Craig Robinson: From Wingman To Leading Man

Movies & TV

With his scene-stealing wingman roles, Craig Robinson–starring in Peeples, in theaters this Friday (May 10)–is growing his laughing stock by any means necessary

Craig Robinson knows how to keep a show going. During a four-day standup tour in Fairbank, Alaska (“the North Pole,” he quips), the 41-year-old music-teacher-turned-comic made the mistake of pre-gaming on tequila shots chased with beer before a gig. “The show was going so well… Then I was like, ‘I need to go to the bathroom. Y’all wait,’” Robinson recalls. Moments later, his stomach rebelled. “I vomited on stage. But I kept going. It was as if everything went to a higher level. I could do no wrong. Nothing was going to stop me.”

This Puff mentality has sent Robinson’s acting career on an upward slope, anchored by his deadpan turn as paper-pusher Darryl Philbin on NBC’s The Office, which ends its eight-year run this May. His dry wisecracks leave permanent impressions, even in bit roles like Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (playing a discriminating bouncer) and Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, his one-way ticket out of obscurity. “I was in this shitty condo when my manager told me I got that part,” says Robinson, who reunites with Perry in this spring’s Peeples and co-fronts the summer comedies Rapturepalooza and This is the End with the Seth Rogen squad. “You ever scream privately to yourself? It was one of those.”

Consider it an aha-moment for a guy whose baby-step into standup involved a botched attempt to impress a chick. Before moving from his native Chicago to L.A. in 1999, the Master’s degree-holder nurtured his comedy gene in college through open mics. “I was at some sorority talent show and two guys I knew went up and did comedy. It blew my mind,” he says. “I saw them like they were superheroes. They had this power to get this response from you. That’s when I got hooked.”

Now transitioning from the sidelines to the forefront, Robinson spearheads an upcoming autobiographical NBC sitcom, where he plays a music teacher. On top of filming Hot Tub Time Machine 2 this summer, he’ll be moonlighting as a member of the funk-psych band, the Nasty Delicious, another dream materialized. “When I was teaching, I yearned to have a band to the point where I would be at shows and be conducting bands from the audience,” says Robinson. “Now, I have a band. What it’s becoming is a bunch of people who love to play together and some serious ass musicians. I just get out the way and let them rock, so I look like a genius.”