Deon Cole has come a long way from the South Side of Chicago where he started doing stand-up comedy. His work has taken him from BET’s Comic View to Conan and now to his own series, Deon Cole’s Black Box, set to premiere Monday, June 10 on TBS. Here, Life+Times talks with Cole – an Emmy-nominated writer for Conan O’Brien‘s late night show, also on TBS – about his new series and the road he traveled to get there.
Life+Times: So what is Deon Cole’s Black Box about?
Deon Cole: It’s a show of me for 20 minutes just talking about what’s trending in pop culture, what’s going on in the news, on the web, on TV. I’m talking about it from my perspective, my point of view and sharing it with the world.
L+T: How did the opportunity for you to have your own show come about?
DC: It was something me and my partner Doug Hill came up with – we both work for Conan’s show. So, we had a bad day of pitching ideas and thought we’d come together and collaborate the ideas. When we did, we showed it to Conan; Conan liked it, then we went to TBS and they liked, so here we go.
L+T: How was it to work with Conan O’Brien. What did you learn working in that environment and, how did that help you grow as a comedian?
DC: Well being a writer for Conan, you’re not writing for a regular person. You’re writing for a writer. He’s legendary. He wrote for The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, etc. He teaches you, as you go on, that funny is funny. It ain’t always gotta be something ignorant or right in your face. Funny is funny. You can look at something that’s stupid as hell and think it’s funny. You laugh, and it’s dumb as hell, but you’re laughing. He also taught me don’t search for magical moments all the time because if every moment was magical, we wouldn’t have magical moments. So, embrace the backlash on a lot of stuff and that makes the magical moments even sweeter.
L+T: Who are some other folks you grew up studying?
DC: George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy. In Chicago, I studied Bernie Mac, George Wilborn, Adele Givens. Also, Ellen DeGeneres is a real big influence on me. She took detail and made it big. That was her thing. She would take the smallest thing and make it a big deal, and I always thought that was genius to do.
L+T: There aren’t a whole lot of Black comedians with their own TV show. What position are you in and what responsibilities that come with that.
DC: It’s a big responsibility. I’ve always had this responsibility on me as far as even writing for Conan, me being the first Black writer he’s ever had and being one of the first Black writers in late-night period. Like, one out of three or four. That was a big [deal] when it happened, and I really didn’t have any idea what was going on but when I did, I embraced it. I’ve always had the challenge of being funny to our demographic but still keeping it real. That was one thing Conan always made sure of – which is I’m grateful to this day – he always made sure I kept it 100 and I always made sure I kept it 100, and he always embraced it. It became funnier that way, for this Black dude from the South Side of Chicago kicking it with this white dude from Boston who graduated from Harvard and we both get along and it’s cool. For him to let me stay my self and stay true, that was real big in contributing to the success that I’ve been having. I feel as though I have to uphold that and keep it going knowing that you can still be true to yourself and still be funny and still deal with a demographic that’s predominantly white and still be who you are.
L+T: Did you ever think you would get to this point? I’m sure you’re not satisfied but it also has to be pretty gratifying to have made it this far.
DC: Absolutely. Somebody interviewed me not too long ago and said, “You’re doing Black Box, writing for Conan, doing stand-up – when do you sleep?” And I was like, “Man, I’ve been sleeping for years.” It ain’t time to sleep, I did all my sleep. People still sleeping on me. We’re done with sleeping. We’re gonna work and make it happen. That’s what life is about really, you gotta study and be prepared for when life calls you off the bench. You go in and you get a triple-double and you stay in the game. That’s what it was. When he hired me, I was ready, that’s what it is. That’s what everyone should focus on in life period: just be ready. When that time comes, shock ‘em.
Deon Cole’s Black Box comes on Monday nights at 10 PM ET on TBS.