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Video/Q&A: Rob Riggle of '21 Jump Street'

Consider yourself lucky, Newt Gingrich. If Rob Riggle were still on “The Daily Show,” he would be all over you.

“I think there’s a lot—and I don’t mean this in a mean way—but I think there’s just a lot of meat on the bone,” says Riggle, who plays a gym teacher at the high school infiltrated by cops Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” opening Friday.

There’s been a lot of meat on the comedian’s resume lately. Since leaving “The Daily Show” a little more than three years ago, Riggle has appeared in “The Hangover,” “The Other Guys,” “Step Brothers” and much more. Currently he’s also developing a show with HBO and expects to be back in Chicago this summer doing stand-up.

At Trump Tower, the 41-year-old Marine veteran (who still serves in the Marine Corps Reserve) talked about the smell of high school, the fun of acting like a jerk and his rap album we should be glad doesn’t exist.

You witness Jonah and Chan’s characters in the middle of a drug-induced hallucination. How do you prepare for having your head replaced by a talking ice cream cone?
[Laughs.] You spend a lot of time studying acting and the craft and the art so hopefully your head can one day be replaced by an ice cream cone. And you just hope it works out. That’s really all it comes down to.

Not much ice-cream related research?
Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to lie: I spent a lot of time eating ice cream. A lot of time eating ice cream. Baskin Robbins. All 31 flavors.

“Honey, I know what I’m doing.”
[Laughs.] “Let me do my thing, please! It’s my craft.” “You’re just eating ice cream, you pig.” “You don’t understand, get out! Get out!”

You talked about using comedy as a defense mechanism when you were growing up and being voted “most humorous” in high school. What memories did “21 Jump Street” bring back?
It’s funny; the sense memories is what I got. When we went into those high schools to film, I don’t know if it’s the cleaning products they use, the Pine Sol smell, or what it is, the smell of the gymnasium, it just instantly takes you back to that time in your life when you were there in school. But everything seems smaller. The lockers seem smaller. Everything just seemed reduced. I just had that memory, that rush, you feel like you’re back in school.

If you were really a gym teacher, what would be your catch phrase?
“Quit bein’ lazy!” I think I would just sit there in my lawn chair with my whistle going (makes whistle noise), “Come on, guys, quit bein’ lazy! Another lap!” And they’d be like, “Come on, Mr. Riggle.” “You heard me; another lap.”

In a previous interview, you said, to paraphrase, “Who doesn’t want to get to act like a jerk every now and then?” Why is that something people want to do?
[Laughs.] Because most people, I hope, are nice and most people are good and most people have manners. And most people have a social education that allows them to not say terrible things or do terrible things. So when you get the green light to go for it, [laughs] it’s fun! And you want to do it. It’s really fun to exercise that side of your personality because you shouldn’t be exercising it most of the time.

It seems like it could be hard to turn off.
[Laughs.] Yeah, you get a taste for it. “Oh, this is good. I’m going to be a jerk all the time.” That’s why you have to shut it off. That’s why it’s fun to do every now and then.

How do you and Ice Cube compare in the badass department?
Cube is a badass, and I am a poseur. [Laughs.]

How are you a poseur?
Well, no, I’m not a poseur but he’s got street cred. He’s lived the life. He’s the real deal.

You’re a decorated officer.
Yeah, I know, I know. They’re apples and oranges. And both are delicious! But they’re different.

Your rap album was not quite as well received.
That’s right, that’s right. [Laughs] I don’t even know what my rap album would be called. It was be something weak. That would be the name of it: “Something Weak.”

And what would the name of the group be?
Oh, God. “The Lightfoots.”

“Something Weak” by The Lightfoots: the hottest rap album out. Sounds like a ‘60s record.
It does, doesn’t it?

How much do you miss “The Daily Show,” especially during election season?
I miss it a lot. I miss the people. I miss my friends. I shared an office with John Oliver for three years and I loved every minute of it. I miss hanging out with him. I miss just showing up at work and doing bits with him. We would sit in our office and just do bits for hours without getting any work done. Just trying to crack each other up. Calling each other. This is how close we sat together. And I would call him on my phone, he’d be working and I’d call him, I’d make stuff up, I’d go, “Hey, John, we got the lab results in.” And just go on a bit. And he would play with me. And it was fun. And I miss the writers and I miss the producers. I miss Jon. It’s a really good group of people over there and I miss them.

You’re still a part of the Marines. At what point after meeting people do you usually remind them you can kill them with your bare hands?
How long have we been talking?

About 10 minutes.
I can kill you. Just so you know that.

How would you do it?
I would lean into their personal space and just whisper, ever so slightly into their ear, that death could happen at any minute.

On Chicago: “I love this town. I want to go out [when I’m here]. This is a great nightlife town. Last night the first thing we did, we got in and we had to go to a screening and a Q&A which was great, great people, a lot of fun, and we went to Kingston Mines and listened to some music and just had a blast. Some people [recognized us] and some people didn’t, and it was great. But everybody let us be and we had fun and we danced and we listened to great music, and it was just a blast.”
His guilty pleasure band: “I can’t get enough of Avril Lavigne. I dig her music. I do, I just do. So there it is; I’m out. I’m exposed. She’s got great songs. What’s the one I’m listening to right now? It’s on my iPhone, I’ll have to find it for you. It’s good. Awesome! … You heard me sing in ‘The Lorax.’ You heard how bad that was. I’m doing you people a favor here [by not singing].”
On active duty Navy SEALS acting in “Act of Valor”: “Uh, it’s tricky. I haven’t seen it yet. I’m excited to see it. I want to see it. And I’m gonna see it. As far as them doing it, awesome, I guess, it’s interesting, ’cause it’s all uncharted water. So it’s that thing where, like, ‘OK, I guess? Awesome.’”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais


Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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