’ve always found a way to make humor of them. And in serious situations, too. So, stand-up has been a great outlet for that,” he said, adding that Richard Pryor had paved the way for comedians to open up about their offstage lives onstage. “I got a message from Jennifer Pryor, Richard’s widow, a few messages this weekend about what Richard would do, and all very supportive, and very funny, clearly.”

His FX series, in some ways, is mirroring his real life — “me like everyone else is trying to find peace, and sometime it’s not always the easiest thing to find. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us flawed, and I think as humans we all have flaws, and how you respond is a great way to live a better life. I’m not sure that a comedian should be a role model, because we’re so loose with language and with situations, but as a person, much like I would want George on the show, I want the real George to be able to finally find a peaceful, healthy place in his life.”

He noted that in his real life, Lopez didn’t have a father, and grew up instead with his grandmother and her second husband, who “had some demons” and “drank a little bit.” But on the TV set, the toughest guy around is Trejo, who Lopez said “hasn’t had a drink in 45 years.” “So, I look forward to spending a lot of time with Danny in the near future, and getting some guidance from him would be fantastic at this point,” Lopez said, on his own path of progress.

Lopez told The Comic’s Comic that Helford, in particular, has been helpful in providing advice as his Saint George team navigates the professional waters of a 10/90 TV deal.

“He’s been great, and his template for the way that Charlie does his show has been helpful to the way that we did Saint George. So, I was fortunate to have the guy that I created my show with create Charlie’s show, and only be a phone call away,” he said. “But also with my own creators, Matt and David have guys that had just written hours—I mean, Matt worked on Cosby, he created Roseanne, and he created Home Improvement. So pedigree-wise, as far as creators and people around comedy, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a better situation. I don’t think a comedian could be in a better situation moving forward into a new format, with an old kind of sitcom thing that people are familiar with. But the 10/90 model was something that we didn’t bump up against at all.”

On the flip side of the equation, Lopez hasn’t regretted leaving behind his two-year late-night stint (Lopez Tonight, TBS, 2009-2011) now that the overnight dial has gotten even more crowded in his absence.

“I miss the actual on-stage part more than I miss the behind-the-scenes part, dealing with what I could say and could not say, and do all of that. But the band was tremendous, and the guests were amazing, and the audience was, I think, one of the more diverse and bigger audiences,” Lopez said. He added: “But Jimmy Fallon’s off to a great start, and that’s great. Seth (Meyers) as well, and Jimmy Kimmel’s doing great. So, it’s a tough thing, there’s a lot of traffic, but all of those guys seem to be finding their own place.”

Would he rather be sitting at home, wondering about the ratings for Saint George, or Lopez Tonight at this point?

“At this point, I like my 10 shows on Saint George. It gives me more flexibility as well, as a private person, to do the things that I enjoy doing. Working every day like that was very limiting as far as what you could do and how you spent your time,” he said.

“It’s funny, because people say, well, you know, you have 10 shows to try to get 90. But in the first show, my first order was only four episodes.”

How many network sitcoms have gotten renewed off that kind of order since then?

Can’t blame Lopez for liking his odds this time, too.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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