Serving in Afghanistan is no laughing matter, but after 23 years in the Marine Corps, Rob Riggle has made a life for himself in comedy.
The 48-year-old returned from his tours of duty abroad to segue into the world of show business, achieving success everywhere from “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live” to movies like the newly released “12 Strong.”
For the latest in Reuters’ “Life Lessons” series, Riggle talked about the principles that he has been able to hold onto, even in very challenging environments.
Q: What life lessons did your folks pass along to you?
A: There wasn’t some grand philosophy, but they never stopped teaching me. Things like knowing right from wrong, good manners, the importance of being nice without being a doormat. My father is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met, with a tremendous amount of wisdom, and I’ve never seen him be anything other than kind.
Q: How did your time in the Marines change your outlook?
A: Most people in their mind have a set of perceived limits, about what they are capable of doing. In the Marine Corps, you realize you can handle way more than you thought. You see how strong you can be when you have to be. You learn about hard work, accomplishment, overcoming obstacles.
Q: Does the world of stand-up comedy teach its own lessons?
A: You absolutely have to learn how to survive up there on stage. It’s just you and a mic, and if the audience hates you, they will let you know. Some of my loneliest moments on earth have been up there. When you bomb, it is bone-crushing, and don’t let anyone tell you different. It hurts, because it feels personal. It takes a lot of emotional strength to come back, when all you want to do is go die somewhere.
Q: When you worked with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” did he give you any tips on success?
A: I learned a lot about comedy just by observing him, watching how he processed things and extracted the ‘funny’ from any situation. I remember once I was going over to Iraq to do a USO show, and he suggested that I create more material specific to the troops and their world and their lives. Of course he was right, and when I did that, I killed. That was some good advice from Mr. Stewart.
Q: Now that you have achieved a level of success and wealth, how are you handling that?
A: It’s funny to hear you say that, because I’m still grappling with that. I’m blessed to be a working actor, but I still feel like I’m struggling like anybody else. The thing about show business is that there is no finish line. You can never rest and sit back, and think you have arrived. That moment doesn’t really exist.
In that last couple of years, I finally got a business manager to help with investments. But I’m a traditional blue-chip and bonds kind of guy, and don’t go nuts with risk. Remember that for a very long time, there was not a lot of math required here.
Q: Where do you direct your charitable giving?
A: Two things drive me: kids and veterans. So along with buddies who grew up in the same area as I did, like Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Eric Stonestreet and Jason Sudeikis, we have raised a lot of money for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. I also host an annual golf invitational, which benefits veterans charities like the Semper Fi Fund.
Q: What life lessons do you try to pass along to your two kids?
A: They are 9 and 13 now, and I just try to instill in them what my parents instilled in me. Being polite and gracious, being patient, having empathy for others. If they hit those things, they’ll be OK.