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Q&A: Cedric the Entertainer on comedy versus drama and his role in the U.S.-North Korea summit

Cedric the Entertainer will headline the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel on Thursday. (Elton Anderson / Elton Anderson)
Cedric the Entertainer will headline the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel on Thursday. (Elton Anderson / Elton Anderson)

Cedric the Entertainer is no stranger to playing a man of the cloth.

He played a reverend in 2000’s “Big Momma’s House” and 2001’s “Kingdom Come,” Father Doug Williams in both “A Haunted House” and “A Haunted House 2,” and a “man of God” in “Man of the House.”

On the small screen, Cedric portrayed Reverand Boyce Ballentine on both “Hot in Cleveland” and “The Soul Man.”

But the upcoming drama “First Reformed,” written and directed by Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “American Gigolo”) and starring Ethan Hawke, marks Cedric Kyles’ first time portraying such a character.

No, Kyles is not the name of an up-and-coming actor; it’s Cedric’s full name, which he chose to go by to indicate that his character, Pastor Jeffers, won’t be like the singing, dancing Ballentine, for example.

In advance of his appearance at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel on Thursday, Cedric spoke with The Spokesman-Review about how he bounces between drama and comedy and the role Kim Jong Un has in his standup material.

Q. You play a preacher in “First Reformed” and a coroner in “A Fall From Grace.” Between roles like that and comedic parts in “The Last O.G.” and “The Neighborhood,” plus your standup, do you feel like a boomerang between drama and comedy?

A. I like the idea of it. The thing about me as a standup and most of my standup early on, I would do characters. I would do my grandmother, my uncle and I would actually morph into these people. Even though they were mainly comedic, they had all these dramatic nuances. I minored in theater in college, so I like the idea of being able to bounce between character play. This would be the many years of being the only boy in a house full of ladies and would have to be in my room pretending to be people. It actually works for me. Fortunately they come out at the same time but they’re done in really big gaps from each other so they don’t really feel what you would think.

Q. When you go from a comedic role to a dramatic role, do you feel like you have to prove yourself again, despite your decades-long career?

A. Definitely. So much so that I’m often willing to go in and audition or meet with the director for these roles because with the fame from the comedy side, whenever you hear my name, people assume that it’s going to be strictly for a comedy. You have to remind them of great comedians who crossover and did really strong, dramatic roles be it the late Robin Williams or Jamie Foxx or even Richard Pryor was able to do some great work. Sometimes it doesn’t really go into the director’s or the producer’s mindset that I would be good for this particular role so it is important that I’m willing to act like a freshman, if you will. I come in. I’ve got to carry some books. Whatever I got to do to be able to say “Alright, cool. I want to be on screen with Ethan Hawke and these great actors and be able to do scenes with them.” You look forward to it.

Q. Was that the case for “First Reformed” or “A Fall From Grace”?

A. With “First Reformed,” it was a legendary writer/director, Paul Schrader, and he had a prototype in mind. He wanted the character to feel familiar and like somebody (people) knew. … People like Steve Harvey and then myself. When they pitched me, he was like “OK.” Then I called, we spoke on the phone, we really enjoyed the conversation and then he cast me. He was like “Yeah, that’s it. I like it.”

Q. Did you find yourself using a different toolbox in the serious roles or could you use some of the techniques you’ve developed over your years in comedy?

A. Definitely a different toolbox. Probably the greater toolbox I pulled from when I did Broadway for that short run. (Cedric appeared in David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” on Broadway alongside John Leguizamo and Haley Joel Osment in 2008.) That was the most I had to learn and the way I learned how to act in a dramatic way where your improv is not necessarily welcome. You have to stay on the page. You have to deliver the scenes in a way that grounds it. … Those shows definitely taught me a different toolbox than the one you use for standup and the idea that you use in a comedic role where I have a lot of autonomy as a “king of comedy,” if you will, to be able to jump off the page and try things and do something my way and nobody really ever says anything. But when you’re in a drama, you don’t have that same leeway.

Q. Do you make time for stand up when you’re filming or are you focused on the movie or show you’re working on?

A. I usually do. It’s still a big priority for me so I may slow it down. I may go from doing every weekend to two weekends out the month … but I usually try to stay locked and loaded with the jokes. I try to stay what I call always ready for whenever the call comes. That means you’re always at the gym and always trying to figure out what it’s like to be in front of the audience. I like it the most because one of things from how I started, it is the immediate reaction from your point of view directly to an audience responding to your jokes. It’s something that I deem very important to how I keep the engine rolling.

Q. What sort of material can we expect to hear at this show?

A. It’s going to be a great show. I do very little political comedy, but everybody’s got some Donald Trump jokes. I know it’s pretty Republican but I’m mainly going to talk about how I set up the whole Korean summit. I was just over for the Olympics and I talked to Kim Jong Un before then. I buy his chicken and they didn’t have that over there and that was “Whew!” You talk about this guy was really happy. Then I took him some more black, long sweaters that he likes to wear and gave him some Just for Men hair coloring. He was like “Oh man, I’ll talk to him. I’ll talk to Donald for you.”

Q. You should have given him one of your hats. (Cedric has his own lines of hats called Who Ced.)

A. He would have horrible hat hair. I thought about it but he doesn’t have the head for it. Lot of music, what’s going on, pop culture and some family stuff. I do like to have a good time on stage. It is very entertaining. I still sing a lot. I dance. It’s always a good time.


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