Actor/comedian Craig Robinson has starred on “The Office” and in big-screen comedies like “Pineapple Express,” “This Is the End” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” He is currently filming USA’s “Mr. Robot” and has three movies on the horizon: August’s “Morris From America,” “Sausage Party” (with the “Pineapple Express” crew), and next January’s “Table 19.”
But he still finds time to slip away to comedy clubs around the country on weekends, and beginning Friday, Robinson performs a three-night, five-show run at The Comedy Zone.
The former elementary and middle school music teacher – who incorporates his keyboard and sometimes his band into his live show – spoke to the Observer Monday about playing in North Carolina amid the House Bill 2 controversy, the loss of Prince, and what he learned from last season’s failed NBC sitcom “Mr. Robinson.”
Q. You played Raleigh recently. A lot of big musicians are canceling shows here. What’s your stance on the subject?
A. I feel like people are cancelling and taking a strong stance. It’s good it’s bringing attention to it. I’m very y’all means all. I’m very much in support of equal rights. ... Bruce Springsteen doing that is powerful. I don’t want to bail because I know there are people who don’t support the bill who want to come see my show, and maybe there’s some way when I say “y’all means all” that it could make a difference for some people.
Q. For a musician who grew up in Chicago – not far from Minneapolis – how did you feel about the loss of Prince?
A. That’s a tough loss for the world, for humanity. Prince taught some of us about sex. He was our first foray into what’s really going on. You’ve got a top 10 on your phone. Prince got three songs on there for me. I’ve been paying tribute to him in my shows. It’s become a very special moment.
Then they had this whole Billboard (Awards) thing. Everybody’s going in on Madonna, and she was asked to do it. I don’t think she sounded bad. I do think Prince deserved an electrifying performance, and I don’t think it was that. He originally wrote “Nothing Compares 2 U” for a group called The Family. They did a tribute to him, and 10 seconds in, you knew this was the tribute (he deserved).
Q. What keeps you coming back to stand-up?
A. There’s nothing quite like stand-up. Making somebody laugh, it’s been intoxicating to me. To throw out a new joke and it gets a big laugh, there’s nothing like that ... to see how they respond. ...
Some jokes are home runs, and some go to second base. ... If the crowd is super-playful and anything goes, the show can go on all night.
Q. Like a band jamming on into the night?
A. Absolutely. Sometimes you’ve got to get those first shows tight. The late show, it’s anything goes, especially if the alcohol is flowing.
Q. Your show “Mr. Robinson” didn’t have much of a chance to get off the ground. Is that something you want to tackle again?
A. Absolutely. It was a great experience. My band was actually on the show with me. It was amazing. I couldn’t have felt more comfortable. The guys who were writing, they put me on my first show, “Lucky.” I wouldn’t trade it. I’ve always kind of felt like from watching Louis CK and a couple other comics, sometimes you get that first show to get your footing, and then you get that second one.
When: 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The Comedy Zone, 900 NC Music Factory Blvd.
Details: 980-321-4720; www.cltcomedyzone.com.