Comedy, News & Commentary, Stage

Craig Robinson and the divine mystery of comedy – from ‘The Office’ to ‘Mr Robot’

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American performer Craig Robinson is, as it has been plainly declared, so much “more” than a comedian. Of course, persons like myself, whose life is lived almost entirely in search of a laugh, do not suppose there can be any calling higher than a comic one—I mean, have you seen this guy play Darryl Philbin in The Office? But, as I understand it, not everyone agrees with us. Apparently, some consider drama more important.

For these, Robinson has lately proved himself. In the marvellous TV drama Mr Robot, he plays the worst kind of demon with the best kind of restraint. This casting, as Robinson, preparing for an Australian tour, tells me by phone was the result of his recent turn in a film. Morris From America, in receipt of accolades, is about a father whose fly-in fly-out life bears down on the emerging identity of his young son. It sounds important and affecting. I ought to have asked him about it.

But, you get twenty minutes with the guy from Hot Tub Time Machine and try not to use several of them to yell, “Oh my SHIT, when you called your future wife awful names, I lost it. Why are you so funny? Seriously. You are just so funny. Why?”

Robinson, who by phone is so imperturbable he makes Willie Nelson seem like Woody Allen, doesn’t mind. He just says, “When I read that scene in the script, I laughed so hard, I dropped it. knew I had to do the movie.” I say that it’s not just the good writing—if you haven’t seen Hot Tub Time Machine (WHY?) it depicts a men’s weekend which falls through a wormhole and places its protagonists with all their midlife disappointments back to their youth—but him. He really is so very funny. He has the gift.

He just says thank you, and allows me to maintain my ranking as one of the world’s worst interviewers as I keep blathering, “No. You don’t understand. You’re just really funny. Your face. Your delivery. Everything. Why?”

Some of us are so besotted by comedy. It’s a divine quality which cannot be taught or understood on earth.

It’s a dumb question. Some people are just born with the sublime means to convey the ridiculous. Why are you funny? You may as well ask someone why they’re charismatic or beautiful. They just are, and you’ll never get to the bottom of it without answering first at least a thousand unanswerable questions about the nature of such appeal.

This, perhaps, is why some of us are so besotted by comedy. It’s a divine quality which cannot be taught or understood on earth. It can only be done and witnessed and this, says Robinson when I let him talk, is the method he uses in all his work—in comedy, in drama or in the musical project he brings to Australia next week, The Nasty Delicious. “You just approach it,” he says. And then you keep approaching until the timing tells you otherwise. “What is that da Vinci quote?” he says. “Art is never made, only abandoned.”

Ray, his character in Mr Robot, is one that stays uncomfortably with you long after Robinson abandoned him. This is a breezy, genial fellow who (I alert those of you intending to watch Mr Robot to a spoiler: proceed now to the next paragraph) can rationalise the sale of the worst things in the world. He is, as Robinson says, “the coolest but the cruellest”. Ray puts a compassionate face on the sale of human life into slavery, and, in my view and that of many critics, offer us the theme at the heart of Mr Robot. This is creator Sam Esmail’s project. He shows us the happy face of American profit together with its violent heart.

Craig Robinson’s The Nasty Delicious is a band that exists to make you laugh. Its songs include Take Your Panties Off.

No one can explain how to do comedy, but Robinson can explain how he performed that drama. “There’s a scene where I am recounting the death of my dog.” He plays it not as a guy who has lost his dog, but as the very source of his dog’s death. It’s an arresting, creepy scene and it does fit very precisely into the Mr Robot world, full of viruses, service denials, capitalists and other agents of disruption. Robinson decided to play a bug. It’s true art, truly abandoned.

The Nasty Delicious isn’t in the business of detonating ideology like Mr Robot. It’s a band that exists to make you laugh. But, the abandonment approach is here, taken up by Robinson’s band mates, who all, he says, “exist the rest of the time in real bands”.

A song like Take Your Panties Off isn’t ever going to come to the attention of the Nobel committee, but that doesn’t mean that when it is played live, these guys aren’t exploring the possibilities of art. Sometimes, comedy takes over at a Nasty Delicious show and sometimes, the power of the music overcomes everything. Robinson, a former music teacher, lets the abandonment happen. “It all depends on the night.”

If, like me, you are the sort of fool who finds the absurd divine, you’ll probably love it.


[box]The Nsty Delicious perform in Adelaide, The Gov, December 12; Sydney, The Metro December 14; Brisbane, Max Watts, December 16; Melbourne, The Corner Hotel December 16: , Perth, Rosemount Hotel December 19.[/box]


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