Craig Robinson was a music teacher turned stand-up comedian when he broke through as deadpan warehouse foreman Darryl Philbin in the first season of The Office. He landed a string of high-profile bit parts, turning in scene-stealing performances as a shamed doorman in Knocked Up, a homicidal goon in Pineapple Express, and a jerky big-league slugger in Eastbound and Down. He’s now worked his way into co-star status in Hollywood with this week’s Hot Tub Time Machine, in which he plays one of a group of friends given a chance for redemption when they’re magically transported back to the eighties in a yeah, you get it. Robinson spoke with Vulture about Time Cop, adjectives, and how to best enjoy a gifting suite.
What’s your best hot-tub memory?
I once ate olives in a hot tub with a nice young lady. It was interesting. I think it was my first hot-tub experience. It was this place in Chicago: You can go downtown and get in a hot tub. They got hot-tub rooms. Now that I think about it, it was kind of disgusting. But yeah, that happened.
What’d you think when you first heard the name of the movie?
I’m the guy who saw the title and was like, okay, I got to see what this is about. I have that silliness in me.
Did the cast do any bonding exercises before shooting?
Doing the movie we went to a small ski town in British Columbia, called Fernie, B.C. It was out of season, so it’s more of a ghost town. It was a beautiful place, but in the woods, and the snow, and darkness, it felt like The Shining sometimes. We all kind of hung out, and we just chatted, and played the piano and sang. And during filming, of course, there’s so much downtime and you’re with people so silly … I gotta stop saying “silly.” Give me an adjective.
Uh … goofy?
Yeah, that’s good. Hold on, I’m getting a call. That was my agent. I just dissed my agent for you, Amos. Anyway, bits are bound to come up, and we came up with stuff. There was a comedy club down the street from the hotel called Yuk Yuk, in beautiful downtown Vancouver. Rob [Corddry] and I went down there one night and we did a bit that we just made up that day, to do in front of a crowd. Corddy got up and I introduced him, I say, “A lot of people don’t know that Corddry can impersonate anybody.” And then he would do a horrible impersonation of Jack Nicholson, or whoever, and as he did the impersonation, he would say things about the people: “Blah blah blah, I’m Jack Nicholson, I got a lot of movies.” You have to have Rob do it.
Your co-star John Cusack’s not a comedian. Was he able to keep up with you guys?
Of course not! What are you, kidding? We are trained in comedy! Nah … John is gonna surprise a lot of people in this movie. His character is still the lovable handsome dude, so he can only be so funny. But he got silly … oh, I said it again. Give me another one.
Can you just finish the interview for me? Okay, wacky. Definitely tapped into his wacky side. Everybody popped off.
Are you a fan of the time-travel genre?
Back to the Future, Time Cop … actually, I’m not sure I ever saw that one. We all think about it — what if we were in that time as dinosaurs, or as cavemen. What would you do? I love that genre. I love that I have my time-travel movie. It’s like, going through the checklist — now I have my time-travel movie.
You make the Michael Jackson joke in the trailer. Was there any talk about taking that out after his death?
I brought it up, but they were like, “No, go back to your trailer.“ That was about as far as it went.
What’d you think of The Office birth?
Didn’t see it.
Oh, you don’t watch the episodes you’re not in?
I do. It’s just, I’m busy. Amos, I’m running, I’m hosting Last Comic Standing. Who has time to sit down and watch television? Not to mention all these hos. Nah, just kidding. Should I answer something? That scene was amazing.
We did a slideshow of celebrities in gift suites, and we found a lot of photos of you online. What’s your mindset when you’re picking up swag?
Oh, man. You go in there, there’s so many products for women, eye cream and stuff, so I’ll gift the gift from the gifting suite. I go in hoping to get a foot rub and maybe some gym shoes. And then if I can get a manicure and a shave, why not? It’s mind-boggling: You walk in here and somebody escorts you around and gives you these nice things.