This Is the End Star Craig Robinson Got Started in Comedy Thanks to Two Rubber Chickens

Comedian Craig Robinson performs at the Addison Improv tonight, Saturday and Sunday.EXPAND
Comedian Craig Robinson performs at the Addison Improv tonight, Saturday and Sunday.
Courtesy of 3Arts Entertainment

Comedian and musician Craig Robinson probably doesn't have to do stand-up comedy anymore. He's been a recognizable name since his breakout role as warehouse foreman Darryl Philbin on NBC's American remake of The Office. That led to memorable roles in hit movies such as Knocked Up, Pineapple Express and This is the End. And yet, Robinson still performs in theaters and clubs like the Addison Improv, where tonight he begins a weekend-long engagement. Why? Because he loves it. 

"There's nothing like being in a space where I can go out and talk to people and experience my love for doing a new joke," Robinson says. 

Robinson got his start in comedy in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. After mentioning he wanted to do comedy and accepting a friend's challenge, he took the stage in an open mic show, "because I wanted to impress this girl," he says. He says when he was a kid he loved cracking jokes to his parents and finding creative ways to get a rise out of them. However, when he started, he didn't have a clue of how to structure a joke. 

"On my way down to the gig, I was trying to write jokes in the car, and thinking, 'How do you tell a joke and what do you do?'" Robinson says. "By any account, I should have never gotten on a stage again, but I had kind of an out-of-body experience. I was very comfortable up there and even though I was saying nothing, I was fine." 

He went on to work as a music teacher in the Chicago public school system and eventually found a way to incorporate his improvised keyboard talents into his act, a style that would become his trademark. Some of his first television appearances on HBO and Comedy Central show him sitting behind his keyboard giving hilarious performances, both solo and with actor and comedian Jerry Minor as the R&B duo L. Witherspoon and Chuckie. 


"I started doing stand-up probably three times without the keyboard and the last time I did it without the keyboard, I was at a place called Hecklers' Heaven," Robinson says. "You had three minutes where nobody bothered you, but after three minutes, someone would ring a bell, and in the

crowd, 

if someone wanted to, they could throw a rubber chicken at you. I got two and I

was

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like, 'That's it.'" 

The musical side of Robinson's comedy not only gave him an edge over comics who just talked into a microphone but it also made him feel more at ease and comfortable in front of an audience, he says. 

"When I was in college, I started messing around doing things with the keyboard making people laugh and stuff," Robinson says. "It dawned on me to incorporate the stuff I was doing there onto the stage. Now I take my keyboard wherever I go and I'm at home." 

Of course, having a familiar face also doesn't hurt. 

"It's like you're everybody's friend," Robinson says about people recognizing him from The Office.

He's also become a familiar fixture in movies thanks to the on-screen chemistry he's developed with Seth Rogen, who, along with writing and directing partner Evan Goldberg, gave Robinson one of his funniest roles in the 2013 celebrity apocalypse comedy This is the End

Robinson says he loves working with Rogen and company because they give their cast more freedom to play with the material than most filmmakers.

"One day when we were shooting This is the End, Seth had us do the dialogue, and we went around the table. They had to shoot again because there was so much stuff to record," Robinson says. "When you've got a big studio and a big cast and can do extra takes, it's cool. But for the most part, you can't just let the camera go and go because you're on a tight schedule." 

Robinson has started to take on new challenges, like his upcoming role on season two of USA's Mr. Robot and a coming-of-age film, Morris from America, where he plays a father to a teenage boy who experiences culture shock when the family moves to Germany. The film got stellar reviews when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and Robinson even won a special jury prize for his performance. 

"It made sense and I loved the script," Robinson says. "I loved the relationship between the father and son and I got to go to Germany. I think comedy has prepared me for drama. You need both. You've got to be able to be serious for the jokes to work, and if something's too heavy, you've got to be able to rap your way out of it." 


Of course, he says he'll probably never get tired of doing his own shows because that's when he has the most creative control. 

"It doesn't feel like work once I'm up there doing my thing," Robinson say. "This is like one of the things I have full control over. I'm the writer, director and producer of my stand-up shows. It's one of the most fun things I do." 

Craig Robinson will perform this weekend at the Addison Improv, 4980 Belt Line Road, No. 25,  with two shows at 8 and 10:30 p.m. tonight, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $32-$42 at addisonimprov.com.


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