Cole talks of com­edy, late-night TV show

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Nina Metz nmetz@chicagotri­bune.com

When I caught up with co­me­dian and “Black-ish” co-star Deon Cole re­cently, he was in Ar­ling­ton, Texas, for a stand-up gig. I couldn’t hear him clearly at first. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he ex­plained, “I got you on speaker be­cause I’m try­ing to iron my clothes.”

Mul­ti­task­ing is what drives his ca­reer these days. The Chicago na­tive also co-stars on the TBS po­lice com­edy “Angie Tribeca” and oc­ca­sion­ally ap­pears on “Co­nan” (where he was a staff writer for five years).

But an older project is on his mind. Re­cently, Cole has been tweet­ing clips from his short-lived late-night com­edy show from 2013 (also on TBS) called “Deon Cole’s Black Box,” which of­fered com­men­tary on the week’s news, not un­like what John Oliver is do­ing on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

“I’m not mad at John at all; that’s just how the pro­gres­sion of tele­vi­sion goes,” Cole said. But it’s not lost on him that Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” is the only black per­son to host a high-pro­file late-night com­edy show on a ma­jor net­work. “It’s nuts that they (the net­works) only that one per­spec­tive too. It makes no sense,” he said.

I asked if he was hop­ing to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in a re­boot. “Yeah! It’s one of those shows that should still be on the air, but I was around some of the whitest ex­ecs you ever want to see and that never even be­lieved in me and kind of sab­o­taged the show. It cost $250,000 per episode; it cost to do. And the num­bers were close to what Co­nan was do­ing.

“But the ex­ecs at the time — and none of them are there any­more — they were ba­si­cally like, ‘This isn’t white enough for TBS.’ They made a promo that was a clip of a woman smash­ing a water­melon (on her body), and I was like, ‘What is go­ing on?’ I wasn’t do­ing a show that was about videos of guys get­ting kicked in the nuts; I was deal­ing with topi­cal stuff, us­ing clips from CNN and deal­ing with sto­ries in the news. So I feel like they sab­o­taged it. And I think that’s why a lot of black peo­ple stopped watch­ing TBS.”

Cole said he hadn’t con­sid­ered be­ing a co­me­dian un­til he was out of high school and a friend bet him $50 to go on­stage and do a set.

“And 24 years later …” he said, laugh­ing. A stand­out role on ABC’s “Black-ish” has raised his pro­file sig­nif­i­cantly, play­ing Char­lie, who works along­side Dre (An­thony An­der­son) at the ad firm and a guy who tends to ar­rive at ridicu­lous con­clu­sions when­ever topi­cal is­sues are de­bated around the con­fer­ence room table. The char­ac­ter is sup­pos­edly based on show cre­ator Kenya Bar­ris. How is that pos­si­ble, I asked? There’s no way a buf­foon like Char­lie could achieve Bar­ris’ level of suc­cess.

“OK, so I’m Kenya Bar­ris on steroids,” Cole said.

On “Angie Tribeca,” Cole’s pri­mary co-star is a Ger­man shep­herd. “I ac­tu­ally love that dog,” he said. “When they want the dog to lick on us — this is go­ing to sound weird — (the trainer) puts this, we call it, ‘meat juice’ on us. … Then the dog comes over and licks the skin right off your face, it’s de­li­cious.” April 16 birth­days: Singer Bobby Vin­ton is 82. Ac­tress Ellen Barkin is 63. Ac­tor Michael Gill is 57. Ac­tor-co­me­dian Martin Lawrence is 52. Ac­tor Jon Cryer is 52. Ac­tor Peter Billings­ley is 46. Ac­tor Lukas Haas is 41. Ac­tress Sadie Sink is 15.

ASH­LEY C. BROWN PHOTO

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