Every other sentence out of Deon Cole’s mouth is riddled with an infectious giggle that, given the chance, will make anyone listening burst into laughter. Which is fantastic for a phone interview, as the Black-ish star’s giddiness will turn any conversation into an all-out joke fest. This happened back in January when I talked with the actor ahead of Angie Tribeca‘s weekend-long first season marathon in January. And again when Cole called me the other week to discuss his first one-hour stand-up special, Deon Cole: Cold Blooded Seminar, which premieres June 25 at midnight on Comedy Central.
Cole began as a stand-up during the mid ’90s in Chicago, but caught his first big break as a writer for The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and, for a time, Conan on TBS. Yet most audiences know him as Black-ish‘s MVP Charlie Telphy, and Angie Tribeca‘s DJ Tanner, a police detective with a dog for a partner who does people things better than most people. Along with a role in Barbershop: The Next Cut, Cole’s career thus far has mostly been about acting. But as the comedian reminded me, stand-up has always been his favorite. That, and President Obama.
Why’d you film Cold Blooded Seminar in Washington, D.C.?
I knew it was Obama’s last year in office, and I just waned to be near that. I thought if we could do it near Capitol Hill, that’d be great. So when they said the [Lincoln Theatre] was open, I said “let’s do it!” It was just that simple.
You start with a bang, especially with your cold peanut butter gag. Not sure I can eat the stuff ever again.
[Laughs.] That’s great, yeah buddy! It’s all about that cold peanut butter.
How’d you find time for the special in your busy schedule?
We were filming Barbershop: The Next Cut in Atlanta and they told me Comedy Central wanted me to do this. So we started looking at venues and dates, hoping to time it with the film’s release, but it ended up coming out later. I haven’t done one of these ever because I’ve just never had the time. That’s the only reason why I’ve never done an hour special. But we found some time in February, when I was done shooting Angie Tribeca and Black-ish, and went straight to shooting the special. As long as it was all back-to-back like that, I didn’t mind it.
Do you prefer working like that?
Yeah. I’m the type of person who, if I’m driving my car and it runs out of gas, as soon as it stops I’m getting a gas can and walking. I’m not going to sit there thinking, “What am I gonna do?” I’m walking. I knew I was going to hit the road after it all, so I knocked everything out so that when the special came out, I’d have some new material for the road. I’m up to 35 new minutes, and I just need another 10 minutes to get it to where I want it for the next special. Then I’ve got some other new stuff but I haven’t tried it out yet, so hopefully it’ll work when I try it.
Cold Blooded Seminar has a great balance of prepared bits and audience interaction.
I really like interacting with the audience, especially with Cold Blooded Seminar‘s question bit at the end, because it gives the sense that we’re here to learn. It lets people know about the ways I look at certain things, and it keeps them intrigued. I always thought that asking questions at the end was a cool way for doing a stand-up show. It’s unique and different, and helps reiterate what’s been said, as if we were in a class. [Laughs.] And people love it when I do my recap at the end of the show, joking about what we’ve already joked about.
Like the “monitoring your blackness” question, after which you poke fun at the white audience members’ discomfort.
[Laughs.] Yeah we touched on that. Absolutely, or like at the beginning when I warn everybody about what I’ll be joking about. Just to prepare people, to give them direction so that they know where we’re going. You’re not going to be mistaken about where we’re going. This is the path, what we’re going to be talking about and dealing with, and let’s go! Cold peanut butter, monitoring your blackness, Donald Trump — all of it.
Was there anything from the live taping that you really liked, but didn’t make it past the edits?
Oh my God, that was the worst part of this whole thing. Editing. I had to cut out so much material, and I couldn’t choose what to cut and what not to cut. “I can’t cut this because this, and this works here, and this is part of this.” I cut out so much stuff, and it hurt. But it made me realize I could use everything that wasn’t kept in the next special, so there’s that. [Laughs.] So you know what? I’m not even mad about it anymore, even though I am mad. There was nothing I could do about it at the time, so all that material I cut out will probably be used later.
Anything deemed to hot for broadcast?
No, not really. There were things that were really funny, so I decided to keep them for myself on the road. Others that I though were a little too racy for this, or jokes that weren’t too seminar-y. I didn’t want Cold Blooded Seminar to be too gimmicky, though there were some jokes that had nothing to do with anything. But they were hilarious, so I just took them out and saved them for later.
With that and the new material, how do you balance your stand-up with other commitments?
I’m making room for what I love, because I love stand-up, first and foremost. I make the time between shooting Angie Tribeca, Black-ish and movies for my stand-up. You have to force yourself to make time for it. It’s like family. You have to force yourself to be a family person if you’ve got kids, a wife or a husband. It’s time you have to make. Back in the day, I remember comedians who’d do stand-up, a special, then make the transition to movies and other things. They’d abandon stand-up and say, “I’m cool so I don’t have to do that anymore.”
There’s a lot of people who are like that, and a lot who aren’t. That’s why I always admired Robin Williams, because he’d keep doing stand-up regardless of how big of a movie he’d just starred in. Billy Crystal, he still does specials and stuff like that. I admire that, but I just don’t like when these people abandon stand-up once they “make it.” I never want to do that.
Deon Cole: Cold Blooded Seminar premieres on Saturday, June 25 at Midnight ET on Comedy Central. Until then, there’s that cold peanut butter gag…