ABOVE AVERAGE: DEON COLE TAKES THE LEAD!
EDITOR IN CHIEF: COREY GUEVARRA
PHOTOGRAPHER: TIMOTHY SMITH
WARDROBE: MICKEY FREEMAN AT THE ONLY AGENCY
WARDROBE ASSISTANT: KYNDAL DAY
GROOMING: CHERYL BERGAMY AT EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS
There’s a good chance that Deon Cole may or may not be exactly who you think he is! Engagingly complex, the actor-comedian is a contrasting mix of unassuming seriousness & immediately available humor! Needless to say, the artist we’ve come to know (& actively look forward to via his numerous Netflix specials) is as authentic as they come. He’ll make you laugh, but much like his [now] known ‘pen & pad’ stage quip, he’s thought long & hard, testing, theorizing & hypothesizing exactly which version of himself works well for his awaiting audience. Our shoot & interview with the statuesque star took place weeks before the present industry screeching-halt-strikes began, then finding the actor accepting ongoing kudos as his BET+ series topped ratings. Bursting open new career achievements for the once behind-the-scenes funny man, who began his career in the same writer’s rooms that thousands are now fighting to protect. In the wake of today’s cinematically-still, progressively-active climate, Cole sets out to return to his first love; the stage! In anticipation he’ll excite audiences on a national tour, quite honestly adding an apropos culmination to one of the BEST touring summers we’ve all had since returning “back outside”! Under his belt the hyphens keep accumulating, boasting recording artist, DJ & newly appointed, iconically coveted, ‘old spice guy’ titling to his belt. Suddenly we’re excitingly bearing witness to the soar of a well deserving star. Allowing us a unique moment into his world, we were able to scratch the surface with the multi-layered Chicago native. Chatting everything from chasing happiness to burnt cereal & ferociously finding his focus. This is Deon Cole in a sum of very particular parts.
WHICH LOVE CAME FIRST DEON, COMEDY OR ACTING & IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONLY ONE, WHICH WOULD IT BE?
Well… It's kinda weird, hmmm I'll put it like this… so chronologically, comedy arrived first! Now, I’d always WANTED to act but the order in which everything played out was, comedy first and then my acting career was birthed as a result of the comedy! If I had to choose only one? Uhh…. It’d probably be comedy. I love them both, but stand-up, being on that stage, honestly, it’s therapeutic!
DEON WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY, WHAT WAS YOUR EARLY LIFE LIKE FOR YOU?
Chicago, Illinois, South Side!!! -& yes, it was rough. Gangs, drugs. Same story. Same black guy trying to find his way. Same living in poverty, doing my best to figure out life and existentially seeking my genuine purpose on this planet.
IN YOUR QUEST FOR THOSE ANSWERS, HOW DID THE ACTING AND THE COMEDY REVEAL THEMSELVES AS ‘YOUR’ PATH?
You see, the stand-up led to opportunities for me to write. And those writing opportunities led me to acting. And then it all just somehow organically started both merging & expanding together!
DID YOUR EXPANSION BEGIN IN CHICAGO AS WELL, OR HAD YOU MOVED TO L.A. TO PIVOT INTO THE WRITING?
It was in Chicago. Everything started in Chicago!
SO, FAST FORWARD TO TODAY, YOU'RE FILLING SOME PRETTY ICONIC SHOES AS THE NEWEST ‘OLD SPICE GUY’. THAT IS A BIG DEAL! HOW DID IT FEEL HEARING THAT YOU LANDED THAT COVETED SPOT?
‘Crazy’ is the only word that comes to mind to be honest, I couldn’t believe it!
WAS THERE AN AUDITION PROCESS?
It was more of a personality test of sorts than an audition. I’d sent in a self tape and after they were basically like, ‘man, let's see what else you’ve got’. After some rounds of conversations & interactions, they were just like “you're the guy” and that was that!!
WOW, KISMET DEON. AMAZING.
SO, ‘AVERAGE JOE’ IS GETTING INCREDIBLE REVIEWS. THIS IS ALSO YOUR FIRST TIME AS A SERIES LEAD! SHOWING UP TO SET AS #1 ON THE CALL SHEET, WHAT HAS THAT NEW EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE FOR YOU?
It's been very different. Before this, I was used to doing my part for a couple hours then jumping into my car and going home. This was not that at all. This was being the first person there and the last person to leave. This is a dramatic role coupled with comedy. It takes a lot of preparation. I had to learn how to get rid of a lot of stuff in order to prepare for it. I literally had to cease doing stand-up and any other ‘jobs/pastimes’ while filming this role. Nothing else existed. Nothing else COULD exist, this role demanded all of me in a way I’d never experienced before! -And of course I tried, I did try to keep my regular life going, but very quickly learned that I HAD to submit. With responsibility like this, you’ve got to give it your all, you can't do any of the other things you’d usually do & think you’ll be able to get by juggling them all. It demands a totally different, newer, bigger, next-level, focused version of you. Tightening up wasn’t just for myself either, I had to especially commit to being the best FOR my cast mates as well. So, I did what I had to do!!
THERE WERE ALSO TALKS THAT IN YOUR INVESTMENT TO THIS ROLE, THAT YOU OFTEN TOOK A LOT OF THE STORY’S CHARACTERS AND THEIR ENERGIES HOME WITH YOU AS WELL. WHAT DID YOU DO TO FIND YOUR PEACE, BOTH DURING AND OF COURSE, AFTER FILMING?
It took me a while to find my peace admittedly. At least 2 to 3 episodes into filming. I wasn't at peace at all because I still was trying to hang on to my “usual” life and schedule of activities. After several times of both my body and mind basically yelling ‘NO’ to me, I had to really understand the magnitude of this.
AFTER THIS EXPERIENCE, WOULD YOU TAKE ON ANOTHER LEADING ROLE LIKE THIS?
Oh yeah, absolutely! As I said, the first time you do most things, you're thinking, "I can still do these other thousand things that I usually do." And when you realize that you can't, you have your aha moment and you lean in. It's a learning process, just like any job. Any new job you go to, there's going to be a learning curve that you're going to have to navigate through. This was no different. This was like, ‘Okay, sit down and study your lines and be at work on time and dive into this character deeply and authentically. Don't play. Because you’re co-stars, they're not playing at all! So, you have to match that energy and that level of commitment’!
WHEN YOU'RE NOT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA DEON, WHAT CAN WE FIND YOU DOING? DO YOU HAVE ANY HIDDEN TALENTS THAT PEOPLE MIGHT FIND SURPRISING?
Well, I DJ! When I’m not doing stand-up I try to DJ. Spinning good music, adding to people enjoying life, even just for a couple hours, It brings me peace of mind.
SPEAKING OF MUSIC, YOU HAVE A SINGLE OUT ‘WHERE THE FREAKS AT’? -CONGRATULATIONS ON IT HITTING NUMBER 1 ON IT’S PLATFORM. WAS BEING AN ARTIST ALWAYS A LIFE GOAL? IF SO, WHEN DID IT SHOW UP?
I’ve always loved music. Music was always a part of me no matter where I was. I actually wanted to be an A&R before comedy happened. Anytime I bought an album, I would instinctively choose the single before it came out. I just felt like I had a gift for it. -And I still do that to this day. If I buy an album, I pick three songs, and I go, ‘one of these is going to be the song’ and 80% of the time I'm right lol. So, that's what I honestly thought I was going to end up doing with my life. The music has always, will always, be a part of who I am.
"I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT COOK HA! -IF I EVEN POUR CEREAL INTO A BOWL, IT'LL PROBABLY BURN A LITTLE!"
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY, THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY, REALLY KNOW YOU…HOW WOULD THEY DESCRIBE YOU DEON?
If nothing else they’d immediately tell you “he doesn't like surprises” [lol]! They’d also hopefully say that “if you're his friend, he's going to ride or die all the way to the end for you”. Lastly, they’d more than likely say that “common sense is key” for me. If you ever want to get through to me, common sense would be the only language effective.
AHA NOTED! -SO DEON CAN YOU COOK? YOU SEEM TO HAVE A STRUCTURE ABOUT YOU THAT WOULD PAIR WELL WITH RECIPE EXECUTION. IF SO, ANY SIGNATURE DISHES FOR US?
I absolutely cannot cook! Ha! -If I even pour cereal into a bowl, it'll probably burn a little!!!
HA! WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SUCCESS THAT’S SHOWING UP FOR YOU DEON? HOW DOES IT ALL FEEL AND ARE YOU PAUSING TO REALLY TAKE THE MOMENTS IN?
To be honest, not really? -I’m always ‘on to the next’ thing you know. It's like, that project was cool but by the time it comes out, I'm working on something else. So I'm always going, there’s rarely a moment to sit still in any one thing. But I am grateful and for what it’s worth, I don’t think I would want it any other way.
WHAT'S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED AND WHAT WOULD YOU TELL ANYONE LOOKING TO CHART A SIMILAR COURSE TO YOURS?
Just be human. Just be original. Just be you. Know that your time is going to come. If it's to come, it's going to come. If it's supposed to come, it will come. A star is a star.
IF YOU COULD INVITE ANY SIX PEOPLE WHO EXIST OR HAVE EVER EXISTED TO YOUR HOME FOR DINNER DEON, WHO WOULD BE ON THE GUEST LIST?
Hmmm….Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jackson, Prince and Malcolm X!
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ARTIST DEON? WHO IS CURRENTLY IN ROTATION ON YOUR PLAYLISTS?
You know, It's hard for me to say any one person is my favorite artist because music is so massive to me. There are so many different moods and eras, so much greatness to choose from, I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. But if I had to name a few that I love and listen to on a regular basis, they’re easily; Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, A Tribe Called Quest and some occasional Nirvana believe it or not!
CIRCLING BACK ON THIS TOPIC: DEON, YOUR SUCCESS IS A BIG DEAL! YOU HAVE NUMEROUS HUGE SPECIALS, A SLEW OF DIFFERENT SHOWS. YOU’VE GARNERED BOTH FACE AND NAME EQUITY! WAS THIS LEVEL OF SUCCESS ALWAYS THE GOAL OR WERE YOU HONESTLY JUST CHASING YOUR HAPPINESS?
It honestly was never about success and it still isn't believe it or not. One thing that my people say to me all the time is "Yo Deon you forget that you’re famous." And honestly, it’s true, I don’t see myself in certain lights. I alienate myself a lot, so I’m not really ‘in the know’ or ‘the in-crowd’ they way people would think! The people around me are very grounded and they in turn ground me too. I just love what I do and in doing what I love, things really just show up along the way for me to keep feeling that way. Mind you, it all comes from stand-up. So, if I keep doing stand-up for the love of it, then my guess is that everything else meant for me will continue showing up as well!
AMAZING TAKEAWAY DEON, HONESTLY!
FINALLY, OUR USUAL CLOSING-STAPLE QUESTION THAT HAS ALWAYS YIELDED THE MOST INCREDIBLE ANSWERS. DEON COLE, WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF LUXURY?
Luxury to me is quality. And quality to me is time. Luxury is time. -The extended time it takes to commit to actually make something luxurious. I think that’s my definition. Doing the work. Doing GOOD work. Doing it at a high level. In order to do that, you have to put a specific quality of time into the process. Once you do, a thing can go from ordinary to extraordinary, it becomes luxurious -above average even!
DEON I’M GOING TO POP BACK INTO 1 PREVIOUS QUESTION TO CLOSE OUR CHAT. YOUR DINNER PARTY LIST, LOOKS LIKE WE’VE ONLY TALLIED 5 AND NEED JUST 1 MORE FROM YA. SO, WHO’S THE INVITE SAVED AS BEST FOR LAST?
….Ah! My mom!
BRILLIANT DEON. WE KNOW SHE'S SMILING DOWN, INDESCRIBABLY PROUD OF THE ALL ENCOMPASSING STAR THAT YOU ARE!
BE SURE TO GET YOUR TICKETS TO DEON'S UPCOMING NATIONWIDE COMEDY TOUR 'MY NEW NORMAL' COMING TO A CITY NEAR YOU! ALSO CATCH UP WITH DEON ON SEASON 1 OF BET+’s 'AVERAGE JOE' STREAMING EVERYWHERE