Black Jesus, Aaron McGruder’s follow-up series to The Boondocks, was getting boycotted before it even aired. That is how badly people want the image of Jesus to remain the same, over time (one semester of a medieval art history course, and they’d have a better understanding of the true origin of the images we’ve come to associate with the face of Jesus).
It’s easy to forget that Jesus himself was accused of blasphemy. So, in many ways, the biblical Jesus of Nazareth is a lot like Adult Swim’s fictional Black Jesus of Compton. Black Jesus loves everyone—even those who don’t love him—and his methods are a bit unorthodox. Many people believe in him, while others think he’s just a local bum trying to pull a fast one over on the world.
But let’s put all that seriousness to the side for a moment. After all, this is a comedy show! And Black Jesus actor Andra Fuller (also known for roles on The L.A. Complex, and Roomieloverfriends) is quick to remind fans (and others) of this. Obviously, there is a strong message in McGruder’s new work, but Fuller (who plays an ex-convict named Fish, one of the followers of Black Jesus) is equally interested in embracing the lighter side of things. Paste caught up with the actor to talk blasphemy, grand visions for Black Jesus, and, arguably, the most hilarious group of co-stars in television—John Witherspoon, Charlie Murphy, and Corey Holcomb.
Paste Magazine: It was such a cool experience live-tweeting during that first episode, and then finding out how well the show did the next day. What was your reaction to those ratings?
Andra Fuller: It was super-exciting. We didn’t have the numbers forecasted or predicted. But if someone had done that, we would have far exceeded those expectations.
Paste: You grew up the youngest of three, right?
Fuller: Yes. And most who are the youngest in the family—for some reason or another—we tend to be the most outgoing and entertaining. That’s exactly what I was.
Paste: So, you could say that your family life prepared you for the work you’re doing now.
Fuller: What happens is, you have to out-do your older siblings. Even when you’re not trying to be competitive, it’s inherent.
Paste: Sure, that makes sense. Now, when I hear a show is blasphemous, I’m totally drawn to it. That word alone just excites me. What was it that initially drew you to Black Jesus?
Fuller: When I learned that Aaron McGruder was attached to it, I knew it would be that same Boondocks-style satire comedy. I knew he was going to push the envelope. But I also knew that it was going to be well-written, and more than just what you see on the surface. So I was pretty much on board once I heard Aaron was behind it.
Before I knew [he was involved], I was a little apprehensive. All I knew was that I had gotten an audition for something called Black Jesus (laughs).
Paste: I saw something you tweeted a little while back, where you talked about how people will support another reality show with rappers and their babymamas, but will boycott something like Black Jesus. Is that upsetting for you?
Fuller: It’s just the epitome of where our country is right now—not just the black community, but where we are as a whole. I’m not trying to preach, I watch some of these shows for the pure entertainment value. But what sparked that reaction was that I saw a new reality show was being pitched. I’m not going to call any names, but the premise of the show is that there’s a rapper who has seven kids by four different women. And these four women are pitching the reality show. The chances of it being greenlit are very high, because it’s “four babymamas, one rapper,.” And people are going to tune into that.
Paste: Right, of course.
Fuller: But our show is a scripted comedy. We’re not telling you that what we’re doing on screen is true, or that we want you to idolize these characters. But a lot of young kids are looking up to these reality stars, and they’re aspiring to be like them. Like, “Oh, she had a baby by a rapper, and she never has to work again. I wanna do that.” “Oh, she threw drinks at someone on a reality show, and now she has her own daytime talk show. I wanna be just like her.” This is the new, 2014 American dream.
I see a bigger problem with some of these reality stars, and these websites that promote middle school and high school-age kids fighting—I’m more against those types of things influencing young America, than a show depicting Jesus in Compton. If you’re going to be so proactive as to start petitions to shut down a show before it ever even airs, then we have to play catch-up, and get some of these other shows shut down as well (laughs).
Paste: Would you say that you feel a sense of responsibility as a black actor?
Fuller: Unfortunately, as a black actor I don’t have the luxury of saying I don’t feel any type of responsibility. The reality is, there aren’t a lot of young, black, educated men on television that young, black kids—and young kids in general— can look up to. There’s always a sense of responsibility for the types of roles that I take on. And even when I’m not on TV, in the way I carry myself in every day life.
But I always tell people, I’m an actor. My job is to entertain. So if I take a role, and I believe in a role, it means I have to depict that role as accurately and as convincingly as possible.
Paste: Right, of course.
Fuller: One of my favorite shows of all time was Dexter. No matter how you sugar-coat it—even though he was, in a sense, correcting the wrongs of the world—he still was a murderer. If I take on a role like Michael C. Hall’s, I’m not condoning murder. So you have to know how to separate reality from entertainment.
Paste: I keep thinking about what it must be like on the set of Black Jesus, with all of these great comedians. How do you get any work done in a room with John Witherspoon and Charlie Murphy?
Fuller: (laughs) You’re absolutely right. It was very difficult to stay on schedule. You have Charlie Murphy, John Witherspoon, and Corey Holcomb—Corey is not as well-known in mainstream media, but he’s very well-known in the comedian circuit. Their improvs, and their ad-libs are absolutely hilarious. We used to get in trouble, because we would get behind schedule all of the time. Someone would say something, and someone would one-up them, and it would turn into a whole session. And then on big days, when we had a lot of background players, they would get caught up in our ad libs and start staring at us and laughing. We got in trouble in a good way, because we were having fun and making the show what it is today.
And I’ve said it before I worked with him, Corey Holcomb is one of the most underrated comedians. Some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth is so outlandish.
Paste: Agreed. I know you also have a big following because of your work with Black&Sexy TV. Did you expect things to go this far with Roomieloverfriends?
Fuller: It has far exceeded my expectations. I was actually at an audition for another project, and I saw that they had the casting set up for this. I pretty much crashed the Roomieloverfriends audition because I saw that the other guys there looked like me. They’d already boxed up the cameras, but they let me go ahead. I did this improv scene with one of the actors, and ended up getting the part.
Initially, Roomieloverfriends was shot as a pilot presentation. After there were no takers to buy the pilot, they split it up into a couple of webisodes. And now we get well over 100,000 viewers every episode.
Paste: That’s amazing.
Fuller: It’s crazy! They’ve inked a deal to develop their other web series with HBO. They’re also working on a project with Spike Lee, so it’s been great.
Paste: In your time working with Aaron McGruder, has he ever shared his grand vision for Black Jesus with you?
Fuller: When you listen to Aaron McGruder talk about Black Jesus, the one thing he emphasizes is how much heart the show has. The controversy has out-shined this, but the same things that we’re taught Jesus did, are the same thing Black Jesus is doing. No matter his circumstances, he still shows compassion and loves all man. The only difference is, it’s in a different environment, and he’s been influenced by his environment. But at the core, it’s Jesus Christ blessing people, performing miracles, and helping people out. And preaching compassion.
Paste: Well, I’m enjoying the show and I can’t wait for the next episode. Thanks so much for this!
Fuller: Thank you.
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.