Cole Blooded Comedy
Deon Cole took a dare and hasn't looked back since
The comedy path taken by Deon Cole is a series of gradual, organic steps. His trajectory ignited one night at a comedy club in Chicago when a friend bet him $50 to perform at an open mic showcase. Since then, the burly comic/actor has landed prime gigs on Def Comedy Jam, Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show, Angie Tribeca, Black-ish, a number of supporting roles in films ("Barbershop," and the upcoming "The Female Brain") and comedy specials.
His latest project, The Standups is slated for a July 4 debut from Netflix Originals. The half-hour series features Cole and five other popular comics including Beth Stelling, Nikki Glaser, Nate Bargatze, Dan Soder and Fortune Feimster.
The busy Cole discussed his career with INsite early one morning via cell from his home in Los Angeles.
You have enough going on for four people. Thanks for taking some time to talk with us.
(Laughs) Yeah, man. It's a blessing because I remember when I had nothin' to do, so I don't complain.
The Standups premiers this month. You're in good company with some great upcoming comics.
They went and got who they thought would be special for this special, to kick off a brand new show. I was honored they chose me to be a part of it.
Let's talk about your road to comedy. It's a little bit more organic than some of your fellow comedians.
Absolutely. It's been a lot of just reaching one by one and going at it at my own pace and it's ended up paying off.
And you started just on a dare from a friend?
Yeah, he bet me $50 that I wouldn't do it. I did it and never looked back.
When you got up there, how did it feel? Were you nervous to be onstage?
You know how you feel when you go home and you go, "Ahh, I'm home," right? It was kinda like that. It was, "Ok, I'm here." After everything that I've tried before that, it just seemed like this is what I'm here for.
Getting a following in your hometown of Chicago isn't easy. That's a tough comedy town.
Yeah, Chicago is a comedy town and it prides itself on originality, uniqueness and character. It's instilled in us to go above and beyond those who came before us. It's a great scene.
You said a while back that people in the arts sort of got a pass from the tough element of the streets of Chicago.
Well, let's put it like this. You get a grace period. I think the larger you are, the bigger your grace period is. But after that grace period, I don't care who you are, you better bring it. Whoever you are - Seinfeld, Dick Gregory, whoever - you'd better bring it.
Def Jam is another tough scene for comedy.
It was tough for me because I was like a comic's comic, if you know what I mean. I didn't think a lot of people really picked up on what I was doing. I was big on going against the grain and being out of the ordinary but I didn't fit their mold at that time. So it was hard for me. I knew in my heart what I was supposed to be doing and it wasn't that.
But that period forced you to write more material, right?
I went home from the Def Jam tour because I didn't have enough material and so I just starting writing and writing. I didn't even know what I was doing. Anything I thought was funny, I'd write it down. I wasn't calling myself a writer or anything like that. I didn't even know about the title "writer." I was just observing everything.
Those observations led to Conan.
When I had more material, I started doing showcases and got a manager. Finally I met a guy who worked with Conan when he was doing the Tonight Show. He loved my work and the rest is history.
Conan hired you as a writer.
Ironically, he didn't even know I wrote. He liked my stand-up so I didn't have to submit anything or do any interviews or anything. It changed my life.
That led to your own show in the summer of 2013.
I had a show on TBS ["Deon Cole's Black Box"] Great show. It came on right after Conan and they were trying to get me to be Daniel Tosh, but I was like I can't be Danny Tosh. It just didn't make any sense to me because I was dealing with topical stuff, things that were going on the news.
Fast forward to Black-ish. You were hired as a writer before you joined the cast.
Yeah, I went over there to write while I was waiting on the show with Steve Carrell to start. The guy who was supposed to play Charlie didn't show up and since I was writing for him and understood the character, they asked me to do it.
You said you didn't consider yourself as a "writer" early on; did you consider yourself an "actor" as well?
I'd always wanted to act since I was a kid. I kinda looked at comedy as a way to get the acting thing going, so when the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer. I'd been auditioning for a long time but I never got any parts I was up for, still to this day.
Just let 'em come to you, right?
Man, that's how it's been my whole career. From Blackish to Angie Tribeca to Conan to Barbershop, it's always been offsides. Somebody goes, "Yo, we like what you do, let's rock."
That's so rare.
Yeah it is, it shouldn't be but a lot of times people just want what's safe. They want a black face or a white face or a green face or whatever they want. But they don't want the voice inside. But when they listen and go, "You know, we really like what you've got to say." So it's cool for people who do things outside of the box. "We like what you do and we want to rock with that," as opposed to "Do what I say, just say what I write," and that kind of stuff. It works so much better for everyone when that happens.
With artistic freedom, your own unique character can shine through.
Yeah but a lot of people don't see it that way. They see it like, do it my way and I'll make you a star. Instead of letting the star that person already is make them a star. It's like, "Ok, do what you do and bring yourself to the table and when you do that, it'll make me look good, too." That's the best way to do it.
Deon Cole performs July 14-16 at Atlanta Comedy Theater. For tickets, visit atlcomedytheater.com.