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Craig Robinson Has Long Trained for His Moment As No. 1

Craig Robinson. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

On The Office, after Steve Carell left, there was a bit of an art-imitating-life quality to the show, as both Dunder Mifflin Scranton and the show itself were looking to fill the void. For a moment, Darryl and, in turn, Craig Robinson were considered. And though he didn’t get the job (which Robinson didn’t want), it was clear, especially considering his run of breakout film roles, he was ready to be a No. 1. Though some opportunities have come and gone (like his short-lived, semi-autobiographical Mr. Robinson), he takes the status and power of being the top guy seriously. Most recently, he is No. 1 on Killing It, Peacock’s new snake-killing, American Dream comedy.

On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Robinson talks about Killing It, his Def Comedy Jam premiere, the joys of performing and playing music, and being part of one of the greatest comedy bloopers of all time. You can read an excerpt from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

On Creating a State of Play When He’s Performing

When you’re playing, you’re open and you’re living. I want everybody to come and act like we’re in kindergarten. As a schoolteacher, I would tell a 5-year-old, “Okay, come sing.” “I can’t sing.” “You’re 5! What are you talking about? How do you know?” My point is, if you’re being playful and you’re just in the shower singing, you’re not thinking about how you can’t sing — you’re just singing. So I want the audience to get to that part of life where you just come in and forget whatever you’re going through, because we’re here to play and have some fun.

When I am with the band, I feel like I can fly — like being at an Earth, Wind & Fire concert. Sometimes I’m a straight musician, sometimes I’m doing comedy and music, sometimes it’s straight comedy and the band is quiet. It’s all-encompassing. It’s the best — just the freedom of all of that. I’ve cried directing the band. One time we were doing “Nessun Dorma” and I just burst into tears. I’m sure people are like, “Whoa, we didn’t pay for this.” But it was all right. There are moments where my emotions get the best of me while conducting and performing, and that’s incredible.

On Mr. Robinson’s Cancellation

At that point, I was grateful. It was a new experience because we got the ratings. Up to that point, everything was about ratings, and we had these incredible ratings. There was an article that tried to make us look bad. I’m not going to say publication — people say it is a racist publication — but I’ll put it like this: Halle Berry had a show called Extant, and they were raving about what her show did. Let’s say her show got a 0.7 and then she retained half the audience. And my show got like a 1.0, and the second episode retained the whole audience. But they didn’t report any of that; they just said, “Craig Robinson’s show got this.” We also followed the Super Bowl and people stayed to watch the show, and I was like, Oh great. This is about ratings. But the network was like [singing] “Womp, womp.”

But I wasn’t worried about other opportunities. I’ve always been glad to get the opportunities that I got. Now, I’ll tell you when I did think a show was going to keep going: We did a show called Lucky on FX, and it was like my first big thing. John Corbett was the lead of the show. Billy Gardell and I were partners on it, and I couldn’t have had a better partner to baptize me into that part of business. When I tell you every critic gave it a positive review … I probably had 30 newspaper clippings of critics: “Lucky is the best thing since sliced bread.” “Bring on more Buddy LeGenre.” Hit after hit after hit. And I was at the premiere party for Nip/Tuck, and the president of FX looked me square in the face and said, “You guys got nothing to worry about.” I was like, Oh oh oh! I spent every dime.

My manager called: “Hey, sorry, man, they’re letting go of the show.” Then the two brothers who created the show — Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen — call me separately: “Hey, man, just letting you know …” By the time Billy Gardell called, I was like, “I HEARD ALREADY!” But I was literally sitting there, holding my chair, like, How?

I couldn’t let that moment happen to me again. Everything has to be appreciated. I enjoy the moment, and whatever happens is beyond my control.

On Being No. 1 on the Call Sheet

I studied Steve Carell. I’ve been blessed to see how the No. 1’s work — Larry David when I was on Curb for an episode; on The Bernie Mac Show, I got to see Bernie. They’ve all been majorly gracious, they make time for everybody, and they’re brilliant. They know how to mine scenes for gold. From the top down, it was always dope. I feel like I was trained to come in and be No. 1. It’s never been, I must be No. 1 on the call sheet. It’s just like, Okay, this is where I’m at. I’m ready for this.

On His Blooper Eastdown & Down Scenes With Will Ferrell

Did you see “Bat Fight?” That came out of that moment. But yeah, I remember standing there, trying to keep it together. I’m busting a brain vessel trying to stare in the face and eyes of Danny McBride, while Will Ferrell is deliberately trying to murder us, trying to ruin the take. You know, talking about [doing the voice], “My plums have a bluish hue. Sun dancing off them just right. And my son Gabriel!” like he was. You got to understand this was all new, fresh stuff — like, what the frick?! And he’s laughing and checking in on us. Oh man, it was a beautiful day of laughter. But I felt horrible. I was trying, man. I was trying so hard. Tears came down my eyes.

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Craig Robinson Has Long Trained for His Moment As No. 1