While many fans of Craig Robinson know him from movies like "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Pineapple Express" or his regular role as Darryl on NBC's "The Office," Robinson also has long roots in the world of stand-up comedy. When NBC decided to bring the competition reality show back this summer (after having cancelled it in 2008), it was a no-brainer to pick Robinson to step in as host. Alongside judges Greg Giraldo, Natasha Leggero and Andy Kindler, Robinson watches as comedians tell their best jokes to make it to the end of the competition where the 'Last Comic Standing' will receive a development contract with NBC. Our Jim Halterman chatted with Robinson via phone last week about how the new gig is going, whether he's interested in venturing to doing dramatic roles and how music still plays an important part in his life.
Jim Halterman: Having grown up in Chicago, do you think life in the Midwest prepared you for show business and dealing with life in Hollywood?
Craig Robinson: Yes and no. It made me tough to face rejection and all that stuff but you meet a lot of different people and with that Midwest upbringing you can be cool with everybody.
JH: Since you stepped into the role of host of 'Last Comic Standing' how has it gone so far?
CR: Going in I really didn't know what to expect and it's been nothing but good. We're having a fun time with the comics and playing off of them and playing with the judges. This is a great gig.
JH: Were you a fan of the show before you joined?
CR: I hadn't watched it in a few years. I saw the first and second season but I hadn't seen it in a while.
JH: Are there any rules about how much time you can spend with the comics or whether you're allowed to coach or give advice to them?
CR: I haven't been told any rules as the host. There are some of the comics that I want to take on that role but I'll wait until after the competition because I don't want to show any favoritism or anything like that.
JH: Is there a difference in how a male or female comic is received or does it really just come down to being funny?
CR: I don't think it matters. It absolutely comes down to the funny. If you can get to that funny bone and tickle it the hardest and the longest you're good.
JH: I interviewed Paul Provenza recently and he told me that stand-up is a lot like therapy. Do you agree with that?
CR: Oh, yeah it is. Laughter is healing power and not only that but you get to talk about things and it's alright. You can talk about it, turn it into a joke or not and you can just say things but that's pretty much what therapy is, right? You're getting stuff out.
JH: You're well known for your movies, your role on 'The Office' and now 'Last Comic Standing.' When you're performing stand-up, is it easier to get laughs because people are familiar with you?
CR: Jerry Seinfeld said you get five free minutes but after that you still have to do what you gotta do; you have to perform. It's a difference in that they do know me and I get to show them what I've been honing for the past 15 years. It's as fun as ever so I don't think it's easier but it's a lot of fun especially because they'll add to the shows. People will throw out lines when I'm onstage or I might play a song from 'The Office' and people appreciate that so the more I collect those little moments the more it adds to the show; it's a bonding.
JH: Any interest in crossing over to drama like comics like Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey?
CR: Absolutely. With the right project I'd look forward to tackling any situation. Just like hosting 'Last Comic Standing' or hosting [VH1's] 'Hip Hop Honors.' These were opportunities that came along and I didn't know if I was prepared for them but I accepted them. It's all about whatever opportunity or challenge comes along I look forward to it.
JH: For comics trying to break onto the scene in 2010, is it easier than when you started out?
CR: If you're good, people will find you because there is always someone looking for the next big thing or the next good thing. I don't know if it's the same, easier or more difficult but there's always going to be someone looking for a good comic and somebody coming up, somebody fresh so just keep on, keepin' on.
JH: When was the moment when you realized you had made it in your career?
CR: Um... still waiting on that moment. [Laughs.] Making it, I guess, is regarded as different things. There are certain things that I think to myself 'that's when you made it!' Like if I get to be a voice on 'The Simpsons' or there are certain things in the back of mind where I say 'Now you can pat yourself on the back.'
JH: I know you have a music background and even taught music for a while before getting into stand-up. If your current career hadn't happened would you be doing music full-time?
CR: Yes. Before comedy, in college I studied music and I decided I was going to be a musician and that was going to be the career but then comedy just took over. Music is not done. I have a band, the Nasty Delicious. We do our thing and they travel with me. It's really my comedy show mixed with the music so it's 'Craig Robinson and the Nasty Delicious Dance Party.' We're going to do 'Last Comic Standing' on August 1st.
JH: Is your act the same wherever you go or do you fine-tune it depending on what part of the country you're in?
CR: It's the same wherever I go. I have the structure of the act and then you have the energy of the crowd and the energy of myself. That determines where we're going to go. Sometimes it will stray and sometimes it's the same note by note so it depends on all the elements and how much fun people want to have.
JH: Besides 'Last Comic Standing' what else are you working on?
CR: The past few weeks I was all over the place. I just did a three-week road trip and went to San Francisco, New Jersey and West Palm Beach and I have some more dates coming up. I guess right now you'd call it a mini-break until I go back to 'Last Comic' and 'The Office.' I also want to shout out to a movie called 'The Pretender' which we're looking to make next year. That will be my first starring role so very excited about that.
"Last Comic Standing" airs every Monday on NBC.