It's really early in Los Angeles; I can hear it in comedian Deon Cole's voice as we chat on the phone, but he's still excited to speak. His new game show series, Face Value is set to premiere on BET in just a few days. On top of that, he's shooting ABC's black-ish, touring, filming the Steve Carrell-produced series, Angie Tribeca and gearing up for Grown-ish -- the black-ish spin-off that will debut on Freeform in 2018. That doesn't even cover his current Netflix projects, his stand-up special The Standups and Def Jam 25 are currently streaming. When I asked how he's juggling it all, Cole laughed. "Well I sleep in between interviews," he said jokingly. "I just have a lot to say and a lot to do. I appreciate the condition I'm in."
His latest venture, Face Value which is executive produced by his black-ish co-star Wanda Sykes is a late-night game show that will challenge people’s prejudices. Based solely on appearances, contestants will access strangers and make snap judgments about them. When Sykes first approached him with the idea, Cole was immediately intrigued. "I've never seen a show like this," he explained. "Getting paid to be judgemental. It's also to show [where] people are wrong as well as right. A lot of people were like 'I'm not going to be that way anymore.'"
Face Value has helped the Conan writer to challenge his own ideas about other people. Though he's hosting the series, he also finds himself questioning things along with the contestants -- and sometimes he's even shocked. "I think I'm a better judge of character than I am a comic because you have to deal with people," he said. "You have to know people. That's the only way that you can really write jokes well. [Face Value] basically makes me brush up on my skills as far as just looking at people and trying to figure them out. I think that's what it did to me. It's not rocket science; it's a fun show."
The NAACP Image Award nominee isn't the only comedian you'll see on the new BET game show, Girls Trip breakout star, Tiffany Haddish serves as the series' correspondent. For Cole, it was a match made in comedy heaven. "Tiffany is smart, she's spontaneous, she's quick, she's with it, " he praised. "That was a huge plus on the show for her to do what she does. She's so fast with [the] questions that she asks people. It's just a great, great fit. Shout out to Tiffany; it's all coming together." The Chicago native is also thrilled that the show landed on BET. He could not have envisioned the series anywhere else. "BET is just a network that's going to let you branch out and be you," he laughed. "Especially when it comes to profiling people. To me, we all do it --it's a Black experience. It's just a great fit. I don't think this show would have worked on the History Channel. You know?"
Though Cole has been in the game for quite some time, with roles in the Barbershop franchise and working on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and later Conan, it was black-ish that changed the game for him. "Black-ish has changed my life totally," he said adamantly. "We knew we had something special, but we just didn't know how people were going to gravitate to it. And how the world would embrace it for what it is and see our vision. Kenya [Barris'] vision, Anthony [Anderson's] vision and our vision and the way we play our characters is an honor and a humbling experience. We are going to keep carrying that torch and doing what we can do."
Much more than just a series, the show which returns for its fourth season on Oct. 3., opened the door for series like Face Value, Insecure and Atlanta. These TV shows present various perspectives of the Black experience, something we haven't seen on television since the late '90s and early '00s. "It's all a part of the balance, and that's what everyone should have," Cole said. "It's an important show, and I think it opened all floodgates for Black shows, to be honest with you, because there was nothing on TV, for black people for a while. Then black-ish came on, and it was like, 'Wow! Let's get some Black shows on the air now'"
Face Value premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on BET.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami