The voice of Deputy Garcia from Reno 911!, Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life and the Chihuahua from the Taco Bell commercials will soon grace the stage of the Tampa Improv.
Carlos Alazraqui, who will appear at the Improv from Jan. 26-28, started off as a San Francisco stand-up comedian during the same era as Patton Oswalt. He perhaps is best known as the surly Hispanic Deputy James Garcia on Reno 911!
Yet Alzaraqui also lives another life as one of the busiest voice-over actors out there, having voiced characters for CatDog, The Fairly Oddparents and Camp Lazlo — as well as the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
In a CL interview, the comedian discusses juggling various types of show business, appearing on ’90s Nickelodeon cartoons and dying unexpectedly in television shows.
CL: What should audiences expect from your stand-up?
Carlos Alazraqui: It’s slightly observational, at times a hint of political, and then I just kind of sneak the character voices and impressions in there. It’s kind of jamming in — it’s like a pancake. Think of it like a blueberry pancake — it’s inconspicuous. “Oh, he does the voices, he does the impressions, he does characters and cartoon voices that he does as part of his career, and he stuck him all in there.” It’s kind of a potpourri of everything.
Between voice-overs and live-action acting, how often do you get to do stand-up?
I do about 10-12 weekends a year, like Thursday through Saturday-type deals, and then I do some college gigs with Cedric Yarbrough, who plays (Deputy) Jones on Reno 911! So between that, there’s about 25 dates. A lot of times I stay at home, be around for voice-overs and on-camera auditions, and obviously being around an almost 8-month-old daughter right now.
What was your initial dream in show business, in a career that’s now included stand-up, acting and voiceovers?
You know, it would ’ve been to have a career like what Hank Azaria’s doing, and ultimately if you’re lucky enough to be something like Adam Sandler or Chris Rock, to take your standup and turn it into something, that would be great. Things have shifted a little bit and now I’d just like being a working actor on shows that I like. The comedies I like are Chris Lilley’s Angry Boys and Summer Heights High before. I’d love to get a recurring part on something like Enlightened with Laura Dern, that would be awesome — I really like that show. Wilfred, I like, Eastbound & Down — my friend Steve Little plays his best friend. But I think on shows like that, aside from having my own show, that would be pretty cool. I would just like to be on camera more so I could do better voice-over roles, more feature stuff.
I’d heard a rumor that you’d be appearing on the next season of Eastbound & Down. Is there any truth to that?
No, not that I’m aware of.
What was it like working on Rocko’s Modern Life and CatDog with fellow comedians Tom Kenny and Maria Bamford, and working on those ’90s cartoon shows?
Sure. Before I get to that, one thing that is happening that who knows what it’ll lead to is that on Jan. 16, they’re launching this campaign for Direct Auto Insurance. Stephanie Courtney is doing Progressive as Flo, and this character is a NASCAR driver named J.J. Hightail. He never won any races, but now, thanks to Direct Auto, he can afford things. He’s a good ol’ boy, probably from Nashville, Tennessee, and I wear a red racesuit. There’s going to be print ads and billboards and about 12 on-camera commercials, five radio commercials. Hopefully that’ll turn into something, where people will go, “Hey, there’s J.J. Hightail!”
But I digress. The cartoons in the ’90s were awesome because Rocko just came out of standup and local auditions in San Francisco. Joe Murray was this San Jose Mercury panel cartoonist. He created this character named Rocko, who was going to go up for either Nickelodeon or MTV. I auditioned and I got it, and then I started making trips down to L.A. At the time, they had a difficulty finding the voice for Heffer and I suggested Tom Kenny. Of course, he nailed it, and that was both of our first cartoons, I believe. That was incredible, working on that show — just a great experience. That led to some other things, including CatDog, and Maria Bamford was working as a receptionist at Nickelodeon but she was also an actress. Then next thing I know, we were working with her and Dwight Schultz, who was on The A-Team. We were working on CatDog with Peter Hannan and Jim Cummings.
Just a great, one-two series start as a voice actor, to be on those two shows. The Rocko’s thing was just fun as it sounded. Obviously, the first two seasons were a lot more fun when (John) Kricfalusi set the bar by letting us do more adult-type humor. Once they decided they wanted a certain market of kids, we had to fall out of the scenes we did cover and it got a little bit less edgy, seasons three and four of Rocko’s. But one and two are great.
Between Mr. Weed on Family Guy and Deputy Garcia on Reno 911!, how do you feel about several of your characters unexpectedly dying?
They always die, yeah. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad sign. I guess for an actor, it’s good but kind of bittersweet because it means you get to go on and play something else or forces you to come up with more characters. But obviously career-wise, it’s like, do you still make enough money? It’d be nice if Mr. Weed could’ve survived. But, uh, it’s okay. It kind of stings a little bit, and it’s a little trite and actor-y to say part of you dies along with it because it’s something you’ve created. I guess a little does, but you move on and other things happen. Now, like I said, I’m going to be a racecar driver. Who knows, maybe J.J’ll die too, but it’s kind of fun, kind of bittersweet.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from Reno 911! besides Yarbrough?
Occasionally I will see Tom Lennon and I bumped into Kerri Kenney. Actually getting back to the J.J. thing, the director of the J.J. spots was Michael Patrick Jann, who directed the first two seasons of Reno 911! Joe Kessler, who was the cameraman for all seasons, was the cameraman on this commercial. So probably Joe — Cedric the most — then Joe Kessler, and occasionally Michael Patrick Jann and Tom Lennon.
Who would consider some of your influences on your stand-up?
During my formative years in San Francisco, it was guys who like Warren Thomas, who passed away, Tom Kenny, Rob Schneider. Patton Oswalt was there at the same time. As a matter of fact, I met Patton in Williamsburg, Va., and he was a roommate mine for a year in San Francisco. Marc Maron, who I competed with in competitions — there was Alex Reid, David Feldman, Jeremy Kramer, Steven Pearl, all these guys I sort of emulated.
Then you get on the road, you see guys like Brian Regan, there was this guy Jack Gallagher from Boston. Of course, there was Dana Gould, Dana Gould was always the one I wanted to emulate. Louis C.K., you loved his honesty and his delivery. So you sort of emulate all these types of comics — Doug Stanhope, how he just goes out on the edge. Those are the guys I admire and look up to and enjoy the style of comedy they do. I always like Kathleen Madigan too because Kathleen is always just Kathleen.
What else are you working on in your future?
A comedy horror film we’re hoping to get a budget for this summer — a low-budget comedy horror film about a comedy duo running into some bad, bad stuff while they’re out doing a movie. That is hopefully going to be with Bobby Lee, Johnny Sanchez and myself, and another comedian named Kirk Fox. Hopefully, when the movie comes in, we’ll be shooting in Houston, Texas around April. Right now, the name of the film is Die, Putas, Die! The style of the trailer was in the vein of Machete — “You just fucked with the wrong Mexican.” The tagline is “In comedy, first you kill, then you die. Die, putas, die!” So kind of Scooby-Doo meets Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein meets the gore of Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead.