Q&A: Craig Robinson, a.k.a. Darryl from The Office, Talks about Standup, Singing for Booty and Making Fun of Michael Scott
Primetime fans know Craig Robinson as Darryl, the deadpan warehouse worker from NBC’s The Office who hilariously misleads and mocks Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Robinson has also made appearances in recent films such as Knocked Up and the upcoming Pineapple Express . He’s also breached into the online world of Webisodes with Mr. Robinson’s Driving School , a side-splitting story about battling driving instructors. Assistant Night & Day Editor Dusti Rhodes caught up with Robinson on the phone to ask him about his standup style, which is equal parts laughs and tunes.
Why did you start pairing music with your comedy? How did that develop?
When I started doing comedy I remember going to this open mike called Heckler’s Heaven where three people in the crowd would have a rubber chicken and three other people would have a scorers card and they gave you three minutes to do your thing and then if you were doing good you could keep going and they would ring a bell after three minutes and if you’re doing good and you didn’t get any chickens you could go on an finish your eight minutes, but if you got all three chickens you had to get off the stage. I think I got like two chickens and said goodnight. But then the next week I took my keyboard and kind of just did some parodies and played a little bit and they were – yeah – they were into it.
You rose to popularity because of your time on The Office and not as many people are familiar with your standup – how does that translate to your live show? Do people yell out like “Hey Darryl” or “Fleece it out”? I mean, do you use that to interact with the audience or is it a struggle to separate the two?
I can use it to my advantage because it’s kind of a free for all. Just the fact that I invite people to sing along and things like that. It’s like they are supporting, they’re like ‘hey we dig what you do.’ Of course, I always had that attitude. I was on a show called Lucky and it was about Vegas and gamblers and stuff and one guy in the audience just kept – he would just like at the worst time yell out something like ‘straight flush’ or something. It just made no sense and he just kept going and I was a little younger and it kind of pissing me off but now they just have some fun and they’re laughing because I know it’s coming from a good place.
How did you develop the comedy/music angle? Had you done it before you brought it onstage back at Heckler’s Heaven?
I had made up some things in the past that had always got a laugh. If I was flirting with a girl on the phone I’d be playing a song or something and making her laugh or whatever and once I realized that was a hit with the keyboard, I just started from there. It was mostly just jokes and then as I kept going and started having to do longer sets and things I started to really incorporate really good comments and audience participation like playing music, bringing people on stage and having them dance and all kinds of stuff. Yeah, it just kind of turned into its own beast over the years.
Was your original goal to be a musician and then that ended up just being a comedy tool?
I still want to be a musician. I’m a successful actor, successful comedian, struggling musician – starving musician. As I mature, I might put out some music, but I’m not limiting my life or career options to anything, it’s all been about trying to just go with it and go with the flow and it’s worked out nicely.
So, you used to try to pick up girls by singing to them on the phone?
There is on particular song I remember, it’s called “Can I Have Some Booty?” and I was in college and I was talking to this girl and I was like ‘I’m going to tell you something’ and I started playing the song and I then paused and it was silent and I thought she was pissed but it was because she was cracking up and I don’t know if she was cracking up because of the thought of me asking her that as I sang it, or the thought that I actually thought there was a chance she would say yes, I could have some booty. She ended up being my girlfriend in the end and when I tried to break up with her she didn’t believe me. That’s the downfall, it was a Seinfeld moment: okay it’s over and then we hung up and we went home for Spring Break and she called ‘Hey, what are we doing today?’ and I was like ‘What are you talking about? It’s over!’ she said ‘You so silly.’ That was that.
And she was like, “I’ll be over in five minutes…
Exactly! So, we’re married now.
Is it hard balancing the time between all your movie and television projects and doing standup?
Well, the major problem, it’s kind of a rule for me that the acting comes first, so I’ve had to cancel a lot of standup dates due to having to shoot or whatever. That’s just the way I’ve chosen to do it. So, nowadays, since I have a production schedule, my booking agent can look at that and say, well, he’s open here and you know and kind of fit me in like that. I was surprised nothing happened to ruin next weekend in Houston, so it’s going to be awesome.
Have you been to Houston before?
I was at this club called Just Joking that was on Richmond that was a little black club they had there back in the day. I did that one about 1997.
That was before I was allowed to go downtown.
Before you were born?
(Laughs.) No, I was born.
(Laughs.) 1997, you were a ten-year-old?
Ten? (Laughs) Yes, I was ten. I’m actually only 18 right now, but I got this great job already.
Has it been awhile since you’ve been back to Houston? How often do you even do standup now that you’re busy with movie and television?
Standup had always been the breadwinner. So, when the acting started taking off, now it’s a good supplement. My last gig was in Arizona about a month ago, so I’m not getting out like – I used to get out like two or three times a month, so yeah, not as much, but it adds something to it. It makes me appreciate it more because I’m not onstage every night like I used to be.
So why do you keep doing standup now that you really don’t need the exposure? Why do you go through the stress of making the balance between it and everything else?
I’m addicted to it, pretty much. Literally, Dusti, about three weeks ago or something I was kind of depressed. It was one of these no-reason-to-be-depressed depressions and I went up to an open mike and just got on stage and messed around and I felt like way better. Just from the stage and I was like “my God, I think I’m addicted to the stage.” So, maybe it’s the stage, maybe it’s the comedy, it’s just a good time. It’s interesting to be in a position where you have fans and stuff like that, it’s kind of surreal if I dig that they really want to come out and be a part of that show, The Office and Knocked Up. They love it so much, especially The Office, that they just want to touch anything that’s from it.
But you really are one of the funniest elements to the show. Whenever my friends and I are quoting it to each other, there is always a Darryl moment or we talk about something about your character. Did you create that character or do the writers who did allow you to add your own to him? From what I understand there is a lot of improv and ad-libbing on the show.
They pretty much, the writers are just so good and they get the tone of that character, pretty well. When [Darryl] was being created, I pretty much knew, just, you know, deadpan. But this season you might see some other shades of Darryl.
That’s right, we haven’t seen a lot of Darryl, so far. But you’re going to be on this week, right?
How did you know?
I look up these sorts of things.
You’re like, “I’m a reporter.” (Laughs.) Yeah, I’ll be on there this week.
Well, is it weird because you’ll be performing on Thursday while the show is on. Do you ever want to say, go watch The Office, we need the ratings and then come out and see me.
(Laughs.) Well, if you have the Nielson Box, stay at home or turn your TV on and leave. No, it’s cool. I remember going to comedy clubs and trying to be a comedian and learning the ropes and seeing people who were on television and I was like “Wow, that’s just, wow” and now kind of being that guy is kind of surreal.
Craig Robinson performs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Laff Stop, 526 Waugh Drive. For tickets and information, call 713-524-2333 or visit www.laffstop.com. $20-$25.
-- Dusti Rhodes
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