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Illustration: Rob Kelly

The Hot Seat: Craig Robinson

The perpetual supporting player takes center stage at Carolines.

By Jane Borden

Craig Robinson's combination of brash and tender makes him perfect for the new breed of sensitive-dude comedies in which he so often cameos. Also, ladies, he can go the distance: Robinson, 37, has stuck with stand-up since starting in Chicago in 1994. After getting noticed at a festival a decade ago, he moved to L.A. and began his steady rise from a bit part on Friends to scene stealer in The Office and, most recently, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. The comic—whose keyboard-heavy dance party of an act is headlining New York for the first time at Carolines through Saturday 29—is fond of crooning seductively for the removal of panties. Perhaps that's how he got those drug-possession charges dropped in August.

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Time Out New York: You've recently been initiated into the Apatow fraternity. Any hazing rituals we should know about?
Craig Robinson: You have to improv your way through a scene as a bouncer in Knocked Up and then do double duty with Pineapple Express and fill in for Walk Hard when Jerry Minor falls through.

TONY: So then your Ecstasy arrest wasn't related. That happened in June and no one heard about it until right before your court date in August. How did you keep it so quiet?
Craig Robinson: I'm surprised it was news at all! That was my first foray into fame—when you see your face on and I always assume no one knows who I am. I haven't starred in any movies or led any TV shows.

TONY: Maybe you should start playing up this crime angle. Pick up a trannie hooker; that seems to work.
Craig Robinson: Just tell me where they are in New York and I'll get one in my hotel room.They used to be in the Meatpacking District, but they've been pushed out.What? How do you push out trannies? [Laughs] That show Pushing Daisies? My new show's Pushing Trannies.

TONY: So you'll have your keyboard in New York. Ever lost it on a flight?
Craig Robinson: Don't hex me! My keyboard is my partner at all times. Once I didn't get it till the next day, though, so we played The Dating Game.

TONY: You mean onstage? At a show?!?
Craig Robinson: Yeah, my agent got a call [from the club], "What's he doing?" I was like, "I got no material." But the audience had fun. And the guy contestant made out like a bandit.

TONY: Get the audience laid and they'll definitely love you. Has it always been that easy?
Craig Robinson: Early on, in Chicago, there was a show called Hecklers' Heaven. They gave three people in the audience rubber chickens and after three minutes of jokes, if you got back all three chickens, you had to leave. I got two chickens and just walked away before the third person had a chance.

TONY: Do you remember one of the jokes from that set?
Craig Robinson: I said, "Jesus must have been a black man because he had all that fish and bread—he must have hid it in his Afro." They didn't like that.

TONY: How are your shows different now? Do people show up expecting to see Darryl from The Office?
Craig Robinson: Actually, it's been exciting that people come not knowing what to expect. And they show up with DVDs for me to sign! It's trippin' me out.

TONY: Plus, now you know how to deal with hecklers. I saw you kick a guy out of your show at the Just for Laughs festival this summer.
Craig Robinson: But then I brought him back in. They held him outside and I went to him and was like, "Look, man, I need your energy, but you're just too loud. Everybody's screaming and clapping, but your timing is off."

TONY: You got your big break at Just for Laughs, right?
Craig Robinson: Yeah, but then I didn't experience the party. At that time in my life, I was going to church every Sunday. This time, I was like, "Shots, everybody?"

TONY: Most performers follow the opposite Craig Robinson: trajectory: party first, find God later.
Craig Robinson:I've always been a late bloomer.

TONY: How will you get all the ladies at Carolines to take their panties off?
Craig Robinson: You just have to connect—connect and motivate. But seeing as I've done a thousand shows, asked every time, and zero times it's happened, I apparently don't know.

TONY: Well, your keyboard is your one true love anyway.
Craig Robinson: She always takes care of me.

Craig Robinson is at Carolines through Sat 29.

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