Raleigh Improv, Cary
There will be plenty of familiar faces in director Craig Brewer’s upcoming Netflix film, Dolemite Is My Name, which depicts the life of outlandish musician, comedian, filmmaker, and actor Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) on his quest to turn his equally raunchy stage character, Dolemite, into a blaxploitation film star. One of the actors in the film’s star-studded lineup is Chicago comedian, actor, and musician Craig Robinson, who stars as Ben Taylor, a member of Dolemite’s entourage.
While fondly remembered for his recurring role as the Dunder Mifflin warehouse foreman Darryl Philbin on the hugely successful television show The Office, and as the car-thieving Doug Judy (aka “The Pontiac Bandit”) on a later hit show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Robinson’s breakout moment was in the 2007 comedy Knocked Up, where he played the sensitive club doorman who delivered the unforgettable line, “I can’t let you in ‘cause you old as fuck. For this club—not, you know, for the Earth.”
That deadpan charisma and comedic timing has landed him many TV and film roles since then, including various voiceover work in animated projects such as The Cleveland Show, Shrek Forever After, Sausage Party, and, more recently, the bizarre Netflix series Big Mouth, a cult classic in the making, in which Robinson voices one of the main character’s pubic hairs.
This weekend, Raleigh Improv offers multiple opportunities to see the Hot Tub Time Machine traveler’s comedy in raw stand-up form, and he made time for a chat with the INDY before his arrival.
INDY: OK man, so, did you ever think that you would make it to a place in your career where you could play the voice of a pubic hair?
CRAIG ROBINSON: [Laughs] I can’t say I envisioned that one. But there were a couple of moments in my mind where I thought that anything was possible and that I could be doing something that falls under that category.
Your acting career has been peppered with a good amount of voiceover work. Why do you think that comedians gravitate toward and do so well as voiceover actors?
I don’t know anything about gravitation, but I do know that everybody is looking to get a job. As comedians, we got that timing, man. There are regular actors that are just as good. But, in my mind, you have to start from a serious place, and then let the comedy take over. I think that people are looking for comedians to do that. People need to laugh.
Was it ever intimidating or challenging at first?
It all falls under “work.” Before I got into doing voiceovers, I would hear the term “mailbox money” a lot, meaning that you show up for work, you don’t work too hard or too long, and the checks just come. That definitely interested me. But the work excited me. It’s not why I got into the business, but it is a fun part.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is coming out—how does it feel to be a part of two films coming out around the same time that are both cult classics in their own right?
I didn’t even know that that was coming out soon. I didn’t do much in the movie. I was only there for like a day.
In Dolemite Is My Name, your character’s name is Ben Taylor. Who was he to Dolemite?
He sang the theme songs to his movies, and he was in Dolemite’s inner circle.
What were your experiences like with Eddie Murphy before and during the filming of Dolemite Is My Name?
I’m a massive fan. I met him when I played a character in Shrek Forever After called Cookie the Ogre. During Dolemite, he was just very engaging with everyone. I could have never dreamt that I would be doing this with him.
It’s been reported that Eddie Murphy may sign a $70 million deal with Netflix for a stand-up comedy special. Have you gotten a sense of how the comedy community feels about a comeback like this? And what advice would you give to someone making a comeback on this grand of a scale?
I only know just what you said. There’s definitely a buzz among comedians and everyone. It’s Eddie Murphy, bruh. I think that he could just go out and talk, really. You know what he should do? He should just have people in the crowd throw out names, because he knows and has a story about everybody. Prince. Luther. Everybody. I’m going to tell him that. It’s a great idea.
Dolemite seems to be one of the few times that you’ve been a part of an all-black cast. Is that refreshing to someone like you, who, some would say, has been typecasted throughout his career as the lone funny black guy?
Yeah, I loved it. It was great. But I haven’t been typecasted. I think people get me for my comedy and for my talent. Typecast?
In addition to touring as a standup comedian, you and your band, The Nasty Delicious, also hit the road from time to time. Where would rank yourself among comedians who are also musicians?
Dead last, probably. Donald Glover would probably be number one.
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