By JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD-CBS’s popular sitcom “The Neighborhood” premiered on October 1, 2018, spotlighting a friendly white Midwestern family, Dave and Gemma Johnson (Max Greenfield and Beth Behrs) and their young son Grover (Hank Greenspan) moving into a predominantly African American neighborhood in Pasadena, California, a fact that intensely annoys their next door neighbor, Calvin Butler (Cedric the Entertainer).
Now, five years later, the comedy is celebrating its 100th episode on April 10, 2023 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The lovely Cedric the Entertainer spoke with the TV Critics Association via zoom about the series and this historic occasion.
Q: In the beginning of “The Neighborhood” there was this antagonistic relationship between Calvin and Dave, but that shifted.
Cedric the Entertainer: It was actually very intentional. It was one of those things that in order to really get to the show that we were intending to do (was) to show the kind of contentious nature of what happens when people just assume somebody is different from you because of skin color, religion, background; this natural assumption that we live in a culture where, if somebody is different from me I don’t like them.
It takes you back to the early Norman Lear shows with, “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons.” So that was the way I wanted to approach the show. And the actors and the people that you meet come in and we enjoyed each other. We laughed a lot. We got each other’s sense of humor, and so it’s harder to act that when you have this kind of natural connection.
So, eventually, it just made sense to lean towards the friendship if we wanted to tell a funnier show. Plus, this was a situational comedy. We are not here to argue each week or everybody stand on their soapboxes. It started to be toward the end of the first season where we wanted to lay in this idea that there was hope, that there was this opportunity for these guys to find common ground. We don’t really care about the racial dynamics or anything anymore. They are friends. I love it.
Q: They say, nowadays, a lot of people just don’t see their neighbors very much. When you were growing up, did you have a neighborhood like this where you knew your neighbors and talked to them? And now do you have that kind of a situation, or do you wish it was like the show?
Cedric: I grew up in St. Louis, definitely the kind of neighborhood where you knew everybody up and down the block, the different families. You knew the houses not to go to. All of these things were a part of being a great neighborhood. Now, of course, it’s very different. One, I’m extremely rich. I have to live behind 13 gates, I believe, right now, if I’m counting. There’s, like, several security guards to even get to my own bedroom. (he laughs)
The pandemic was really good for that in the sense that everybody had to get outside. We were walking. And that was the first time that, in recent years, I had an opportunity to find out people who lived near me and see their faces and knew who they were.
Q: How does it feel to reach this 100th episode?
Cedric: The show has grown a lot. Of course, the cast is just dynamic. That’s been really one of the key things, I believe, to the longevity and the success of the show that we’ve had; and of course our writing staff and just the whole family environment here. I’m really excited to meet this milestone this year of 100 episodes, something that’s very rare in the business of television these days. We don’t take it for granted. We feel very blessed to be able to be doing a show on a major network at this time, as well as getting the great news that we’ll be back for a sixth season.
Q: How difficult is it for you to do standup now in this age of cancel culture?
Cedric: That is something that you have to approach with great care and trepidation. You can’t be careless and reckless knowing that, for me, I do have all of these other people that are counting on me to be able to come to work and do a job. And if I go out there and get us canceled by saying some joke that was reckless and careless and ruthless and mean‑spirited, then I can damage it for other people. So these are things that you have to be a lot more aware of nowadays than you used to be as a comedian, but I do embrace the freedom of being able to go on stage saying what I’m thinking.