By ALLISON KUGEL
From playing Curtis for two seasons on ABC’s megahit Black-ish to starring alongside Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish in the TBS hit series, The Last OG, multi-hyphenate actor-writer-entrepreneur Allen Maldonado is a modern-day renaissance man, the ideal fit for the role of Cousin Bobby, Tracy Morgan’s instigating but well-meaning sidekick in Oscar-winning filmmaker, Jordan Peele;s new project.
The show’s irreverent humour is inspired, thought-provoking and hilarious, as it manages to tackle the issues of post-incarceration societal re-entry, fatherhood and the gentrification of Brooklyn, New York.
Maldonado’s character, Cousin Bobby, attempts to help Tracy Morgan’s character Tray in his quest to turn his life around and put his family back together. YouTube and Instagram videos aside, I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at my screen. Maldonado’s comedic genius lies in the art of setting up the joke. He sets them up, and Morgan drops the hammer on the punchline – they’re a classic comedic team in the making.
What has working alongside Tracy Morgan on The Last OG taught you about great comedy?
I love being observant, taking in my surroundings and my audience, and being able to improvise at the drop of a hat. Anybody who has ever watched Tracy work knows he is very spontaneous and raw. He says what’s on his mind. Coming from other people, some of it might be construed as inappropriate, but that’s what makes Tracy so special. He can say things that, if someone else said them, it might be seen in a negative light. But when he says it, it’s hilarious. Being in that type of space where you can make people laugh in that way, that’s what I’ve learned from working with Tracy.
Jordan Peele is the creator of this show and he covers so many issues while making people laugh. The Last OG examines the concept of getting a second chance after being incarcerated, the gentrification of Brooklyn, and the importance of fatherhood. Beyond the laughs, what is the showcommunicating to its audience?
It’s about second chances at life, as Tracy’s character is released from prison after serving 15 years. It’s also about second chances with his family, including my character Cousin Bobby, and with his children. And a second chance with the woman that he let down before going to prison [Tiffany Haddish]. It’s not so much about building a relationship with her based on the past, but about building that relationship for the future and co-parenting his kids with her. What makes this show special is that we have a lot of dramatic tones because of the subject matter. TV audiences go in with the assumption that this show is a sitcom, but I’ve heard people say many times that the show is a lot deeper than they thought it would be. Same as in real life; there are things that are fall-out-of-your-chair funny, and other things that will make you fall out of your chair from crying. We have a perfect balance of that in our show.
In the episodes I’ve watched so far, there hasn’t been much co-parenting going on with Tray’s kids. How involved will Tray and Cousin Bobby be in Tray’s kids’ lives, in upcoming episodes?
There’s a natural progression that takes place. He’s been in prison for 15years, so she’s got to feel him out and get an understanding of who he is now. Who she knew was the man who was locked up 15 years ago. You’ll see a natural process we will go through with the kids and that relationship. In upcoming episodes you’ll see them be more and more involved in everybody’s lives. That said, the story leaves a lot of room for mistakes and comedic situations.
You have a history with Tiffany Haddish going back to the beginning of both of your careers. Tell me about working with her, back then, and now…
Just being able to see her star rise over the past couple of years, knowing her several years back, when we did a television pilot that never saw the light of day… From our first interaction meeting her on that set, she was hilarious back then. To be able to see her grow into the star she is, and the beautiful person she is, I couldn’t be prouder to call her my co-star on this show.
What qualities did you see in her back then that made you say, “She’s going places”?
She was true to herself and organically real, with a leading type of mentality. That’s a quality that Tracy shares as well. A lot of superstars have that confidence to say, “This is who I am, and take it or leave it.” She was always assertive in that way, and her style of comedy always resonated with me. It’s real and coming from her truth. The world is now seeing her talent, and it’s her time.
Your character, Cousin Bobby, is a classic comedic sidekick. There have been many classic comedic sidekicks throughout television history. Did you draw inspiration from your own life?
I drew upon my life and different family members I knew growing up, and that one cousin who has always been by himself and when he finds you it’s like he’s being resuscitated back to life. Suddenly, he’s driven to do things he was never driven to do before, because of your presence and the way he looks up to you. That’s where Cousin Bobby came from for me.
Cedric the Entertainer is another great talent on this show. His character runs the halfway house where Tray lives after being released from prison. Will Cousin Bobby, cross paths with his character, Mullins, in the second season?
We’re going to work that out. That was something I was disappointed in, that in Season One it didn’t happen. But we will cross paths in Season Two! It’s something I will make sure of. He is such a legend and a talent, and an incredible person. And I love to learn, so being able to share some comedic blows back and forth will be amazing.
You recently spoke with Janice Williams, a reporter at Newsweek, about gentrification and how it’s covered on The Last OG. Tracy Morgan’s character, Tray, goes away in 2002. When he’s released from prison in 2017 and he comes back to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, it’s this upper middle class, suburbanised enclave, and he has to adjust. What are your thoughts on gentrification of certain urban communities?
There are pros and cons. Being that certain urban communities were under-served, it’s unfortunate that when these communities are finally getting served, the people that were in need are being forced out. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and didn’t have much. It’s one of those things where if we had a little more assistance or a little more help, there are so many other individuals aside from me who would have made it out of those tough circumstances. When help finally arrives and you are unable to receive it, it’s sad. Growth is always good, but not being able to service individuals who need it the most, that’s my problem with it. Being able to co-exist, it’s what I would push when it comes to gentrification. There has to be balance.
Growing up in your neighborhood, did you have someone you looked up to the way Cousin Bobby looks up to Tray on The Last OG?
Yes, I did. I grew up around some rough characters, and some that would be considered the underbelly of society. I had the opposite of what most people would think these individuals would influence you to do. They kept me away from being in gangs. They kept me away from selling drugs. They kept me away from doing a lot of negative stuff because they saw something special in me. The reason they made those choices is because, and this is sad, but they felt they had no other option. And again, that goes back to being able to serve these communities with additional help. A lot of these kids are boxed in and don’t have hope due to their surroundings and a lack of resources and opportunity. They brainwash themselves into thinking they can’t achieve their goals in life. Something that my OGs around the neighborhood stressed to me was education and staying away from drugs. They kept me away from that stuff because they knew it was wrong, but that was their only option. I have nothing but good things to say about the OGs that I grew up with.
Better to have a flawed father in the picture whose made bad decisions and been incarcerated, or no?
No matter what position a father is in he’s going to be flawed. It all depends on the individual. Having proper guidance doesn’t necessarily fall upon your father or your mother. The people in your life will inspire you and inject inspiration and hope into your life. I grew up without a father. My father passed when I was young, so if he was here I don’t know how it would be. I’ve been driven by having to be independent and by not having that presence in my life, and sort of being my own father. I don’t know if I would be as driven as I was if he was here.
Being raised by a single mother, what did that teach you about life?
She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met. She would wake up at four o’clock in the morning and not get home until 8pm. She would take two trains to commute to work. She was also studying in college and taking courses, all in the process of taking care of three kids by herself. I feel lazy compared to my mother. To be able to do all that she did with no help and no family nearby. Knowing how torn she must’ve been to not be able to spend the amount of time you would like to with your child because you have to provide, that psychological type of stress is more impressive to me than the actual physical work.
Has Tracy Morgan discussed his 2014 accident with you, and how it changed him as a person and as an artist?
We discussed it because we share similar near-death situations. I was 21 and I was hit by a drunk driver, walking, and the driver was going 65mph. We both can attest to the fact that scientifically we’re not supposed to be here.
But you are supposed to still be here, because you’re here…
That is correct. The impact that something like that, that powerful of a situation and you being able to stand strong again with a certain amount of faith and understand that you have a purpose that, no one that shares that kind of story can explain it to you. It’s like, how do you explain love? How do you describe it? These near-death situations, the power of God, and the strength of your spirituality growing from this near fatal event, we both share that, and we’ve had conversations about how the grass is greener, the sky is bluer. And we both understand that you’re not promised tomorrow. Now I live by a motto that every time I go to bed I ask myself a question, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, can I look down at myself, at my body, and say I worked as hard as I could to fulfil my dreams?” If I can’t say that, then my day was not fulfilled. That’s how I live my life now. I would never want to look back once this chapter is closed and say, “I could have done more.”
You were a writer for the Starz series, Survivor’s Remorse, about a young man from an under-served urban community who finds fame and fortune as a basketball player, and he feels guilty about his success. Do you have survivor’s remorse, or survivor’s guilt, about your success?
I do. That’s why I do so much for the community. I have my kid’s foundation called Demo Nerds. We teach film acting and filmmaking to foster kids. My survivor’s remorse is in understanding the psychological difficulty that these kids have, thinking that they don’t have options. It’s very difficult for a child to listen to their parents, go to school and do everything right, when they’re struggling to keep the lights on and put food on the table, and everybody that’s doing something wrong is going around with expensive cars, jewellery, and things that people want. For me, visual representation is everything. Speaking with these kids and letting them see that there are successful individuals who look like them, sound like them, talk like them in different areas of business, entertainment, or what have you, is what I strive to inject into the community.
And you’re helping filmmakers showcase their work with your app, Everybody Digital.
We’re the first streaming short film app. We showcase short films from around the world. We have thousands in our catalogue right now. We’re also producing original content on the app and it’s free and available on the App Store and Google Play. To all short filmmakers, if they want to submit, all they have to do is go to EverybodyDigital.com. The app is giving more exposure to short films. Since the 1980s they were taken out of theatres and kind of put into a student film world where the average consumer doesn’t know these short films exist. So we are re-introducing short films to the world.
You play Litty in the upcoming remake of the movie SuperFly. Tell me about the re-make as is compares to the original movie from 1972.
I wouldn’t consider it a remake, I would call it a remix. The premise is loosely based on the original, but it’s not a period piece. It’s set in modern times and there’s a different spin on it, being that we shot it in Atlanta. It has the same style and flair as the original SuperFly movie, but in a different beat and rhythm. It’s heavily inspired by the original.
The Last OG airs Tuesdays at 10:30 ET/9:30 CT on TBS. Check local listings. Photo Credits: Courtesy of TBS
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A Memoir Of A Life Unhinged And On The Record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel. This interview was produced in partnership with TireAgent – the easiest way to replace your tires. Installation at home, or anywhere you choose; and with The Wellness Universe – Mind, Body, Spirit, Planet… your complete wellness resource.