Interview Date: 06/28/2010
Run Date: 07/05/2010
Craig Robinson has spent much of the past several years being known predominantly for his work as warehouse supervisor Darryl Philbin on NBC’s “The Office.” Lately, however, he seems to be turning up in a new movie every time you turn around, all of which are pretty damned funny. No, really: his list of credits includes “Knocked Up,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” “Fanboys,” “Pineapple Express,” “Zack and Miri Make A Porno,” and “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” Most recently, Robinson turned up as one of the leads in the brilliantly titled “Hot Tub Time Machine,” now available on DVD. Bullz-Eye’s own David Medsker was in Lake Tahoe for the film’s press junket and participated in a roundtable with Robinson and co-stars Clark Duke and Rob Corddry, but that didn’t stop us from taking the opportunity to chat one on one with Robinson about his “Hot Tub” experience and some of the other work he’s done over the years.
Craig Robinson: Hey, Will, how’s it going?
Bullz-Eye: Good, man. How’s it going with you?
CR: Oh, I’m pretty good, man, thank you very much.
BE: Absolutely. Well, my buddy David was actually at the Tahoe function you guys did for the press junket.
CR: Oh, man. He had a great time, then!
BE: He did. In fact, he specifically called you out in his piece about it. He said, “Craig Robinson was pretty much the fucking man all weekend, approachable and having the time of his life.”
CR: Yep. That’s kind of how it goes. (Laughs) We had a blast, for sure.
BE: Well, I’ve seen the film, and…within moments of turning up onscreen, your character is wrist deep in a dog’s ass. Was that the point when you were sold on the film, or did it take until Nick was sprayed with urine when Lou removed his catheter?
CR: (Laughs) Well, to tell you the truth, that scene was a…what do you call it? Not a reshoot, but an added thing. We were done filming, and then we went back and added some stuff later on.
BE: So how did you find your way into the film, then?
CR: I was contacted. I mean, my manager and agent were, like, “Hey, man, they’re looking at you for this movie, so let us know if you’re interested.” I read it, and after I got up off the floor from rolling around and laughing, I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m in.”
BE: Was it one of those cases where, as soon as you saw the title, you knew it had potential?
BE: So had you worked with anyone from the cast of the film prior to this?
CR: No, I met everybody when we got there, pretty much. I did a show, and Cusack and (director) Steve Pink came out with some of the producers, and they saw me doing music comedy and stuff, and they said, “We’re gonna make Nick a musician.” And then we had a meeting of all the talent and ended up brainstorming stuff, and that’s when I met Corddry. I didn’t meet Clark until…I think it was a writer meeting.
BE: Did you guys have a pretty good chemistry from the get-go?
CR: Oh, yeah. We knew very quickly that it was gonna be special.
BE: So what were you doing in the mid-‘80s?
CR: I was in high school. I went to high school in ’85.
BE: Speaking of school, I know you started out in education, but how did you make the transition from that field into comedy?
CR: Well, I started doing comedy in college. I really caught the bug, and so when I graduated, I was just trying to figure out how to do stuff. I hadn’t done any…no, wait, maybe I had. Well, anyway, I hadn’t done many open-mike nights. Whatever. But I was teaching, and there was this librarian who appeared really mean…he never spoke, and he was this older dude…and I was cool with his assistant, but every time I saw him, I got a little scared. (Laughs) But one day, he overheard me saying that I wanted to do comedy, and his wife was general manager at this restaurant in Indiana, which is where I was teaching at the time, and he said, “They have a comedy night there on Saturday night.” And he sent me out there, and I became the host there. I would teach and then I would do that on Saturday night, and I’d do open mikes during the week. I was taking classes at Second City, and I was taking acting classes, so the transition was…it wasn’t a tough one, but I was definitely plotting.
BE: I usually ask people who are part of the Second City fraternity if they have a favorite story about an alumnus who came back to visit.
CR: I was in the training program. I never made the main stage…but I never tried out, either. (Laughs) Let me see. Avery Schreiber came back and taught a class one time.
BE: Is he the only one who leaps to mind?
CR: That’s all I got!
BE: How did you and Jerry Minor first cross paths?
(Writer’s note: Robinson and Minor had an act called L. Witherspoon and Chucky.)
CR: I met Jerry at Second City. I think he was part of the Detroit touring company or something, and we met in passing, and then we hooked up again back in L.A..
BE: So what made you guys decide to go the musical route with your comedy?
CR: Well, Jerry said, “Man, I got an idea I want to do.” And he knew I played and sang, so he pitched the idea about… (Lowers voice and slurs words slightly) …”Somebody Is Fucking My Lady”… (Returns to normal speaking voice) ..and then we went from there. I wrote the music, but he had the concept of, like, getting a phone call.
BE: (Laughs) Uh, you know, I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter, so I’m sometimes prone to adjusting my volume like that, too. Is that your situation right now?
CR: (Laughs) There’s a little girl right next to me. I’m at a sushi restaurant.
BE: How rough was it in “Hot Tub” doing the sex scene with Jessica Pare?
CR: It was rough, man. It was rough. (Starts to laugh) Nah, it was fun, man. I kept it professional, surprisingly. Yeah, it was good times. She’s great.
BE: Was it at all awkward?
CR: Nah. Well, there was this one moment. Wait a second, let me finish my miso. (The sound of soup being eaten is suddenly audible.) There was this one moment where the boom guy…see, it was a closed set, so only the people who need to be in there are in there: the director, the DP, the boom guy, me, and Jessica, and the lighting people. So Jessica was just about to disrobe…we were in the tub…and they were, like, “Ready!” And she took off whatever was covering her in the tub. And somebody asked the boom guy a question just as she was disrobing, and all he could say was, “Yesssssss…” He could only whisper. I didn’t make a joke about it, though. I was just, like, “Okay, Craig, keep it cool, keep it together…”
BE: The DVD has a lot of deleted scenes, showing how many different takes that Rob did of the blow job scene and that you did when you were calling the 9-year-old version of your wife. I take it they encouraged ad-libbing on the set?
CR: Did you see “dark and angry”?
BE: (Laughs) I did.
CR: Oh, good. I’m so glad that’s out to the world now. Yeah, absolutely, they encouraged ad-libbing. That’s all they wanted. They wanted us to play around with it and make these characters our own as much as possible.
BE: How far into the proceedings did they pick “Jessie’s Girl” as the song you were doing to sing? Or was that something that was already in the script?
CR: No, we had to figure out the songs, between getting them cleared and what I knew and what would pop. We had probably eight meetings on that.
BE: What were some of the other contenders?
CR: Um…oh, gosh, we recorded several. There was a Eurythmics song that Cusack really, really wanted that never got it, but I can’t even think of it.
BE: Was it “Sweet Dreams”?
CR: No, not “Sweet Dreams.” It was more…I dunno, it wasn’t as big as “Sweet Dreams.” It was maybe their fifth or sixth biggest song. Gosh, we actually recorded a few, but, dude, I am blanking like crazy right now. “Sexual Healing” was one. But that’s all I remember. Sorry!
BE: It’s cool! So I just read that Steve Carell made it official that he’s planning to leave “The Office” after this upcoming season.
CR: He did?
BE: Yeah, apparently he said so while walking the carpet for the premiere of “Despicable Me.”
BE: Can you forsee an “Office” without Steve?
CR: Yeah. I don’t know how long… (Laughs) …but there’s a lot of talent on that show, so I can see them giving us a shot.
BE: Were you surprised at the direction Darryl’s storyline took last season, with him getting the promotion?
CR: Yeah, that was surprising. I was, like, “Okay, this is fantastic…” It was great, especially the way I went up. Kathy Bates? Come on! My manager was, like, “Hey, they’re talking about moving you up in ‘The Office.’” Of course, that means more work. I had kind of the sweetest job in Hollywood, being on “The Office,” going in and working for three hours… (Laughs) …and then the rest of my week was free! But this is for the better. (Hesitates) Please don’t let Greg Daniels read that.
BE: How has it been hosting “Last Comic Standing”? And how did you get that gig?
CR: I just got the call. And it’s been great. Everybody over there has been fantastic, and we’ve just been having fun, trying out stuff. And I’ve been meeting the comics, ‘cause I know a bunch of them, and then I’m meeting a bunch of them, so it’s, like, new friendships.
BE: You’ve obviously done a lot of small roles in a lot of big films. Which one tends to be brought up to you the most?
CR: The bouncer from “Knocked Up.” That’s the quintessential one. People forever remember me from that. It’s nice. They’ll quote lines, and if I’ve had a few, I’ll be right along with ‘em. (Laughs) They’ll be tripping out. We’ll be doing a monologue.
BE: Has anyone ever asked you to sing “Jump Little Children,” from “Walk Hard”?
CR: No. That has never happened. Ever. (Laughs)
BE: Did you enjoy that film?
CR: Oh, yeah. I loved being a part of that. That was actually Jerry Minor’s part, but he got that TV show, “Carpoolers,” and he just could not do it. So we were filming “Pineapple Express,” and Shawna Robinson was, like, “Do you want to do us a favor?” “Uh, of course.” So I had to go in there, learn the music, record it the next day, and perform it the day after.
BE: What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
CR: Um…I can’t say that there’s one. I thought “Walk Hard” would’ve done a lot better, but I can’t really say. I’m one of those people who’s, like, “What’s happening is what’s happening, and we’re on the road we’re on.” I’m happy and proud of all of ‘em.
BE: Were you surprised that “Lucky” didn’t do better? Because I enjoyed that show.
CR: Oh, now, there you go. I was assured that we were going to get another season of “Lucky,” and that was just…that was a shocker.
BE: How was John Corbett to work with?
CR: Corbett’s great. Corbett was cool. He’s, like, a Southern boy, so he liked to kick it. He was fun, he’s smart, and he was in “Sex in the City,” so, man, we would go places and women would swoon over this dude. You hear me? Swooned. You ever seen a woman swoon? Because they swooned. We went to a club in Vegas…it was, like, our premiere or whatever…and Corbett was at the front, and there was 200 people behind him that came from the premiere and this little in-between thing with drinks and hors oeuvres, and we were going upstairs to the club at the Palms Hotel, and the guy was, like, “How many people you got with you?” And Corbett pointed to all 200 people…and they let us all in. And I was, like, “Okay, that just happened.” Corbett is the man.
BE: Oh, and I meant to ask you: how did you end up in the video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Hump de Bump”?
CR: Chris Rock saw a real advanced screening of “Knocked Up,” and he was standing outside the Improv, and I walked up, and he said, “Yo, you are funny. I got something for you. You’ll be hearing about it.” And lo and behold, I got contacted. He was directing the video, and he put me in it.
CR: Yeah, that was, like, unbelievable. (Laughs) I mean, I was, like, walking out of the Improv, going home, and there’s Chris Rock, all, like, “You funny!”
BE: Well, I know we’re up against the wall here, but what do you have coming up? I read one place that you were going to be in “The Other Guys,” but it’s not on your IMDb page.
CR: No, no, that’s been erroneously reported. (Laughs) I was never in it. I think a reporter was talking to (Adam) McKay one time and, like, the reporter said, “Hey, what about Craig Robinson?” And McKay, out of respect, was, like, “Hey, yeah, that’s a good idea!” And then the reporter was, like, “If Craig Robinson is in this movie, then you have me to thank for it!” And all of a sudden, it got picked up that I was in it! And when it got to the point when Damon Wayans, Jr. got signed, it was all, like, “He has replaced Craig Robinson in ‘The Other Guys.’” I was, like, “What?” So, no, that never, ever happened. But I do have a movie coming out with Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, and Virginia Madsen called “Father of Invention,” with Johnny Knoxville. And, then, y’know, “Shrek Forever After” is in theaters now. We got “Last Comic Standing,” then “The Office” is coming back, and I play Cleveland’s father on “The Cleveland Show.” Oh, and… (Lowers voice) …”The Pretender.” Look out for that next year sometime. Shhhhhh…that’s on the hush-hush.
BE: (Laughs) I didn’t hear a thing.
CR: (Laughs) Nah, you can put that out there. I need to get the word out about that!
BE: Cool, man. Well, look, it’s been good talking to you. I met you for, like, five seconds when I took the “Office” set tour last year with the TCA…
CR: Oh, dig it!
BE: …so it’s nice to actually get to talk to you at a little bit of length.CR: Thank you. Take care, brother!