Deon Cole has partnered with Netflix on another comedy special. Like his previous standup material, it’s raw, relatable, and honest. The black-ish alum touches on everything from dating to social media to aging to homophobia. But the one thing special about this piece is the title. It’s titled Charleen’s Boy, a tribute to his adoring mother, whom he lost just last year. Ironically, he filmed it on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, which was never the plan. But like his mama, she showed up in ways unimaginable to help him get through it.
Ahead of the Nov. 15 premiere date on the streaming app, Shadow and Act spoke with Cole about his journey to producing his most personal special. He also dished on how he’s navigating cancel culture as a comedian, the impact of his work, continuing his work with Netflix, and showcasing his range as an actor.
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S&A: In this special, you touch on getting older throughout the special. Why decide to make that a focus?
DC: It made people laugh to talk about the day-to-day things. And if you know my standup, my standup is just basic, random information and just observations of things that go on around you.
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S&A: You've done work with Netflix before. What do you feel has been the benefit of streaming services in the world of comedy?
DC: I think it’s great. Netflix is one of the best when it comes to standup when it comes to streaming services.
S&A: I was actually just talking to my cousin earlier about how long you’ve actually been around because we watched Barbershop not too long ago and I forgot that you were in that film. And now obviously, you're getting a lot more opportunities, not just in standup, but also in television and in film. Do you feel as if you're finally getting the recognition that you deserve and the way that you and the way that you want as an entertainer?
DC: You know, everything’s about time. And that’s one thing I try to tell everybody. Everybody has their time. Had I been a child star and then not working right now, then I wouldn’t be happy. So it’s just about your time and your resilience and constantly not giving up. You keep rocking. People are going to notice you, and they want to see more of you, and people are going to give you more chances and opportunities. I think that’s I think as far as my career is concerned, that’s what it’s been, to just wait my time out and join me.
S&A: In terms of acting, one of your more critically acclaimed roles was on 'black-ish,' and obviously, the show has ended. What do you feel the show did for black culture specifically? And how do you feel that it made a positive impact on the world?
DC: black-ish was a powerhouse. It changed the landscape of television and showed networks that there’s a viewership for Black consumers, and there really wasn’t a lot at the time when we came out, there were no Black shows out like that at and everyone was watching reruns. So when black-ish came out, it just really changed things. And to be solidified in pop culture for the rest of our lives from that show is a dream come true and an honor. It was very important to the culture and one of those shows where you probably will watch something, but you’ll go watch it. It was super funny. They were really dealing with some stuff, and a lot of people do that to this day. So that was very important.
S&A: You have a very versatile resume in terms of the projects that you have participated in, but you always go back to stand up. What do you get from standup that you don't get anywhere else?
DC: It’s therapeutic for me. It’s all my thoughts, what I think, my observations, my thought process. That’s what stand-up has always been. It’s been a way to deal with what I think and with a group of people.
S&A: How do you feel how social media impacts your line of work? And do you think that there is a downside to the instant fame that up-and-coming comedians can get from such platforms?
DC: There is an upside and downside in anything that you do. There’s no exception. And so it’s good with it and bad, and you just have to stay your course. You have to keep doing what you do in the midst of change. People love you, and there are times that you can’t change, that you got to give people what they want. And that’s the mentality that I have. I feel I’m in my lane. And you either like it, or you don’t. Today’s game is it’s a different game. It’s all about how many seats you can fill. And there’s a lot of drive banding but the funny – there’s a group of people that still enjoy funny, and I just try to laugh with those people. That’s it.
S&A: As a comedian and as someone who uses jokes to perpetuate a further message or just to bring light to the world, what is your take on cancel culture, and has it adjusted the way that you approach your comedy?
DC: I mean, it has. Right now, people can’t handle it, which is so weird to me. It’s so weird how people can’t handle dialog and how people have actually condemned themselves from freedom of speech. People are doing that to themselves. People are going, ‘You do not have the right to say this, and that.’ And it’s like, ‘OK, well what is the land of the free and the home of the brave?’ It doesn’t make sense. And if you don’t like something, why be around it?
I don’t like my things with coconut in it, so why would I go buy it? But why would I complain that they sell it? It doesn’t make sense for me to go complain about things with coconut in it because I don’t like it. It’s just a bad thing for me. But it is so bizarre how people try to cancel you for saying something that they don’t even really like in the get go? You can’t cancel a person because they’re not for you. But that’s where we live right now. It’s unfortunate.
S&A: In terms of keeping it even, is there anything for you as a comedian that's off limits for you to joke about?
DC: Nah, not really. I think wherever your mind goes, you should talk about it. You know what you do is how you do it. You just got to see how to do it, and it can be done.
S&A: How are you looking to continue to further your relationship with Netflix?
DC: Just keep rocking, keep putting out quality work and quality material as far dealing with good quality projects that’s going to touch everybody. Everybody gets so caught up in how cool you are and this and that. I think the goal is just to reach as many people as possible. And I feel as though I have a body of work that can do that. I think me and Netflix have always seen eye to eye on a lot of things, and hopefully, we continue to.
S&A: Your latest Netflix special, 'Charleen’s Boy,' is an ode to your mother. Can you talk a little bit about the special relationship that the two of you shared and why you wanted to honor her in this way?
DC: My mom was everything. My everything. I am the only child. And there are no brothers and sisters. No father. And she was everything to me. She still is. Everything I did was for her. We talk every day. When things didn’t work out, she made it work out. She was a praying woman. She made things happen that I never thought would happen. I would pray and have faith and all of that. For that to be taken away from me – and I’m still to this day hurting from this situation – and it’s only been a year since she passed. And so, with this special, I wanted to make sure that she lives forever. But naming the title after her wasn’t even my goal.
I wasn’t trying to do that. I usually do some type of twist on my name in all of my titles. But. I performed everywhere around the country, and I have nowhere else to really perform. When it came to shooting the special, I had performed was New York, and Netflix wanted me to shoot in September, so I was looking for places to shoot, and I was telling them, ‘Make sure you find me a place to shoot at the end of the month.’ I didn’t want to be working at that time on the anniversary of my mom’s passing. And I didn’t give them those details. They come back to me, and they go, ‘Yeah, well, we got this place in Brooklyn, and it’s September 10,’ which is the day my mom passed. I said, no. I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing that’. And so I was crying. I was like, ‘I can’t believe they came back on and on that actual day that she passed.’ They said that it was the only place because in New York and Manhattan and other places, they cost so much, it made no sense for me to do it. So that was the only place left in the country that I could perform at a reasonable price. But it was on that day.
And the more I start thinking about my start thinking, it was crazy. I was like, ‘I don’t know if my mom has something to do with this,’ but it felt like she was cornering me. I felt like she was saying, ‘I know you’re not going to mourn me on the day. You must celebrate. You must celebrate. You’re going to do your special on this day, and you gonna go out and you’re going to have a good time. You’re going to make people laugh. You don’t do it on this day. Don’t remind me on this day. I’m going to make sure you do it on a day to day.’
So I went with it. I started thinking that maybe I need to start feeling good. Maybe I can dedicate the special to her and just do it on that day. And I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but. Up until the time I walked out when people see me walk out, I was just crying. I just kind of wipe my face. And I came out there. I didn’t want to tell people what that day was until the end of my special because I didn’t want no crutch [or] nothing. And when I did this and when I was done, I tell people what that day was, that this was the first anniversary of her death on that day, and we all had this moment of coming together and dealing with death and other people going through the same thing. And I felt like I was bringing people together at that moment. So, it felt bigger than just comedy.
I changed the name of the special from Cole Facts to Charleen’s Boy. I felt like when people see the special, they will say the name of the special, which means. But actually, they’re also saying exactly who I am, which is Charleen’s boy. And it will remain that way forever. And people will say who I am. Shooting that special is very intense.
S&A: Now that your mom as your guardian angel and guiding you along the way, what are you looking to do next? What do you feel as if you want to tap into as far as being an actor and a comedian, and a content creator as well? Are you looking to dig into potentially any serious roles, or what are you looking for your next act to be?
DC: Wow. I have a lot of projects coming out. Right now, I am shooting Average Joe and it’s a TV show about a guy who’s an emotional wreck. This guy goes from a funny kid to charismatic to mayhem and craziness happens. And so it is a serious role with some comedy elements to it and a very good project. I have another movie coming out on Netflix, and then I am in The Color Purple the musical, which is coming out a year from this Christmas. And that’s a serious role to play. And so we’re going to go back and forth from comedy to serious and just keep walking, keep being quiet and staying out of the way and just rocking. I’m keeping my mom’s name alive and just keep on touring and working on material for another special and just keeping it going.
S&A: Well, it's been a pleasure speaking to you. I look forward to seeing you in 'The Color Purple,' because I'm interested to see how this re-imagined version is going to turn out with you in it. And it's such a star-studded cast.
DC: It’s an amazing cast. Wait until you see the pictures. Steven Spielberg, and Oprah Winfrey, they are the executive producers. There is something else. Definitely there. I can’t wait for you will see it. It’s going to resonate with a lot of people.