It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since Adam Sandler first appeared on "Saturday Night Live." But did you know that Sandler was let go, just a few years after he joined the cast? We wanted to know why — and how he evolved from a TV comic, to the rarest of things, a humble movie star who's brought in billions of dollars at the box office. This month, the 53-year-old who's sometimes described as "juvenile," may surprise audiences who think they know the Sandman's shtick. He takes on a gritty, dramatic role, in a movie called "Uncut Gems" and his performance is drawing some of the best reviews of his career. We wondered if all the buzz had turned Sandler into a serious, self-important, actor. We got our answer, when fresh off an overnight flight, he wanted to meet us at a basketball court.
Adam Sandler: It looks like a bunch of high school kids, or junior high. Usually I can keep up with that. Actually no. Not usually ... I fly in, try to find a game somewhere, play, get a little sweat.
His game says a lot about the real Adam Sandler. Generous with an assist, quick to compliment, but with sharp elbows and a tongue to match.
Sharyn Alfonsi: You've been in New York, like, 36 hours. How many times have you played basketball?
Adam Sandler: Oh, that's very good. So, once with you. And then I played right before this. I'd say five— five sessions.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Is that what you do pretty much every time you go somewhere?
Adam Sandler: It's kinda when I have nothin' to do. I either— I battle eating. I say, "I can go eat or go play hoop."
Sharyn Alfonsi: Right. Right. The—
Adam Sandler: Ups and downs of the chubby life. (LAUGHTER)
Adam Sandler is an unconventional movie star. He favors oversized clothes, untied sneakers and a fresh from the hamper look. A proud father of two with his wife of 16 years, Jackie. He's a regular guy, living a charmed life, which is all part of his appeal.
His career is heavy with far-fetched comedies like "Happy Gilmore," and goofball, gets-the-girl comedies like "The Wedding Singer."
His films usually feature his friends. And he usually plays a fish-out-of-water character who prevails in the end. It's a formula that sometimes fizzles.
Sharyn Alfonsi: You know, when people talk about your career, they talk about these ups, and then the downs, ups, and then the downs.
Adam Sandler: Man, I don't know what the downs have been. I mean, maybe in some people, when they write about me, they talk about my downs. But I don't have any downs. I love every movie I've made. I've never in my entire career phoned one thing in.
Sharyn Alfonsi: The critics who've said— I'm gonna read you my favorite ones, you know, "This movie is the last nail in Adam Sandler's coffin." (LAUGH) Another said "He is no longer a movie star." And another one called you a man-child. (LAUGH)
Adam Sandler: I hear that. Yeah, that makes some sense.
Sharyn Alfonsi: You're not bulletproof. I mean—
Adam Sandler: —I'm not. Yeah. Right.
Sharyn Alfonsi: —it's gotta hurt."
Adam Sandler: That stuff doesn't hurt me anymore. I think it hurt me 20 years ago. It got me 20 years ago. I was— kinda shell-shocked like, "What happened? They say I suck?" (LAUGH) I thought I was good at this.
His newest film may surprise his critics. "Uncut Gems" is far from a predictable Sandler farce. It's an intense, dark drama set in the cut throat world behind New York's 47th Street Diamond District.
He plays Howard Ratner, a jewelry dealer and sports gambler in desperate straits.
It's a plum part with serious acting chops required for every scene.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Everybody always talks about you being such a likable guy. And then you play this loud, sweaty, obnoxious character. (LAUGH) Did you have any reservation about that?
Adam Sandler: I was scared, yeah. I was like, I don't know, man I don't like him very much.
Adam Sandler: This is kind of the street where we— we shot a lot of stuff, got prepared. Got to— it's basically, the big part of the movie, this block.
Sharyn Alfonsi: It is character rich, here—
Adam Sandler: Yes.
Sandler researched the role for months, creating a cadence and wardrobe befitting the part, rimless glasses, gold chains and oversized teeth. Opposite retired NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, who plays himself.
Adam Sandler: In the movie, I tell Kevin Garnett's character, "Let me wash your earrings. Let me polish those for ya." And— and that's— one of the guys told me that's the first move— is get the jewelry off— off somebody.
Sharyn Alfonsi: 'Cause they can't leave.
Adam Sandler: —then you're doin' somethin' for 'em. And then you could discuss the flaws of what they have, and say, "I got somethin' a little better for ya," and that kinda thing.
Sharyn Alfonsi: It's clever.
Adam Sandler: Yeah, it's very clever.
The New York Diamond District is a world away from his hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire, where Sandler roamed the little league fields. The only thing bigger than his hair was his confidence.
Adam Sandler: I always very goofy looking. I didn't realize it at the time. I thought I was kind of a stud. But looking back at it is pretty ridiculous.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Where'd the confidence come from?
Adam Sandler: I don't— my parents told me I was— my mother said how great I was all the time. I started to believe her. But my father would be like, "You're great, but you ain't that great."
Sharyn Alfonsi: Oh. Oh, my gosh.
Adam Sandler: This was it. This was the room I grew up in.
Sharyn Alfonsi: It's like a museum.
He grew up in this house the youngest of four children. The rare comedian who says his childhood was happy.
Adam Sandler: But that was my bed. That was my brother's bed.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Oh my gosh, look at this.
Adam Sandler: Yeah.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Same carpet.
Adam Sandler: Same carpet as growing up, for sure, same sheets, same everything.
Sharyn Alfonsi: So awesome. It's awesome.
His late father stan was a big man with a big personality. An electrical contractor who coached his kids' little league teams and who Sandler calls his hero.
Mom Judy was a nursery school teacher. She is his biggest fan. And sometimes, harshest critic.
Sharyn Alfonsi: What did you think of Uncut Gems?
Judy Sandler: Oh, I loved it. It was very different. (LAUGH) Very different.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Very different.
Judy Sandler: Yeah. Especially his false teeth.
Adam Sandler: I told you. (LAUGHTER) She goes straight to the teeth. (LAUGHTER)
Sharyn Alfonsi: You didn't like that look?
Judy Sandler: No. Not exactly. (LAUGHTER) I spent all this money to make his teeth nice and (WHOA).
Sharyn Alfonsi: What did your mom think about all the cussing in the movie?
Adam Sandler: Any time I curse, she hates it. I can curse amazing.
Sharyn Alfonsi: You can really rope 'em together?
Adam Sandler: Yes, thank you. Yes, I can rope 'em nice.
Judy Sandler: My mother didn't teach me to curse and I didn't teach him. Where did you learn it?
Adam Sandler: I don't know where I got it, Ma. (LAUGHTER) But it's been fun. (LAUGHTER)
His family remains an important influence on his life and his comedy.
Adam Sandler: I used to do my grandmother, an impression of my grandmother. Everybody used to like it around the house.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Let me hear it.
Adam Sandler: "Well, you know, Adam." She always used to say, "Well, you know." (LAUGH) You cannot digest cantaloupe. (LAUGH). That's not good for your stomach. That's why you always get bellyaches." She didn't know I was faking bellyaches to stay out of school. She thought it was the cantaloupe. (LAUGHTER)
His first job was at The Puritan...
Adam Sandler: What's up everybody?
...a local landmark in Manchester, New Hampshire, famous for it's ice cream. Not, it seems, Adam Sandler.
Adam Sandler: A Cherry Seinfeld and not a Sandler!? That's disgusting.
When it was time for college, he went to New York University. Which allowed him to work the city's standup clubs at night. He worked hard at it. Hitting this stage at Comic Strip Live more than 500 times.
SANDLER AT COMIC STRIP LIVE: When you go to the bathroom, public bathrooms are never fun. You know, you always go in there with the same deal. Take one piece of toilet paper and put it there, another piece over there, and then you pull down your pants and a gust of wind knocks the left piece down.
Sharyn Alfonsi: What were you making when you—
Adam Sandler: Oh, money?
Sharyn Alfonsi: —came in here to play a set?
Adam Sandler: I think it was ten bucks a night, ten bucks. That was good. Didn't care.
Standup is how Adam Sandler discovered what would become a trademark of his act: using the guitar to sell his jokes. Playing the guitar was Sandler's solution for intense stage fright.
Adam Sandler: I was so nervous every time. Then I'd get up there and I wouldn't remember what I was supposed to say and go blank. And you have the guitar in your hands, and that way I was at least doing something.
Sharyn Alfonsi: It— it was a security blanket.
Adam Sandler: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Still living in the dorm, he got his first big break. A guest spot on America's most popular sitcom, "The Cosby Show." It didn't last long.
Adam Sandler: I did four episodes and I remember wanting to be on five. You know? I was always at that place in my life.
Sharyn Alfonsi: I think you're so low key that you don't really realize that you were so ambitious.
Adam Sandler: I was very driven, man. I don't know what the hell was goin' through my head.
Sharyn Alfonsi: What did you want? Was it, "I gotta get to SNL. I gotta be a movie star. I gotta be—"
Adam Sandler: I was the— I wanted the Eddie Murphy. I wanted that.
Being like Eddie Murphy meant becoming a movie star but first getting to "Saturday Night Live." He made it there when he was just 23 years old, Introducing us to characters like Canteen Boy and Operaman. And writing SNL classics like "The Chanukah Song."
Adam Sandler: My brother said to me when I was applying for colleges— I— I said, "What should I study?" He goes, "Why don't you be an actor? You should be a comedian. I said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll do that." That was kinda that stupid.
His time at SNL was spent alongside, among others, Chris Rock, David Spade and the late Chris Farley.
Adam Sandler: That was Farley's desk, he had a desk right there. He was always crazy and funny. Spade was over here. Chris Rock was here. And you guys keep it a lot nicer than us. We were filthy.
Their generation loved them, critics did not. Just a few years in, even powerful SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels couldn't save Sandler.
Lorne Michaels: It was the rare moment in the history of the show where the network and the critics were on the same side. Everybody agreed that this group of people weren't funny.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Was he fired? Or did he quit?
Lorne Michaels: I said I think I can protect him. But I think— it's gonna be— it could be a rough year.
Adam Sandler: That's right. That's right. It was almost like a recommendation, maybe it's a good time to— to resign, right? Somethin' like that.
Adam Sandler: My heart was broken and I was scared. You don't like telling anybody, "Hey, you know that — that thing I was doing? They said I was no good at it."
Sandler returned to SNL last spring for the first time. Nearly 25 years after he was asked to leave, he got the last laugh.
But it was his heartfelt tribute that night to pal Chris Farley, who died in 1997 of a drug overdose, that stole the show.
Adam Sandler: I sang it in rehearsal when we were first doing it in the daytime. And I kept getting choked up, I think it was just being at SNL and being at the place that I hung with the man. But yeah, Farley was the guy that we all just said, 'well he is the funniest, now who is next?' You know?
Sandler is holding his own. Netflix says his latest standup special was a hit and that more than 70 million people watched "Murder Mystery," his film last summer with Jennifer Aniston.
On screen, on stage, or on the court, Adam Sandler is more than just fun to watch, he's the most versatile smartass in the game.
Produced by John Hamlin and Kara Vaccaro. Associate producer, Cristina Gallotto.
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