By all accounts, it should be next to impossible to get Deon Cole on the phone.
The incredibly prolific comedian and actor has a formidable portfolio of projects: ABC’s Black-ish, TBS’ Angie Tribeca, as well as BET’s forthcoming game show Face Value and Freeform’s highly anticipated Black-ish spinoff College-ish. And even amidst this heavy workload, he still finds time to write, travel, and tour, the result of which debuted on July 4th on Netflix’s six-episode showcase series The Standups.
Robbie Praw, formerly of Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival and now at Netflix, was instrumental in getting Cole on The Standups. Cole shared as we chatted ahead of the half-hour special’s release: “He had a new thing he wanted to try out, and said, ‘Let me get together a group of comedians who I really respect.’” Originally hesitant about doing a recording so soon after 2016’s Comedy Central hour Cole-Blooded Seminar, he later warmed to the idea, intoxicated by the marketing power and excitement that a presence on Netflix’s slate can generate.
“A lot of people do specials on Netflix and you don’t even know they’re on there until you see them in the suggestions. This is something that Netflix will be promoting, that’s theirs…for me to go on Netflix and give them thirty minutes and still get the same results, I thought that it’d be great to do.” Cole’s half-hour will debut alongside sets from Nikki Glaser, Nate Bargatze, Beth Stelling, and others.
Cole’s Standups special differs sharply in style of composition from Cole-Blooded Seminar; while his hour takes the form of a hilarious, but informative motivational speech, he takes the stage in The Standups with a pen and paper ready to workshop some ideas. In truth, those presented with the opportunity to see him live are more likely to see something akin to this half hour. “It’s a different style of comedy, one I’ve done my entire career. I did it on The Tonight Show, and Conan. In fact, Cole Blooded Seminar was out of my realm a little bit.“
He goes on to acknowledge the role that his TV work plays in bringing people to his stand up sets. “A lot of people didn’t even know I did stand up, they just say ‘Oh, that’s that guy from Black-ish.’”
As he’s learned to juggle the many roles and career opportunities that come his way, he’s learning to appreciate the space each occupies in his repertoire:
“Acting, to me, is an escape. It’s something totally different. It’s me escaping, doing something else, being someone different. Stand up is more therapeutic. It’s something I like to do, sharing things on my mind. It’s totally different, the way I approach both situations. I treat them totally different. The way I am around my mom ain’t the way I’m around my girl!”
(I tried to force a distinction – “Which one’s your mom and which one’s your girl?” – but he doesn’t know. “I knew as soon as I said that, you were going to ask me,” he laughed.)
A third suitor – hosting – is about to enter Cole’s life, via the Wanda Sykes-produced Face Value. Slated to run for 24 episodes, the show attaches monetary value to the assumptions we make about each other on a daily basis. “Face Value is an unapologetic TV show. It’s all about profiling people for money.” Cole met Sykes during her arc on Black-ish, but while she knew she wanted him for the show, he was less sure at first. And at second. Sykes actually had to ask him three times before he finally accepted, and he’s now excited to see how viewers will respond to the project. “It’s nothing that’s gonna change the world, but if you wanna laugh and have a good time…we all do it! We all judge people, every day. It’s just a show about that, it’s funny to see how people think about people when they see them.”
In contrast to the sometimes frivolous Face Value, Cole describes College-ish as a show that’s “going to be very important.” Following the eldest of Black-ish’s Johnson children, Zoey, to college, it’s already being framed as the natural successor to The Cosby Show’s original spinoff A Different World. “I believe, and I hope it is, as far as getting a lot of kids that [weren’t] even thinking about going to college, making them think about going to college. We want that same type of vibe- people wanting to go to school and getting an education, as well as being funny!” There, Cole will reprise his role as Charlie Telphy, Zoey’s father’s colleague and adjunct professor at the university. But despite seeing more of Charlie across the two shows, don’t expect to learn more about his highly enigmatic character. I aimed to get answers for one of the series’ most enduring questions – how old is Charlie? – but had no luck. By the character’s admission, he’s “anywhere between 39 and 72,” and Cole kept up the mystery (“He’s grown! How about that?”).
Expect to see much more of Cole and his many onscreen personas this fall and winter when Black-ish and Angie Tribeca resume, followed by College-ish and Face Value in 2018. In the meantime, settle in and watch one of the hardest working men in this business work on The Standups. It’s your best chance to see this chameleon of an actor and comic playing the role of himself.