(Photos and story by Terry Shropshire, @RoyalTeeATL/Twitter)
ATLANTA — Even Brandon T. Jackson’s interviews are fun and entertaining.
Many comedians this writer has interviewed are very un-funny when they don’t have a microphone in front of their face. Many have this constipated look on their faces when they are offstage or are being interviewed. Jackson, on the other hand, seems to have this effortless funniness about him around the clock.
When Jackson ( who came to fame via Tropic Thunder and Roll Bounce) answers questions, his eyes and arms and facial expressions say just as much the words that come shooting out of his mouth. And don’t get him excited; his eyes become large black pools of light and he will gesticulate wildly, as if he’s trying to trap air with his bare hands, in order to drive home his point while answering an inquisitor’s inquiry, such as he did at the Southern Element Restaurant inside the Hilton in downtown Atlanta.
Jackson brings that type of histrionics and funny physical comedy to the newest NBC sitcom, “Mr. Robinson,” starring veteran comedic actor Craig T. Robinson and golden goddess Meagan Good.
Jackson, 31, plays Craig Robinson’s brother Ben Jackson, the wisecracking and occasionally employed ladies’ man as both of them try to get their musical group’s career off the ground. “Mr. Robinson” premieres Aug. 5 on NBC at 9 p.m. EST.
This represents Jackson’s first foray into prime-time sitcom television, but it is the culmination of a 12-year journey that was just as daring as it was impressive.
Jackson, you see, is the the quintessential embodiment of the American Dream. The son of preacher parents hauled from his haunts of Detroit at the ripe age of 19 for Los Angeles to pursue his dreams of being a famous stand-up comedian. No one would have blamed him if stayed in the D; besides, his family had moved from the harsh city life of Detroit to the suburbs in one of the richest counties in the country (Oakland County) about 20 minutes away. When you move to a city like West Bloomfield, Mich., folks say you’ve made it. Jackson, however, was ravenous for comedy.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Detroit flows through this brother’s veins and he speaks often of wealthy suburban life juxtaposed against a bankrupt city that makes Detroit legendary as it is maddening.
“It don’t make sense how I can go to the suburbs and everything is very nice. Then I go down to the city and it looks like Gotham if The Joker won,” Jackson said. “It’s not making fun of your city. I do a bit called ‘Detroit broke.’ When you’re ‘Detroit broke’ is a whole different level of broke. It makes you humble yourself.”
It’s hard to remain humble when, shortly after relocation to the Left Coast, Jackson was opening for the likes of Sinbad, Eddie Griffin, Wayne Brady, Chris Tucker, and Katt Williams.
However, Jackson calls folks like Richard Pryor and Chris Tucker as part of his comedic lineage, people who could make you bust your guts with their brilliant comedic timing yet have you also nodding in agreement with their keen cultural, racial and political observations.
For Jackson, comedy is not about getting rich and famous, but what he can do with his enhanced platform.
“What is my purpose besides just being famous? I want to bring the real back to comedy. I want to bring the real back. There’s too much going on – the racial stuff – and now they have body cameras. What is that going to accomplish? Is that showing a better angle to shoot me? What?! I’ve been trying to fulfill my purpose instead of just pursuing fame. Fame is corny to me.
“Everybody famous now for no reason. But what is this generation doing? What is the hip hop generation doing?” he continued. “I like to talk about real stuff. I like to be real with it and make fun of it. It’s not just about fame. I’ve been famous for 11 years now. But what do you do with it? Do you talk to the kids to try to motivate them? Do you use it to bring people together? Are you using fame to try to make you a better person?
Even though ministering to the flock is pretty much the family business — several members of his family are ministers — Jackson said he is not deviating or taking a detour because preaching is not the only way that you heal and uplift.
“I’m still in the family business,” explains Jackson. “There’s a misconception that spirituality can only be in the four walls. You can go to a coffee shop. You can go to a club. You can go anywhere. Two or more, that’s my view.”
It was his two vehicles to express himself, “Comic View” and the “Teens of Comedy Tour,” that led to career-altering roles in high-profile movies such as Roll Bounce as well as the hilarious (albeit disturbing) Tropic Thunder. Jackson had honed his craft to razors edge, leading established superstar Martin Lawrence to personally invite Jackson to Las Vegas before the pair began filming 2011’s Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.
Seeing Lawrence in action, Jackson told the group of reporters at the luncheon roundtable, is what inspired him to return to stand up comedy.
And, in fact, as “Mr. Robinson” prepares to premiere, Jackson is back out on the road, a place he has been since he was 19 years old.
“Mr. Robinson” premieres Aug. 5 at 9 p.m. EST.
Brandon T. Jackson can be reached via Twitter @brandontjackson and Instagram @brandontjackson.
Check out the preview of “Mr. Robinson” below:
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