Craig Robinson is best known as Darryl Philbin, warehouse supervisor, on “The Office,” but he also has been in a string of recent comedic films (“Pineapple Express,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” and “Knocked Up”). In his latest movie, “Miss March” (opening Friday), Robinson plays an egocentric rapper with an unprintable name.
Robinson - a native of Chicago’s South Side and a former public school teacher - talked with us recently about controversial comedy, his band and his celebrity mug shot.
Q. You have a master’s in education and taught in Chicago and Indiana in the mid-1990s. Why move from teaching to comedy?
A. Comedy kind of chose me. It was something I had to do, plain and simple.
Teaching was awesome, and it made you a little crazy. It was great because I taught music at Horace Mann; I would do what my mother did pretty much. My mother used to teach music; she was my music teacher at Whitney Young High School, in fact. I would always have a Christmas program where the kids would sing. The parents loved it. I met some really, really talented kids. I would love to see what they are up to today.
Q. What did you learn about dealing with immature students that you have applied to dealing with actors and agents?
A. Um, well ... sadly, it’s not a joke. You heard about this Christian Bale (rant)? Wait, I’m not even gonna go there. ... Yes, they are all babies. They all respond like children. (Laughs) I don’t know.
Q. Is that you singing the songs in “Miss March”?
A. Yes, that’s me. I recorded those. I always play music with comedy. Now I have a band, some of the greatest musicians on or off the planet. At this point, they are called The Nasty Delicious.
It really enhances my show to the point that I got people singing along. It’s the Craig Robinson Comedy Dance Party. That’s when I have my most fun now, when I’m onstage with the band. We play anything, a lot of covers: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” by the Eurythmics, (Michael Jackson’s) “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” ... We’ll do Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Q. “Miss March” is a particularly “hard R” comedy. When you’re doing something that’s edgy, what kind of conversations do you have about where the line is?
A. I don’t think we had those conversations. They wrote the script how it is. ... They were clearly going for the jugular on this one. All those bits you see were well thought out.
Q. In the script, the word “retard” is used over and over. The comedy “Tropic Thunder” received a great deal of criticism for using the same word. Was there any concern over how this might be received?
A. I’ve heard nothing. There could very well be something, but I haven’t heard anything. We shot it probably the same time as (“Tropic Thunder”). I wasn’t in the editing room. You’ll have to talk to the guys who made those decisions.
Q. But, as a comedian, is that just a toxic word now?
A. It does seem to be. You can see it from a parent’s point of view. But the way they use it in the movie is funny. It’s silly. It’s not going out to hurt anybody. It’s definitely not coming from an evil place; it’s just coming from the way people talk.
Q. What is it like to share the name of the president’s brother-in-law?
A. I wish I had gone to the inauguration! (Adopts an official-sounding voice:) Yes, I’m Craig Robinson. He’s moved up on Google, so we’re battling to see who is the more famous Craig Robinson.
Q. Tell me about how you dealt with talk-show host Spike Feresten’s putting your arrest mug shot on television the moment you sat down on his show.
A. That was a “Really?” moment. (My mug shot) wasn’t so bad.
Q. But are the felony drug charges (from an arrest last June) over with? Is all that behind you?
A. Yes, I go to see this parole officer dude.
Q. Tell me about the reaction back home. Did you have to call home and tell your parents?
A. You know, my brother ratted me out, so they knew already. That’s always an intense moment. The support was overwhelming. “Are you OK?” That was the biggest question on everybody’s mind. And yes, I am, thank you very much.
Q. Every Hollywood star seems to have one legal altercation.
A. I’ve got my one. It’s funny, there’s so much you don’t realize: Like if you go to jail on Friday, you ain’t getting out until Monday. Luckily, I got caught on a Thursday.
I got pulled over in a hotel parking lot. Everybody else gets six dead (prostitutes) in a Jacuzzi. And I’m like, “Oh great, this is my one? Really?”