Saturday Night’s Children: Rob Schneider (1990-1994)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
For every famous catchphrase and Sandler movie scene-stealing bit part he’s enjoyed, Rob Schneider has always paid back tenfold in critically failed shows, films, and PR disasters ranging from the bizarre morning radio show confrontation in 2009 to buying multiple full-page ads to scathe his own critics. While Schneider hasn’t found complete success outside of the Happy Madison umbrella, he’s always excelled as the weirdo wildcard character with his boys’ club-era SNL brethren by his side, and for a guy who’s had enough cringeworthy film moments to warrant his own South Park skewering, Schneider’s still remained a likable token scene clown for twenty years and counting.
Schneider grew up in the San Francisco suburb of Pacifica and started performing stand-up in high school as an opening act for various local bands, including some managed by his older brother John. After dropping out of community college, Schneider focused more on his stand-up and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he opened for comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno before making his first TV appearance in 1987 (at 24 years old) on Late Night with David Letterman. His big break came with an appearance on The 13th Annual Young Comedians Special in 1989 hosted by Dennis Miller, then at SNL. After seeing the special, Lorne Michaels offered two of the featured comics — Rob Schneider and David Spade — writing jobs at SNL. After a year, they were both promoted to featured players and joined by Sandler and Chris Farley.
Despite the overcrowded cast, Schneider found ways to extend his short frame and goofy delivery to lasting success with recurring characters like The Sensitive Naked Man, Orgasm Guy, the annoying office worker Richard Laymer (“Makin’ copies!”), Frank the doorman (with Kevin Nealon), and parts in ensembles with Sandler, Farley, and Spade like Carlo the Italian waiter, the Hub’s Gyro employee, and valley girl frenemy/Donut Hole employee Tammy from “The Gap” sketches. He also impersonated plenty of celebrities including K.D. Lang, Jeff Gillooly, Billy Crystal, Hitler, Peter Lorre, Fred Schneider, Emilio Estevez, and Elvis Presley.
To focus more on film, Schneider left SNL at the end of the 19th season in 1994 alongside Melanie Hutsell, Sarah Silverman, Julia Sweeney, and Phil Hartman (Sandler, Farley, and Spade left the following year). Talking to Will Harris at Bullz-Eye, Schneider said of his SNL experience:
Any griping about that show is a quality problem, because it’s a great show. 90% of the stuff that got on the air was what got the biggest laughs in the read-throughs. If you wrote something that got read in front of anybody…it was so democratic that you got spoiled after awhile. But people complain wherever they are. All in all, I had a great experience at SNL.
While Schneider had a few roles prior to teaming up with Adam Sandler (like appearances on Coach and Seinfeld, a briefly lived British sitcom remake Men Behaving Badly, and small parts in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Surf Ninjas, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd, and Down Periscope), the breadth of his career has flown in the wake of his SNL comrade’s film success and resulting production company Happy Madison. From 1998’s The Waterboy to 2011’s Jack and Jill, Schneider has shown up in over 15 of Sandler’s productions and also stars in five of them: Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (Happy Madison’s first official project) in 1999, The Animal in 2001, The Hot Chick in 2002, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo in 2005, and The Benchwarmers in 2006. He made his directorial debut with Big Stan in 2007, which was released on DVD by HBO, and starred in his own CBS sitcom Rob (formerly ¡Rob!) in early 2012 — the show was canceled after eight episodes.
Most of Schneider’s starring vehicles drew negative reviews from critics (not to mention 6 Razzie noms and 1 win), and Schneider’s vocal and often aggressive ways of retorting his detractors are pretty hilarious. The first came after film critic Patrick Goldstein gave Deuce Bigalow a bad writeup in the Los Angeles Times, saying the movie was overlooked for an Oscar because “nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.” In response, Schneider purchased full-page ads in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter relaying a comeback to Goldstein: “Maybe you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers.” Roger Ebert then sunk his claws into the drama as well, adding in his Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo review: “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” The two have since reconciled after Schneider sent Ebert a beautiful flower bouquet after Ebert’s cancer diagnosis. Before thanking Schneider, Ebert wrote on his blog that the flowers were “a reminder, if I needed one, that although Rob Schneider might (in my opinion) have made a bad movie, he is not a bad man, and no doubt tried to make a wonderful movie, and hopes to again. I hope so, too.”
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.