Comedian Craig Robinson and his funk band, The Nasty Delicious, are on their way to Brisbane for a night of laughs and jams.
Best known for his role as Darryl Philbin in the US version of The Office, Craig has also had memorable roles in cult comedy favourites like This is the End, Hot Tub Time Machine, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express.
But he’s got real musical talent, too. He can play the hell out of a keyboard, and he actually worked as a music teacher before making it as an entertainer.
If you’ve seen much of Craig’s work on-screen, then there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already seen him show off his musical chops.
The Nasty Delicious appeared with him in an episode of The Office; he performed two songs on the Hot Tub Time Machine soundtrack; and who could forget his musical ode to Rihanna, Take Yo Panties Off, in This is the End?
Robinson is coming to our city in June for a night of music and comedy, so we thought we’d get him on the phone and get it poppin’.
Hey, Craig, how are you?
I am phenomenal. But I’m a little shook up, actually. I’ll be honest. I’ve just learned that weed is not legal in Australia, and I also can’t take any pets there, or take fruit from state to state. What am I supposed to do in Australia, Rohan?
I don’t know, man! It used to be cool to bring pets here, but then Johnny Depp tried it and now it’s just not cool anymore.
Dang it! Anyway, I’m sure that’s not what you called to talk about.
Not really, no. You’re coming out here with your band, The Nasty Delicious, which we’re super excited about.
That’s good to hear!
Is it stand-up? Is it music? How would you describe the show to people who haven’t seen it?
That is a good question, sir. I’m usually inebriated, so I don’t know exactly what the show’s like.
But I’ll tell you this — there’s plenty of laughter and there’s plenty of singing and there’s plenty of dancing for everybody. The audience will be expected to participate, you will be expected to participate, and keep the love alive. We’ll come in, I’ll say some things, the band will play some things… it’s all about the moment. It’s all about us connecting. Forget the act! Let’s connect and party together.
What came first for you? Were you a musician who was also a bit funny, or were you a comedian who got into music?
Music came first, I think. It’s really hard to say, because my mother is the funniest person in my family, but she also happens to be the most talented musician in the world. Before I was born, she was playing instruments and singing, so that’s in my blood. But so is comedy, because she’s also very funny.
But music is what I really started to get into, before I developed a comedy instinct. One of my earliest memories was being with my grandmother when my mother and father were at work, and I’d be banging on the piano, just going up and down the piano banging on it, and I’d run into the kitchen and I’d ask, ‘How did that sound, grandma?’ And she’d always say, ‘It sounds beautiful, baby’, so I was encouraged to go back and bang on it some more.
I thought I was playing something, but I look back and realise I had no idea what I was doing. I was just banging on the piano, and my grandmother was sweet enough to call it beautiful.
One of my earliest memories of actually improvising and doing ‘comedy’ was when my father had me reading The Three Little Pigs to him. As I was reading, I said the wolf blew down the wooden house or whatever he did, and then instead of just saying the pig ran away, I said the pig put on his gym shoes and ran away. That just cracked my father up. He’d call over my mother, like, ‘Craig, tell her what you just said! Say it again!’ So I’d explain to her, ‘Well, of course he put on his gym shoes. They didn’t put that in the book, but let me just throw it in there.’ So that was my earliest improv.
Did you realise pretty early on, then, that you were going to be a performer?
No, it took me until I got to college to figure that out. That’s when comedy chose me. I thought I was going to be a musician. And then comedy came in like, ‘Well, check this out, homie, you got some silliness you need to get out’. Then I realised I could put the two together, music and comedy, and that was all she wrote. I was on my way. Because not many people were doing that, especially the way I do it.
You were a teacher for a while – did you see that as a stopgap on your way to the entertainment industry?
I did, I definitely saw it as a stopgap. I knew I had to cultivate my comedy and figure out how to do that. For some reason, I always remember Sinbad saying it takes four years to become a comedian. So I think I had that in the back of my mind. I just kept at it, and I kept getting these signs I was headed in the right direction. I got invited to Montreal, I won a couple of contests, things were happening that were kind of amazing.
So I taught, but I was working on my comedy as I was teaching. I was a bouncer at a nightclub at the same time. Well, I say ‘bouncer’, but I was the guy who would go and get the bigger guys and say, ‘Hey, they’re fightin’ over there’. So there was a lot going on in my mid 20s.
But it prepared me for today! I just got in from doing shows in Orlando – solo comedy shows, without my band – and before that, I was hanging out at Jazz Fest, and now I’m in New York, and this weekend I’m in Raleigh, North Carolina doing shows, and then I’ll be back in New York doing shows, then I’ll be going to Chicago for a film. Then I’ve got a week off, and then I’m on my way to you! So my experiences in my 20s prepared me to work hard. I was baptised in that.
Whenever anything good happened, I would see that as a sign of things to come. For instance, when I first got to LA, I wasn’t on any TV shows or anything, except for maybe, like, Def Comedy Jam back in the day, and then someone pulled up to me at the lights and said, ‘I love you, I love your show, we all love your show’. The guy just had so much love in his heart for whatever show he thought I was on. I just said ‘Thank you’, because he was convinced — whoever he thought I was, he was absolutely certain I was that person.
So I took that as a sign of things to come. One day I’ll be on a show, and it’ll be beloved, just like that. Sure enough, I got The Office. I also had my new show, Mr Robinson, but that got cancelled. But still, people loved it.
What did you see as your first big break? What was the first moment when you thought, ‘Hey, I’m doing this’?
I’m still waiting on that. But The Office was a pretty big deal. There was a show I was on before that called Lucky; that was my first show as a regular. It was a blast to shoot; I loved everybody on that show. That’s when I was like, ‘Okay, there are people who recognise I’m out here’.
But The Office… you never knew what was going to happen with that, because with TV, it doesn’t matter how well a show is doing, you never know if you’re going to get another year. So it was just this great feeling to get renewed every time, and to see Daryl rise and work his way through the ranks. One day I’ll reflect on it all and go, ‘Hey, that was fun!’
It’s pretty well established that American adaptations of British sitcoms usually suck. What made The Office work, aside from the fact that it had Craig Robinson in it?
Well, that’s very kind of you to say. And you’re right, a majority of those don’t work. But some do. Sanford and Son worked, All in the Family worked. And The Office worked.
The pilot episode was virtually a remake of the UK series, word for word, and it shouldn’t have worked. But it was one of those things… it felt like it was about real people. We weren’t the prettiest cast on TV, but we were real people you see at work. And we did real things! Anything was fodder for a cringe-worthy moment. And you had Steve Carell helming it.
You know, all the actors on there were amazing, and they would entertain you on a daily basis. So it was quite a surreal and amazing and blessed experience.
You mentioned that the characters were like real people. Do you miss Daryl? Do you sometimes wonder, ‘Hey, what would Daryl be doing now?’
No. There are enough people speculating about that on Twitter and stuff. But if I’m at a bar and The Office comes on, I’m glued to the TV. And I get real sentimental. All these little memories come flooding back… it’s a little overwhelming. It’s not like I’m breaking down crying, but something happens inside. And that’s when I miss it.
As far as your film roles go, you’re probably best known for the Hot Tub Time Machine movies. If you had a time machine, would you go forwards or backwards?
Ooh. Ooh. Oh, man… you know what? I would go backwards. Just to make the most of some missed opportunities. You know? Like, when you find out after you graduate that a girl liked you, and you’re like, ‘WHAT? They liked me?’ So I would go back for stuff like that.
And I would go back to stay in shape. That’s what I would do. I’d go back and say, ‘No, no, thank you, no Twinkies today’.
Another fun role for you was This is the End, where you played yourself. Well, an exaggerated version of yourself. Well, I hope it was exaggerated.
Ha! I was just about to say, ‘How do you know it was exaggerated?’ But yeah, that’s exactly what it was.
This is the End was… you know, we were just hanging out in New Orleans for three months filming that, entertaining each other and having a blast. It was very hot, and it was very, very… hot. It was very hot. But it was one of my dopest experiences in the movie game, just because of who was in it and because of what it turned out to be. I’m very proud of being in that movie and what we accomplished.
That movie had a huge cast, obviously, and you’ve worked with a truckload of A-list comic actors. Who’s the funniest person you’ve worked with?
David Alan Grier [Robinson’s co-star in the 2013 comedy Peeples]. You know I’ve worked with some funny people, but David Alan Grier is amazing. He is a gem of a performer. He just had me in stitches all the time. He’s one of those people who can make fun of you, and he’ll have you laughin’ at your own self. He’s one of those people, he’s always giving you the business. He’s that dude. The world is his stage.
Yeah. We’re just about out of time, but before we let you go — one of the stranger things in your filmography is Dragon Wars: D-War. I could be wrong about this, but I believe Dragon Wars is the top-grossing film of all time in South Korea.
Do you ever just fly over to South Korea to bask in that glory? Are you the Leo DiCaprio of South Korea?
Here’s the thing – I had a chance to go to South Korea this year, because I’m in this movie, Morris From America, and it’s doing the festival rounds. But I was booked for another gig, so I had to miss South Korea. I’ve got to figure out a time to get over there and do some work.
But man, that movie was crazy. They’d shot some of those dragon war scenes before I got involved, and they showed the footage to me and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about being in this movie?’ And I’m like, ‘This movie is insanely incredible! Yes, I’ll be in this!’
Thanks for taking the time to talk. We can’t wait to see you in Australia.
I can’t wait to shake your hand and say hello. Thank you, buddy.
Craig Robinson & The Nasty Delicious play Max Watt’s (125 Boundary Street, West End) on
Tuesday 21 June. Tickets are available now at wearenice.com.au.
UPDATE: This show has been delayed. Craig Robinson & The Nasty Delicious will play Max Watt’s on Friday 16 December; tickets for the original date are valid for the new show.