By Jason Tanamor
The first time you see Joey Diaz, and possibly hear him speak, you might find him intimidating. Even for a journalist whose job is to interview him and give him some publicity, I was more nervous than a teenage boy at his prom. The reason? When I called him to do an interview, I got his voice mail. Needless to say, it was brash, straight-forward and filled with a thick, New Jersey accent. Add to that, I knew what he looked like from a press photo that I had to accommodate with the story.
However, when he called me back, the first thing he did was apologize for not answering the phone. “Man, I’m sorry. When you called I was on the phone with a publicist. Before that, the smoke alarm went off. I saw you buzzing in but I was on the phone,” Diaz said. “Just one of those mornings.”
Diaz, who spent 14 months in prison for a drug related offense (another reason why I was intimidated), found stand-up comedy a few years after his release. “It was 1987, I was at the University of Colorado, had the world by the balls, but I was hooked on blow,” Diaz said. “One thing led to another, I tried to pull a Miami Vice and rob 2 kilos from a drug dealer. Things went down, I got arrested.”
When he was released, Diaz realized he had to do something with his life. “I got married for three years, now I’m free,” Diaz said. “I got my stuff together and now have a 18-year-old daughter.”
Diaz, who saw the opportunity to do stand-up comedy after calling a Denver comedy club to see about getting stage time, knew he wanted to do stand-up since he saw a Richard Pryor show. “I don’t know how to explain it. Doing stand-up is not something you talk about at the lunch table,” Diaz said. “You just do it. When I first started, I was making money but not enough to do it full-time.”
Diaz went on to work half a year at a job, then work the other half doing stand-up. “I delivered Chinese food, I worked at a sports betting service. I don’t think you can do both, have a job and do stand-up, and be successful,” said Diaz. “In June ‘95, I bought a $600 dollar car and just started driving.”
Now, the comedian/actor has been telling jokes for 17 years. Diaz’s R-rated, anything goes set ranges from true life stories to mingling with the audience. “No set is exactly the same. Every night is different. I don’t like the same punchlines, the A to Z style,” Diaz said. “I saw a comedian perform and he was hilarious. One year later, I saw the same comedian and he did his material verbatim. I was aggravated.”
Diaz, who has had bit parts in blockbusters such as “Spider-Man II,” “Taxi,” with Queen Latifah, and “Analyze That,” with Robert De Niro, is most known for his role in the Adam Sandler movie, “The Longest Yard.” “I’ve been blessed to work with Harold Ramis (Analyze That), (Rodney) Dangerfield and (Adam) Sandler,” Diaz said. “Sandler is a compliment to comedy. Comedians and actors are different. An actor might juggle lines a little bit but a comedian will make it better based on life experiences and life on stage. That’s what Sandler taught me.”
“The Longest Yard,” Diaz’s biggest role to date, is the remake of the 1974 comedy starring Burt Reynolds, who also co-stars in the 2005 version. “I was supposed to be in four scenes originally, but ended up in the whole movie because Sandler dug me,” Diaz said. “There’s a scene where I’m on my back and I say something that’s not on the page in the script and it ended up making the trailer. That’s what Sandler brings. He makes 20 million a picture but lets the actors keep things open. If it fits, then it’s in.”
Diaz is currently working on a one-man show in Los Angeles and is developing a pilot with another writer. For now, Diaz makes his living on comedy stages across the country. “There are 3000 comedians out there that are better than me but can’t book a movie. They’ve been doing it for 20 years,” Diaz said. “Comedy Central treats me like I have AIDS, they keep playing the same people over and over. I’ve never done Letterman or Leno but I keep getting parts in movies.”
Diaz’s main goal, aside from making people laugh on stage, is to win an Oscar in a supporting role. When I asked him why a supporting role and not a main role, Diaz said, “Have you looked at me? I’m no Ricky Martin.” I replied, “What about James Gandolfini?” Diaz laughed and then again apologized for missing my call the first time. He also gave me his keys to becoming a good actor. “If you can lie to a stripper, you can be a good actor.”
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous."
By Jason Tanamor