Craig Robinson is returning to NBC with the new sitcom Mr. Robinson, and the former star of The Office is bringing another comedic voice with him to the Robb and Mark Cullen (Lucky,Cop Out) created show. The 6-episode summer pick up will also feature actor/comedian Brandon T. Jackson.
While Jackson has appeared in the Hulu show Deadbeat and lent his voice to Netflix’s animated series BoJack Horseman, Mr. Robinson marks the 31-year-old’s first regular role in a network program. He is part of a talented cast that includes Meagan Good, Amandla Stenberg, and Dante Brown.
“I love going to work on a sitcom like back in the day,” says Jackson.
Mr. Robinson follows the story of professional musician-turned-music teacher Craig Robinson (Robinson). Jackson plays the role of the comedic foil as Craig’s guitar playing younger brother Ben Robinson. The concept is an updated blend of popular television comedies from past decades.
“Mr. Robinson is a fun-loving show,” Jackson states. “It reminds me of The Fresh Prince, The Steve Harvey Show, and School Of Rock mixed. That’s the feeling of it.”
As a mark of the times, Mr. Robinson is not afraid to incorporate conversations about underage marijuana use and sexual innuendo about chocolate muffins. However, the references do not come off as salacious or over-the-top.
The pilot episode even introduces the audience to flirtatious, Hip Hop savvy - but no non-sense with the kids - Principal Taylor (Peri Gilpin). The show’s writers strayed from creating an unrealistic cookie-cutter faculty often portrayed in fictional school settings like Welcome Back, Kotter and Saved By The Bell.
“The Cullens did a great job with mixing the cultures. It feels like a real school. They didn’t make it this far off Hollywood school,” adds Jackson. “It feels like a real school in Chicago. I’m from the Midwest. Craig’s from the Midwest, so it has that authenticity to the show.”
Jackson fell in love with the script for Mr. Robinson on first read. He connected so closely to the character of Ben that Brandon decided it was time to take a break from his three-year stand-up run to tackle the part.
With the show ready to hit the airwaves, Jackson is back crisscrossing the country performing live. Brandon’s stand-up draws on his experiences of being the son of a preacher that moved from a Black neighborhood in Detroit to a mostly White near-by suburb.
“That’s where it comes from - the roots. My comedy comes from my roots of seeing stuff in Detroit,” explains Jackson. “[My dad told me] you always got to be responsible for our community. No matter who you are. Everybody has to take responsibility for each other as people. I think my comedy does that.”
The Motor City is a regular subject of Jackson’s jokes. He has a section where he talks about how being poor in Detroit is not your normal financial struggle.
“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 quips. “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.”
Jackson has come a long way from his days of growing up in Michigan. At the age of 19, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career in comedy. Not long after his relocation to the West Coast he found himself opening for the likes of Sinbad, Eddie Griffin, Wayne Brady, Chris Tucker, and Katt Williams.
Stints on Comic View and the Teens of Comedy Tour were followed by his breakthrough performance in Roll Bounce and his mainstream crossover in Tropic Thunder. Legendary comic Martin Lawrence personally invited Jackson to Las Vegas before the pair began filming 2011’s Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. That experience witnessing Lawrence’s professionalism on stage inspired Jackson to return to his first love of stand-up.
Appearing on screen with established blockbuster actors such as Lawrence, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, and Ice Cube would be an ego boost for most entertainers. But Jackson insists being in the spotlight does not fuel his motivation.
He expresses, “This fame thing is so corny to me. I’ve been famous for 11 years now. What do you do with it? Do you do things to help bring people together? That’s what it’s about for me."
Jackson has a witty bit in his stand-up routine where he challenges the Millennial’s obsession with gaining their “15 seconds of fame” and constant reinvented social media platforms enabling that addiction. Like Richard Pryor and Chris Rock before him, Jackson wants his comedy to double as social commentary on modern-day problems. Particularly, those social concerns facing African-Americans.
“Black America has got to embrace each other right now. It’s time to talk real issues, talk about how we be real again,” conveys Jackson. “As a young brother, you’re supposed talk about how many followers you have. ‘I have 15,000 followers.’ But when you get these followers what are you doing? How are you leading them? What is our generation doing?”
Brandon T. Jackson and the rest of the cast of Mr. Robinson are using humor to provide the populace positive themes such as education, responsibility, and leadership. The preacher’s kid from Motown believes he is still doing divine work, even if he did not officially follow in his father’s footsteps.
“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.”
Stand-up, acting, music, and pursuing the title of “King of Dramedy” drives the triple threat’s continuous takeover of nearly every realm of show business, but devotion to a higher power is at the center of Brandon’s mission in life.
“God is everything. Faith is everything. I had a point in my life where I didn’t believe anymore, but He showed me,” Jackson reveals. “Whatever you believe in, do you. But try to make sure you find that peace inside yourself that makes you be a better person.”
Mr. Robinson premieres tonight (August 5) at 9/8 Central on NBC.