Set to set star in a sitcom based on his life and with leading roles in big movie comedies, Craig Robinson is truly coming into his own.
While some might say that’s due to hard work and persistence — and a knack for turning minor characters into memorable roles — Robinson says his success could be attributed to a hatred for flying rubber chickens.
“When I first started out, I was doing these standup gigs at some really notorious places in Chicago, where they would literally throw rubber chickens at you if they didn’t like you,” says Robinson, 43, who headlines Cobb’s Comedy Club this week. He adds, “I got hit twice by some rubber chickens before I realized I needed to mix something up.”
That’s when Robinson, who followed his music-teacher mother’s lead with a brief stint teaching music to middle schoolers, decided to introduce music to his comedy set.
The next time he performed live in Chicago, he belted ridiculous-sounding soul songs behind a keyboard. Audiences loved the twist to his shtick, and it turned to out be fateful.
As a result, his comedy career grew. He landed roles on TV (“The Office”) and in movies (“This is the End,” “Pineapple Express,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”). He’s slated to star in several films in the next two years, and plays the lead in “Mr. Robinson,” an NBC sitcom based on his experiences as a music teacher that premieres in August.
Despite his busy current state of affairs, Robinson always carves out time for standup.
“I’ve had great moments doing television and film, but I need to see the face of my fans,” says Robinson. “It’s a totally different feeling being able to interact with the audience. It’s probably the most important thing to me — to be able to perform live and to have that kind of connection.”
Though his routine is planned, he often delves into ad-lib absurdity while on the keyboard, going off script based on the slightest audience interaction.
“That’s my favorite part about standup,” says Robinson. “I’ll see someone in the crowd, or someone will say something, and I’ll spend the next half-hour just building on that random joke.”
He may throw a few curveballs based on audience participation, and he says clubgoers in attendance this week should expect to embrace their (ridiculous) inner child.
“I tell everyone who goes to my show to pretend that they’re back in kindergarten,” says Robinson. “It’s just gonna be a really silly, really fun time.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. June 18, 8 and and 10:15 p.m. June 19, 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. June 20, 7:30 p.m. June 21
Contact: (415) 928-4320, www.cobbscomedyclub.com