From Harlem’s iconic “Showtime at the Apollo” stage, BET’s “ComicView”, to major comedy tour after television show, Cedric The Entertainer keeps his comedy fresh, and made especially for the people. And now after over two decades in the game, our favorite King of Comedy, now 48, returns to the small screen tonight starring in a spanking new sitcom series, “The Soul Man” on TV Land. And get this, Cedric plays a preacher man! Yes, he’s the Reverend Boyce Ballantine, a former R&B funk man who retires soul music for saving souls. The series, a spin-off of “Hot in Cleveland”—where Cedric honed the role of Reverend Ballatine—co-stars Niecy Nash as the Reverend’s wife who’s used to flashing lights and fur coats, instead of life on the first pew as a church’s first lady. “The Soul Man”, co-created by Cedric and Suzanne Martin, and also stars a few other funny actors we heart, John Beasley, Wesley Jonathan, and Jazz Raycole.
We caught up with the soulful star—who recently loaned his voice to the latest installment of animated franchise Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted—to talk returning to the small screen, working with Niecy Nash, his funny spin on gay marriage, and how he keeps his funny fresh.
EBONY: It’s been said that stand up comics have a better advantage over actors, because they know how to stand alone, is that true?
Cedric The Entertainer: Yes, that is probably true to a certain degree. We as comics do want an immediate response from the audience. It’s really quiet on the set, and there are only the producers, and the director, so a comic is looking for someone to give a reaction, even if it is the camera guy.
EBONY: Do you feel restrained, or is there more room to improvise then in stand up comedy?
CTE: Because animation is recorded and then locked into the characters, the producers allow the comics to ad-lib a little bit. In this movie, you can’t really control Sasha Baron Cohen, and then they added Martin Short, who is a grown-grandfather version of Martin in to group along with Chris Rock and myself. They allow us a little more room to improve more, and you can really see that in my character trough his facial expressions and my dance moves.
EBONY: What do you think the appeal is to your character?
CTE: I think it is that he is the voice of reason in the entire fiasco that’s going on. Along with King Julien, my character gives him the “keep it real dog” face. It’s a little moment in the movie when I thought that he was dying, and I have a little smile, thinking that I was about to take over, it makes the character seem more alive.
EBONY: You’re character being the voice of reason, do you think it gets as much shine as the others?
CTE: Don’t worry; I’m talking to the people now about getting a spin-off for Maurice, maybe take him to Vegas or something. That would be fun and interesting.
EBONY: Has your family seen the film yet?
CTE: They have been to a couple of screenings without me, and I was sad, but my kids were like ‘Dad I want to see this, we can’t wait for you!’
EBONY: With so many Black stars, would you consider Madagascar a Black movie?
CTE: Because they are animals, you don’t connect them to Africa and being Africa. It’s hard to identify the animals with race. It is a great way to have Bernie Mac play Ben Stiller’s dad in the movie.
EBONY: Tell us a little bit about “The Soul Man” premiering on TV Land.
CTE: I co-created the show with Suzanne Martin from “Hot in Cleveland”. “The Soul Man” premieres June 20, and I play an ex-R&B singer that gets the calling late in life. I based the show off of the joke I used to do ‘What if R. Kelly became a minister?’ The songs that I used to sing as an R&B singer are not songs that you want your pastor to know. I preach, ‘spanking ain’t just for kids,’ was one of my big hits and I changed since then due to an awakening. The show is all about the transition, and are we even allowed to? Niecy Nash plays my wife on the show, and she is so amazing and funny. It’s been really cool, the Braxton sisters have been on and many more.
EBONY: Because you are the character that gets the change, does your wife, played by Niecy Nash have a conflict?
CTE: That is what helps move along the show. When I get the calling, and she still wants to party and drink martinis and ride in the limos. She likes to dress real sexy, and the conflict is that I got the calling, not her. She’s supportive, and loves her family, but she wants to remain who she is. Expectations are crossed where the family is able to come together in order to support one another. John Beasley plays my father, and it is his church that I take over. He is very old school, wiping our bible quotes and stories all the time, and comes from a different generation. I have a 16 year-old daughter on the show, and was used to being a rock stars daughter who is also trying to adjust. I have an older brother played by, Wesley Jonathan who sees this as a tax opportunity in order to get me caught up. He wants me to become a huge preacher and have a mega church. My two goals with this show is to one, make this a great show, and two, have people really evaluating what is the line that can be crossed in certain situations. This makes for really good TV.
EBONY: Do you think that television has evolved into a great way for Black people to be showcased?
CTE: At one point I thought that television was progressing, where there were major figures that were on Black shows. Everyone can go to “The Cosby Show”, and not only say that that was a great show, but it was also entertaining. Even the spin-off “A Different World”, helped young Black people to look at themselves and realize that they can go to college, and enrollment went up in America. I think that that is important. Shows like “The Wire” made you interested in the characters and watching them develop into whole people. “The Game” as well, in that they push envelops that all happen to us as Black people. Tyler Perry also shapes Black broadcast, in a way that shows that you can shape Black content the way that you want. BET, and CBS buying scripted television and many others are giving the Black audience diverse range of shows that we can watch. I’m excited about my show and the network, TV Land is emerging for Black culture, and I’m trying to bring more of my folks over to the channel.
EBONY: Are you on board with Obama?
CTE: Politics move, as fast as Twitter, and for everyone to think that in four years America was going to be perfect is ridiculous. I met George W. Bush, as then to blame one person for the opportunity is crazy. Obama has done a lot of rights for things that have been done wrong, and I think that he should finish what he started. Obama had to do so much—getting the country together, getting the girls a dog and quitting smoking. That man has a lot going on!
EBONY: What do you think about his advocacy concerning gay marriage?
CTE: It is a big world that we live in, and people have a choice to love who they love. You can’t deny people to have a family and be together. Before I got married, I used to have a girlfriend and a house; she couldn’t sign anything because she was not my wife. What should people do, not be gay, because you—one person— doesn’t want them to.
EBONY: Do you have any other future films in the works?
CTE: Yes, I’m working on Grassroots, directed by Jack Gyllenhaal’s dad. I play a serious role. Jason Bigs and Joel David Moore play alongside me. It’s a really cool movie, and it will come out later this year. It is a true story of a politician from Seattle, who was on the city council, and was apart of the grassroots campaign. He created awareness for trains and its destruction of the city. Because he was the only Black person on the council, it became a racial argument and not just about awareness.
EBONY: Are you still doing stand up?
CTE: I still have a couple of shows lined up. I just did Baltimore and Atlantic City. I love stand up and it keeps me grounded, to say the stuff I have been thinking without anyone changing it.
EBONY: Are you working on any more book ideas?
CTE: Since Grown Ass Man, I haven’t been writing, but I have great idea in the works. I am producing as my side hustle right now over at Comedy Central. We are really just doing the Black version of a lot of things. It will come out later in the fall. I am also developing another show for Disney Channel.
Geneva S. Thomas is the style and pop culture editor at EBONY.COM, follow her on Twitter @genevasthomas