Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Friday Film Snob Focus: Craig Robinson

There is little I love more in comedy than a quality deadpan.

For years, one of the go-to men in Hollywood for that special moment of awkward, frank silence needed for the absurdity of a situation to really sink in has been Craig Robinson, one of the stars of Hot Tub Time Machine opening today.

What does a quality deadpan look like, you ask? It looks like Craig Robinson breaking the fourth wall after he drops the titular line of the movie in its own trailer.

Robinson, a Chicago native, cut his teeth at Second City before touring with Def Comedy Jam.

I first saw him in TV's "Arrested Development" as a security guard up for the same role as Tobias (the role was for a confidence man - knowing he was up against the security guard gave Tobias some needed confidence).

Robinson's major break came when the American adaptation of "The Office" was picked up for a second season. Robinson's Darryl, the no-nonsense warehouse manager that had a decent share of screen time in the first season, had even more time to try to ignore and deflate the absurd pursuits of Steve Carell's Michael Scott.

What makes Robinson so much fun to watch in "The Office" is the way he telegraphs his seeing the whole picture, how small the players are, and how ultimately insignificant the problem at hand really is. He's the quintessential straight talker, which makes for great comedy when Carell is co-opting the warehouse for a men's afternoon or in desperate need of relationship advice.

Can't put a finger on what I'm describing? Think about Robinson's cameo in Knocked Up as the self-actualized bouncer:

"I know... you're right. I'm so sorry, I fuckin' hate this job. I don't want to be the one to pass judgement, decide who gets in. Shit makes me sick to my stomach. I get runs from the stress. It's not 'cause you're not hot, I would love to tap that ass. I would tear that ass up. I can't let you in 'cause you're old as fuck. For this club, you know, not for the earth. ...You old, she pregnant. Can't have a bunch of old pregnant bitches running around, that's crazy. I'm only allowed to let in five percent black people. He said that. That means if there's twenty-five people here I get to let in one and a quarter black people. So I gotta hope there's a black midget in the crowd."

If you've seen the movie, or have a passing familiarity with Robinson, I'll bet you couldn't help but read that passage in his deep almost-monotone cadence.

It's that cadence and straight face that make him so much fun to watch, whether he's realizing he's dealing with a hot tub time machine in Hot Tub Time Machine, introducing an adult performer aptly named Bubbles in Zach and Miri Make A Porno, or as the newest occupant of a corner office in "The Office".

I suppose that's why I get giddy every time Robinson pops into something when I haven't expected him - because on some level he's going to let you in on his perspective of what is really going on.

I'll leave you with a clip from his days touring with Def Comedy Jam. By the way, before he was a successful comedian, he was a music teacher. Don't worry. He's not one of those types of comics that beats you over the head with musical talent.

Hot Tub Time Machine opens today - and judging from the Metacritic rating, it's worth the trip if the trailer was your cup of tea.

Places you may have seen Craig Robinson dead pan:

- "Arrested Development" as a security guard in the episode "Switch Hitter"
- Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story as Bobby Shad, the lounge performer who's thunder gets stolen by Dewey
- Zach and Miri Make a Porno as Delaney, the executive producer/financier
- "Eastbound and Down" as Reg Mackworthy, the hitter to end Kenny Powers' career
- "Reno 911!" as Levon French, a local commercial producer in the vein of the real-life Sammy Stephens, in the season six episode "Deputy Dance"
- Pineapple Express as Matheson, the thug with feelings who can hear everything you're saying

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