Photo courtesy of A.V. Club.
Comedian Deon Cole Talks Approach To Comedy + Performing For Netflix's 'The Stand-Ups' [Interview]
Photo courtesy of A.V. Club.
Emmy-nominated actor-and-comedian Deon Cole just might be the hardest working man in show business today.
Deon Cole is a familiar face to comic buffs around the world. The co-star of ABC's Black-ish and it's spin-off, College-ish — Cole has also made funny bones crack on the TBS police procedural parody, Angie Tribeca, and plans to do much more damage on Face Value, the upcoming BET comedy game show produced by Wanda Sykes.
In addition to all of those shows, Deon Cole also serves as a writer for Conan with Conan O'Brien and is the main attraction in a hilarious half-hour special, The Stand-Ups, which is a part of Netflix's deep dive into comedy and made its debut on July 4. Despite his hectic schedule, Deon was kind enough to catch up with Okayplayer and talk about his approach to comedy, his fearlessness on stage and performing for the masses.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photo Credit: Ashley Brown.Okayplayer: How did you develop the fearlessness it takes to do stand up night after night?
Deon Cole: It’s going to sound weird but knowing that failure is part of what we do as stand ups and embracing that, once you embrace that then it becomes easy because you don’t expect every moment to be magical. Conan O'Brien taught me that too. Conan taught me that every moment can’t be magical and if every moment was magical, we wouldn’t have magic moments. A lot of people let themselves down and beat themselves in the head looking for magic moments all the time when you should know that’s not a given. You have to know that that’s not part of the job. The everyday part of the job is the let down.
OKP: I read in a previous interview that acting is more of an escape for you and comedy is more therapeutic. Where does writing come into that? Is it more of an escape or more therapeutic, or does it just depend on what project you’re working on?
DC: It’s both, it’s a way to reclaim other thoughts. It’s also therapeutic in a sense and it keeps your chops going. All it is basically is moving around thoughts and giving it to someone else to make room for other thoughts. That’s how I look at it.
OKP: Was there something in particular that made you jump into acting instead of sticking to writing and stand-up?
DC: I’ve always wanted to act, even before stand up. I just was always intrigued. I was always in front of the television. I was the only child growing up where that was my sanctuary. Watching it, watching these characters every week, wanting to listen to and mimic.
OKP: I’m an only child too I can relate.
DC: Well, I have a half-sister but I was the only one growing up in my house at the time.
OKP: How did the special with Netflix come about?
DC: My man Robbie [Praw] is a big wig in the comedy game, he’s always over at the Montreal Comedy Festivals. He has a new position at Netflix and they wanted to try out a new idea. Instead of six one-hour comedy specials they gave everyone a half-hour and put it all in one package and made it a three-hour series. I just did an hour-special with Comedy Central and some people thought I was doing it backwards. But I thought it was ingenious to give them thirty minutes of your comedy, because people can judge whether you’re funny or not in thirty minutes. So shout out to Robbie and Netflix for making that happen.
OKP: I like the half hour format, it reminded me of the Def Comedy Jam days. The best part of the special was seeing you gauge the audience reaction and looking at how far you could push them and level of discomfort.
DC: Comedy is for that. It’s for pushing the envelope and going a different way.
OKP: Having the note pad and making tick marks based on how people react, was that something you’ve always done or is that something you did specifically for this show?
DC: It’s not me ticking off how people act, it’s more like we’re going to strip down what’s happening. I’m going to read some jokes that I wrote and if it works I’m going to check it off and if it doesn’t I’m going to check it off. It’s not me gauging how the audience reacts. It’s me just stripping down the whole comedy format and saying, “Hey let’s get down to this.” [Laughs] I’ve been doing that my whole career, just getting on stage with my notepad.
OKP: Oh I see, you’re showing the process as you’re going along.
DC: Exactly that’s exactly what it is. Inviting you to the process.
OKP: I’m a big process nerd, I really like being able to see the process rather than just the finished result of something.
DC: Yeah, I can tell you’re an over thinker [laughs].
OKP: Oh geez, you can tell that? I thought I was hiding that pretty well, and you clocked me after, what, 10 minutes?
DC: [Laughs] It’s all good, I know a lot of over thinkers.
OKP: With so much on your plate, how do you take care of yourself?
DC: Trying to get a lot of sleep as much as possible. Just trying to have as much fun as I possibly can.
OKP: And one final and crucial question for you since you’re from Chicago and I’m Chicago: Harold’s or Uncle Remus?
DC: [Laughs] Harold’s, for me, it’s always Harold’s.
You can catch Deon Cole in The Stand-Ups on Netflix now. He will also be performing at the ATL Comedy Theater from July 14-16. Black-ish and College-ish will be back in the fall on ABC and Freeform, respectively. Face Value will premiere in September on BET.
Danielle A. Scruggs is a Chicago-based photographer and writer who runs the website Black Women Directors and is also the Director of Photography at the Chicago Reader, an award-winning alt-weekly newspaper. Follow her on Twitter at @dascruggs and view her site at daniellescruggs.com.