News & Media

Six Pack: Riggle salutes NASCAR's commitment to military

October 30, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Best known for roles in "The Hangover" and "Step Brothers," actor and comedian Rob Riggle is also a former Marine who served in Kosovo and Afghanistan and is still a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. The Kansas City area native answered this week's six questions before serving as grand marshal for the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway:

1. You got to drive in a pro-am charity event earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway. Did you get a feel for the magnitude of race day?

Riggle: When I was out at Fontana doing that celebrity thing, I got to go down to the pits. Carl Edwards was my coach. He's like, "Here's how you want to take this track on." I got to be close to the vehicles, I got to be close to the drivers, I got really good access to some cool stuff. I got to watch them qualify. But I hadn't seen game-on race day. It had been described to me by a lot of people as -- what you saw was great, but that's just like watching athletes warm up before the game. Come game time, the race is amazing. So I was excited to see them all out there hooking and jabbing and doing their thing.

2. Have you gotten to meet any drivers or develop any favorites?

Riggle: Well, I'm kind of fond of Carl Edwards because he was so nice to me as my coach. And it turns out that his family farm is in the same county as my family farm, in Cooper County, Mo. And so we bonded over that immediately. I'm like, "I'm off highway so-and-so." And he's like, "I'm off highway so-and-so." And they, like, almost intersect. So we discovered pretty quickly that we live quite close to each other, or at least we have family farms down there. So that was exciting. I felt like I had a friend. I bonded. So that got me excited. I was like, "I've got a dog in this fight now. I've got somebody to get behind." And we're both pilots, so that was exciting.

3. Did you have a notable first car?

Riggle: It was a '76 Chrysler Newport. It was a coupe, but it was big as any station wagon or SUV today. It had a big 400-block engine, but it had a problem with the fuel line. So when you hit the gas, it would almost die, and then it would roar to life. Every intersection, I would hit the gas, it would almost die, and then it would roar to life before you could get off the pedal. Everybody thought I was laying rubber, but no, I was just really trying to go, really. But you could fit four of my buddies shoulder-to-shoulder in the back seat. A big bench seat. Same with the front seat. I could have seven of my buddies around. That was my first car, and it was my parents' old car, and they just passed it down to me -- which is the smart thing to do when you have a 16-year-old boy. Because on the night of my 16th birthday ... I loaded up the car with the boys, stopped at an intersection, and sure enough one of my buddies was like, "Come on, Riggo, let's do it!" So I'm off racing, and of course I wrecked the car. On my 16th birthday. Went up over a curb, tried to make a turn, came in way too hot. Just destroyed it. Talk about not knowing what you're doing, talk about not understanding the laws of physics. So yeah. That was my first race. And my last race.

4. Between being on active duty and in the reserves, you have 23 years of service to the Marine Corps. How does that influence your comedy?

Riggle: I don't know if it has any direct effect. I don't do any material really from that. I keep those worlds really separate. If anything, it's just an intangible of -- you get thick skin. You learn how to overcome adversity. All the intangibles. Because you know, show business is probably one of the toughest businesses in the world. People might laugh at that, but it's a tough business. It's not like building a bridge or building a building or something, but it's emotionally tough to be rejected all the time, to be told no, to be told you look fat or stupid or you're not good enough or you're too old or you're too young or whatever. You can't help but personalize some of those things. So yeah, the emotional side of the business is brutal. It's unrelenting. But, you know, Marines make you tough. So you can handle a lot.

5. Have you performed for troops overseas?

Riggle: I did a USO tour back in 2007 in Iraq. It was the summer of 2007; it was at the height of violence in Iraq. We went to about 10 different forward operating bases. So we were out there on the pointy end of the spear, and I felt good about that. I felt proud of that, because those guys don't get any entertainment. And I knew when I was deployed in Kosovo or Afghanistan, we were always on these forward operating bases and we never got any entertainment. Any. So all I said was if I ever got in a position where I could go out and do a USO tour, we were going to go out to those guys who don't get the shows. Because they always go to the big bases in the back. They get all the great shows. They get these great country singers, they get these rock acts or comedians or actresses. But the guys out on those FOBs, they don't get a lot. So we made a point to do forward operating bases. And they loved it, and they were appreciative, and that's what mattered. But at night, we'd be doing these shows, and you've got these HESCO bunkers -- they look like grocery sacks, they fill them up -- and just on the other side you hear ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. So you're like something's going on outside there. But we're in here doing some yuks.

6. NASCAR is renowned for opening its arms to the military. With your background, can you sense that?

Riggle: Absolutely. I'm always grateful to any organization that just takes a minute to say thanks. Because that's -- not all we want, but to any veteran, it's just so nice. Any veteran will tell you, it's just so nice to have anybody say thanks. That's all it takes. You're welcome. It's a really wonderful feeling. So yeah, I'm always grateful for anything like that, and I'm glad that they care. I'm glad that they care enough to say thank you. They don't have to say anything beyond that. Just saying thank you means the world. I'm getting ready to retire [from the reserves], so if they approve my retirement, I'm going to retire in January. They have to approve everything, but the paperwork is in. Should be in January if they approve it. We'll see.