Perhaps you’ve heard of Craig Robinson. You’ve certainly seen him -- between The Office, turns in Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, Hot Tub Time Machin\e -- plus guest appearances on pretty much every single successful sitcom of the past decade or so -- he’s totally “that guy” these days. You know, “that funny guy,” “that bouncer guy,” even "that black guy" (groan, racial identifiers). But when we chatted over the phone a few weeks ago in anticipation of his upcoming stand up show at Cobb’s Comedy Club (starts Thurs/27), the turbo calm Robinson let me know that “hey man, where do I know you from?” is only the second most popular line he’s approached with these days.
“They ask me, ‘can we make love?’ ” he deadpans. Right. Wasn't expecting that. And then laughs as I scrabble together a follow up question. “No, the number one is ‘hey you’re that guy!’ ”
Robinson’s been playing the comic foil for some time now. He got his start in stand up at Chicago’s Second City, perfecting an dry act that featured the big man sitting down at a piano for little forays into melodic riffing. Despite his triumph on the big and little screens, he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel with it. “My act is unchanged. I’m not looking for new stuff. My fans are going to love that I’m still doing it, and the people who are, like oh I’ve seen it, well hopefully they won’t come.”
His characters have typically been back up players -- the overly honest bouncer in Knocked Up, Darryl the warehouse manager of The Office -- but they’re far from overshadowed by his more famous co stars. Robinson’s roles tear holes in standard power structures, makes us an observer of the scene through his eyes. Maybe that’s why Darryl’s getting called up to the main character echelon of The Office. Maybe people just dig the way Robinson does things.
Or maybe not. When I ask him about his newfound centrality in the show’s episodes, I can hear the shrug in the short silence that follows. “I don’t know,” he tells me. “I wish I could say, yeah, the people demanded more Darryl. But I don’t know how it happened. One day my manager says, they’re talking about moving you up.”
Robinson seems to enjoy his tenure on network TV’s send up of corporate culture. He’s a big Steve Carrell fan (“You knew right away Steve was the man. He threw the ball from one side of the court to the other side,”) and certainly the show’s made his face a no-brainer for more high profile comic roles.
But not everyone wants him for his looks. He recently lent his other talents to the team behind Shrek 4. “The director Mike Mitchell and I played with the character until we came up with an she-ogre named Cookie. Let the games begin,” he says with a chuckle.
Thurs/27-Sun/30 8 p.m. (also 10:15 p.m., Fri and Sat), $23.50-25.50
Cobb's Comedy Club
915 Columbus, SF