It only takes one night to change the course of your life, and no one knows this better than Deon Cole. Born and raised in Chicago, Cole frequented many comedy clubs in his youth and after watching Eddie Murphy’s first stand-up special, his friend inspired him to get on stage and give it a go. “My friend bet me $50,” Cole says, “and I never looked back after that.”
Cole spent time paying his dues on the Chicago comedy circuit, but his first major break came in 2002, when he landed his first film role in “Barbershop.” Following the success of films like “Boyz n the Hood” and “Friday,” “Barbershop” starred Ice Cube, as well as known comedians Anthony Anderson and Cedric the Entertainer. With this pack of funny men, the film was expected to succeed, but many, including Cole, had no idea the film would have such a lasting impact on pop culture. “We knew it was something special, but we didn’t know it was going to be as big as it was,” Cole says. “‘Barbershop’ means a lot to [the black community]. To this day, a barber shop is one of those places where we can go and talk amongst each other about what’s going on in the world.”
Following his breakout role, Cole continued hustling as a stand-up comedian and with some notoriety, he was asked to appear as a guest on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” And that same night, after performing for O’Brien’s audience, the late-night host gave Cole an opportunity that would take his life in a new direction. “He asked me to come write for him and I was like, ‘Really?’” Cole says. “So that’s what I did.”
Writing for late night was uncharted territory for Cole and at first, he struggled to switch gears. As a stand-up comedian, writing jokes was second nature, as they come from his own thoughts and experiences. But writing for a late-night talk show was a totally different beast. “I’d been there for about a month, not being able to write like others or catch on to what everybody was doing,” Cole says. “I decided to talk about what was going on with me and they thought it was funny, so we ended up writing it in.” As the only black writer on staff at the time, Cole brought a new perspective to the show and soon began sharing his thoughts on current events in regular sketches—from Oktoberfest to Obama’s election to “The Bachelor.”
Cole eventually found his stride and after many years working in late night, he made the switch to a sitcom with ABC’s “Black-ish.” Cole began as a writer on the show, but it wasn’t long before he had a role on screen as well. “I knew Anthony already, because we were both in ‘Barbershop,’ so we already had a relationship,” Cole says. “It worked out that I would play this character.” Cole’s character, Charlie Telphy, began as a recurring role during the first few seasons of the show. However, it wasn’t long before fans grew an affinity for the outspoken oddball. There may not be an actual person who takes every other Monday off to observe “Double Sunday” like Telphy, but he resonates with audiences just the same. “It’s a character that we all kind of know,” Cole says. “Everyone knows a guy that’s kind of weird and odd, but we love them. He has his own weird way of doing things, his own -ologies of how he thinks, and we’ve all got a friend like that. That’s how we can identify with him.”
In 2016, Cole filmed his first comedy special “Cole Blooded Seminar” with Comedy Central. For his special, Cole put aside what he’d learned about writing for late night and sitcoms, taking it back to what he knew how to do best. “I do a lot of observational humor and ‘Cole Blooded Seminar’ is about a lot of things I was going through at the time,” Cole says. “There was a lot of stuff that was coming to my mind that I thought was funny, so I started writing to it because that’s how I do it.”
Cole’s first special was a success in the stand-up world and over the next few years, he added several more projects to his resumé including reprising the part of Dante in “Barbershop: The Next Cut” and a main role in the TBS comedy series “Angie Tribeca.” Then, in 2019, Netflix came knocking and Cole was quick to answer their call. For “Cole Hearted,” Cole took what he learned from putting out his first special, as well as his many years in television and film, taking center stage as a comedy veteran. “I think I was more comfortable and confident with what I was talking about,” Cole says. “That resonated well with people, they were seeing exactly what I was talking about.”
After multiple film and television roles, as well as his stand-up specials, Cole’s fans thought they knew what to expect from him. Then, at the start of 2020, Cole flipped the script and did the last thing anyone could expect—star in a post-apocalyptic animated television series, “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts.” In the show, Cole plays an insect who has the ability to morph into different ages and, like many of Cole’s other characters, is never afraid to speak his mind. Although this is Cole’s first voice acting credit, he should have technically made his debut many years ago, as a different kooky creature. “It’s something I always wanted to do. It was my reason for moving to L.A.,” Cole says. “I was actually in ‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’ and filmed for, like, a year, then all of a sudden I was out of it and it was gone. That was another monumental lesson in Hollywood, don’t get too excited until you see it.”
With the second season of “Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts” already on Netflix and new seasons of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” scheduled to premiere in 2021, Cole has plenty on his plate, but that doesn’t mean he’s spending his free time away from the spotlight. Staying at home during quarantine has inspired Cole to put his attention into a different passion—music. “I’ve been DJing a lot, which is something I always wanted to do,” Cole says. “I do it as a hobby every Sunday on my IG live, it’s called ‘Disco Sunday Fellowship.’ Every Sunday, I spin disco for like an hour and after I finish DJing, I crack some jokes.” Through spinning songs from Michael Jackson, Stephanie Mills and James Brown, Cole brings joy to his fans in a brand new way—encouraging everyone who listens to come over, have fun and get into the groove.
Cole didn’t approach “Disco Sunday Fellowship” with a plan, but he tried it out and went with it, not unlike how he approached his comedy career. At the end of the day, Cole is an entertainer who thrives by following his passions and rolling with the punches, even during a pandemic. He takes what life throws at him, turning the tables of the opportunities he’s presented, even by spinning a turntable of his own.