Craig Robinson developed standup act against backdrop of music, teaching

You want to know what it was like for kids in music class who had Craig Robinson as their teacher? Check out one of his standup gigs.

Robinson, who will bring his now-ubiquitous piano to the Funny Bone for five shows this weekend, was a music teacher in Chicago before he decided to give comedy a go. Comedy has worked out, given his success as Darryl Philbin on TV’s “The Office” and featured roles in films including “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Sausage Party.” But it was the piano that helped him find his comedic voice, and his experience in the classroom that honed his skills as a performer.

“Just imagine I’m your crazy music teacher,” Robinson said in a phone interview. “The thing about standup, for my show … I’m just like, ‘Let’s all go back to kindergarten where we’re all just free and having fun.’ And the show can take off from there. That’s what I like to do.”

Being in front of a classroom, Robinson said, was good training for doing live comedy.

“Capturing the attention of kindergarteners through eighth graders prepared me for standup audiences,” Robinson said, adding that kids often proved to be a “sharper, tougher audience.”

Robinson followed in his mother’s footsteps in becoming a music teacher, and he said his musical training began “in the womb.” He started piano lessons at a young age, and sang in choirs in church and school. He found he felt at ease when at the keyboard.

“Piano did help me find my voice [as a comedian]. It’s what I do, it’s where I’m most comfortable,” Robinson said. “I can say what I’m feeling. … People think I don’t even use bad language in my show, but that’s just because there’s music all around it. Believe me, there’s plenty.” 

Using the keyboard helped Robinson develop his act, but it’s always been more than just a gimmick or a prop. 

“The beauty is there are punch lines in the music … without there always being traditional jokes,” he said. “Something you might hear that I set up might trigger a laugh or memory or a feeling. … Music’s got this power and emotion to it. You mix that up with some silly stories and jokes, plus plenty of audience participation, of course.”