Deon Cole might just be your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian. The actor and writer is not only one of the breakout stars of Black-ish, but he also appears on the TBS comedy Angie Tribeca and BET recently announced he would be hosting a new game show called Face Value. While Cole has been putting in work for years, many may not know he’s one of the few Black writers to work on The Tonight Show and he even pinned jokes for the White House Correspondents Dinner back in 2013. Despite his long list of credits, the actor keeps on adding new entries to his IMDB credits. Why? He remembers what his life was like before his career took off.
“Anytime I feel like I don’t feel like doing this, I think to myself there was a time when you didn’t do this, so I get up and do it,” Cole tells EBONY.
Though he’s best known for his comedic genius, the Chicago native didn’t immediately think the genre was for him.
“I always wanted to act, but I didn’t think comedy was my thing. But my friend bet me to go on stage and the rest is history; I ain’t never looked back,” he says. “My comedy isn’t silly and stupid, it’s insightful. I think I was always a thought-provoking guy, even before comedy. My friends used to laugh at how drawn-out I would be about anything that happened. I didn’t think that was considered comedy at the time, but I guess it was.”
One thing that sets Cole apart is his flexibility. On Black-ish, he plays Charlie Telphy, Andre’s work buddy who’s always ready with a hilariously inappropriate one-liner and questionable life advice. On Angie Tribeca, which is a spoof of police procedurals—Cole plays Daniel “DJ” Tanner, a straight-laced, ultra-focused LAPD detective. Because the show is a spoof, he’s hilarious, but he’s not chasing the joke. Still, Cole definitely delivers, though he almost never made it on the show in the first place.
“The role that I went out for I didn’t get,” he says. “But Steve and Nancy Carell liked me so much that they ended up writing a character for me on the show.”
According to the actor, his entire career has played out in a similar fashion.
“Anything I ever auditioned for in my whole career I never got. It’s always been off of people liking me, liking what I do,” he says. “I never auditioned for Conan, he hired me because he liked me. On Black-ish, I wasn’t coming over there to be on Black-ish, I was was coming to write for Black-ish until my other show started but the guy who was supposed to play Charlie didn’t show up.”
Cole continues, “My whole career has been like that. I’ve inspired a lot of people by telling them that anything that you’ve got going on that you’re really passionate about, you don’t have to be sad if you don’t get it. It probably ain’t lined up for you, but that doesn’t mean that it stops.”
Cole’s tenacity and ability to make audiences laugh is evident both on the screen and during his stand-up shows. While many comedians take a break from touring once they make it, for Cole, staying connected to the stage is essential.
“Stand-up is therapeutic,” he says. “When I write a joke for Conan or other comedians that I can’t say their name, it makes me feel like I’ve still got my chops. It’s good to see that a lot of great comedians believe in me and they come to me because I make them look better.”
Wait…comedians, like rappers, have ghostwriters? The thought seems to run counter to the art form.
“Are you kidding me? Your favorite comic right now, probably eight times out of ten you’ve laughed at something I wrote or that I had a hand in,” he explains, before adding he used to write for people like Kat Williams and Nick Cannon.
“It doesn’t mean I actually write a joke either,” he says. “I can be around certain comedians and just the way I think about certain things and say certain things makes them think that way. And when they think that way, they can come up and create what’s on their mind.”
Though Cole’s career is in a definite upswing–he also has a Netflix special dropping in June called The Stand-Up–at the heart of it all is his love for his hometown of Chicago.
“I’ve been putting Chicago on my back for a long time. [I’ve been] bringing different networks to town to showcase talent and I’ve been doing that for a long time without any accolades, just doing it because I love my city and I love my people,” he says. “To be finally recognized feels good and gives me the drive to keep putting my city on my back so when they see me they see all of Chicago.”
He adds, “Anything I can do to push the culture forward, I’m all for it.”
Black-ish airs Wednesday at 9pm nights on ABC. Angie Tribeca airs Monday nights at 10:30 on TBS.
Britni Danielle is the Entertainment/Culture Director for EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites