Shares His Not-So-Average Road to Stardom
MONARCH: So I’m going start with your beginnings. Tell us what life was like for you growing up in Chicago.
DEON COLE: Gritty, South Side…you know, gang invested, drugs, same Black man story that everybody got. But I had a lot of love even in the midst of that; there was a lot of love.
MONARCH: Did you always want to be in show business?
DEON COLE: No, this wasn’t in the cards at all. I never even knew I had this talent in me until somebody else pointed it out. Then I tried it, and I never looked back.
MONARCH: Were you a natural entertainer, or did standup help you develop your craft as well?
DEON COLE: I didn’t even know I really had what it took to be a standup comic. I wasn’t even thinking like that. I never even knew I had this talent in me until somebody else pointed it out. So you know, it wasn’t a dream to me until I began doing it. And then it became a passion of mine or something that I loved to do.
But as far as acting and all of that, that’s something that I did have on my mind. But I never had the money to take classes or anything like that, so I never did really put two and two together until later on—realizing that I could probably get into acting through standup.
MONARCH: I think you’re naturally hilarious. At what point in your life did you realize, I’m kind of funny.
DEON COLE: Not until I made people laugh like I always was dead serious about everything. People would laugh at it, but I would be dead serious about it. I’ve always been like that, and I’m still like that to this day. I let down a lot of people when they meet me because I’m not a slip-on-banana-peel, pie-in-the-face kind of comic. I’m an observational comic, so I pay attention more than I talk.
MONARCH: Who influenced you, or who influences you currently?
DEON COLE: Well, my mom. She influenced me a lot to just, you know, believe in yourself. There’re other comedians that kind of inspired me to write, taking a little bit of the pieces of what they do, add my own flavor to it, and give it to the people.
MONARCH: And when did you decide to pursue comedy as an actual career?
DEON COLE: I guess once I started doing standup. I just knew that I had to learn this. When you can go on stage and say something that you thought was funny and people agree, there is something contagious about that.
MONARCH: What do you enjoy the most—writing, standup, or acting?
DEON COLE: If I had to choose, it would be standup because standup is more therapeutic. It’s what’s on my mind. When I’m acting, I’m becoming someone else, and so that becomes an escape. But when I’m dealing with my own inner thoughts, standup is always better for me.
MONARCH: The Color Purple is a staple in Black culture. How did you get involved in this project?
DEON COLE: Some people being fans of mine and believing that I would be a good fit for this role. And the rest is history.
MONARCH: So the role you are playing is Alfonso, which we know is kind of like a true villain of the film. How did it feel playing this part?
DEON COLE: I play Alfonso, and if you know the original, he was a super ill dude. To channel that type of behavior, it took some escaping to pull that off. And hopefully it will resonate with everyone like it did in the first one.
MONARCH: Was this role or this genre of film a different experience from your previous body of work?
DEON COLE: Absolutely. For me to play a serious role was always different you know. But to channel what this man was about is the most important thing, for you to feel why he acts the way he does. I think we all went after the roles that we played, especially the men in this movie; all the men you’ll be able to really feel what really hounded them and why they acted the way they acted. It was important for us to pull that out and lay it on the table for people to see. It was something that you had to really go deep down and pull out.
MONARCH: You know, you said something really profound. You said you get the chance to see the why of all of the characters, primarily the men in this film. And I think that’s really important, especially in general, not just within entertainment or within theater but in day-to-day life. You know, we don’t get the chance to really see how men really feel, and men don’t have enough vulnerable spaces to be understood, so I think that’s beautiful in itself.
DEON COLE: I’m just speaking from a man’s point of view. In this movie, you get to kind of see why some men do crazy things. If men just expressed themselves more, it would help.
MONARCH: That’s profound. Let’s speed up things. Tell us more about this upcoming TV series, Average Joe. Although this is based on a true story, this really sounds kind of unbelievable. My dad stole money from the Russian mob…yeah, okay. So tell us about the experiences that you pulled from while getting into that character specifically.
DEON COLE: It’s a darkly comedic drama that takes place in Pittsburgh, where an average guy—family, hardworking, everyday—his father dies owing some mobsters some money. They think he knows where it is, and chaos ensues. So it’s nothing but twists and turns, murder, and betrayal throughout the whole series. It’s something to check out and watch if you like thrillers or suspense. Taking on this role was a departure from standup even though there’s funny stuff in it. It’s a drama, it’s gangster, and it’s thought provoking. It’s also about being pure, and innocent, and vulnerable enough to ask for help. The script was written incredibly [well], allowing for all different levels with this character, which is what drew me to this character.
MONARCH: With writing and acting, when do you find the time to tour as a standup comedian?
DEON COLE: If I’m not filming something, I’m in the comedy clubs or I’m on the road or just trying to make it happen or squeeze it in. I have to touch the people because if not for standup, I would not be doing any of this. I don’t want to be like a lot of comedians. In the past, they’ll get a movie and TV and notoriety and then just leave standup. They use standup to get to that platform and then when they try to come back to standup, they can’t sell one ticket. People don’t realize every four years there’s a reset on population, technology, whatever. There’s a reason why you graduate in four years. It’s a reason why a President is the President for four years. Four years is a reset, so if you sit out doing movies for four or five years and then you try to come back to doing standup, it’s not going to pop. So I will always do standup. Standup will always be number one.
MONARCH: It’s kind of like not forgetting where you came from.
DEON COLE: Yeah, exactly, that’s it.
MONARCH: If you could choose your comedic Mount Rushmore or your favorite actors, who would you choose?
DEON COLE: People always ask me this. I’d be lying. It’s impossible with movies, music, comedy; it’s impossible because everybody’s different and everybody brings a different perspective. And I would be canceling out people’s perspectives because that’s what comedy is about, right? But as far as a Mount Rushmore, I mean, you have your greats: Richard Pryor and Red Foxx, and I think Richard shouldn’t even be on that list. That just should be a given. You should never even have to say Richard Pryor’s name ever. Moms Mabley on there, Red Foxx is on there, Eddie Murphy and Chappelle and Rock. Ellen DeGeneres. Mitch Headroom. George Carlin. Those are great standups.
MONARCH: What separates you from other artists?
DEON COLE: I come with a different vision; I come with a different energy. If you have five comedians standing outside and we saw a car crash, it’s only one car crash. And we all saw that car crash at the same time. But yet we would all give a different version of that accident…and all of them are going to be amazing. All of them are going to be hilarious, and they are all going to come from a different perspective. To take out how I envisioned the car crash over how Katt Williams envisioned the car crash is all about perspective.
MONARCH: So on that note, what would you like your legacy or impact on culture—and not just Black culture—to be when everything is said and done?
DEON COLE: That he was here and he did this, and he changed the game and added to the game. Or he had a different vision on game right. What would he have said—or Deon-esque-type things or Deon-like? Or Deon-isms or things of that nature. You know, when I’m gone, that would be something that people would do and hold in high regard. And you know, that’s a good enough legacy for me.
MONARCH: This interview has been absolutely amazing. Where can we stay in the loop with all things Deon Cole?
DEON COLE: Deon Cole.com. Or I’m on my Instagram—Deon Cole on Instagram too.
MONARCH: Thank you so much, Deon. This has been absolutely amazing, and we are super proud of you. We thank you so much here at Monarch for joining us
DEON COLE: Thank you so much. Appreciate you.