By Jack Lewis
For The Diamondback
“Tim Robinson?” Your friend’s eyes narrow as they try to place the name. “He was on SNL a few years back, remember? His new show is Detroiters?”
Whether they know him yet or not, Robinson’s stardom has continued to rise over the past few years and his work has been consistently great. As a writer and performer, Robinson is a master of the sketch and sitcom formats. He can create weird, hilarious and often pitiable characters like few others.
He began his career as an improviser and sketch comedian with The Second City and iO in Chicago. From there he became a featured player on Saturday Night Live for one season before switching to writing full time. This year marked the premier of his Comedy Central sitcom, Detroiters, where he and Sam Richardson star as local ad men and lifelong best friends.
His comedic work is notable for his portrayals of the strange and the insecure. In his episode of Netflix’s The Characters, he plays a variety of these misfits, including a disturbed limo driver, a terrible wrestler and a man who wants to buy a gun so he can murder those who mocked him for clogging a toilet. The strongest of these sketches finds Robinson playing a Rat Pack type named Sammy Paradise who has everything going for him. But when he loses his money in a single roll of the dice, things immediately unravel. Paradise goes crazy trying to get his money back, offering to sell his toupee, a night with his girlfriend and tickets to a sordid, one-man sexual performance in the bathroom.
In the writing of this sketch, like so many of Robinson’s, the character is central but the escalation of energy is perfect. He has a knack for slowly pulling back the curtain to show how weird his characters truly are. In Robinson’s universe human beings are sad but silly; inept to a comical degree.
There is a range to Robinson’s performances, however. He can be big and goofy in sketches like Sammy Paradise, but he also has the ability to play a great straight man. He nails this type in the SNL commercial sketch “Z-Shirts,” where he grows impatient with a repetitive Kevin Hart. I’d venture that no one yells in a funnier way than Robinson. His screams of anger or frustration are so unintimidating they become hilarious. His style of delivery is also utterly his own, blending a slight Midwestern accent with an almost childlike cadence.
His character Tim Cramblin on Detroiters is an embodiment of Robinson’s comedic strength. Cramblin is put in charge of the ad agency after his father is sent to a mental institution, a promotion Tim is completely unprepared for. He is not respected in the advertising world and he seems to subsist on a diet entirely of hot dogs. He makes it through, however, with the help of Sam Duvet, played by Sam Richardson. The comedic chemistry between Tim and Sam is fantastic and establishes a strong dynamic in the sometimes vapid category of bromance comedy. Richardson deserves credit for his hilarious portrayal as the relentlessly supportive friend, encouraging Tim’s stupidity and matching his optimism.
Detroiters was recently picked up for a second season, so there will be plenty more Tim Cramblin to grace our television screens. Which is great news, since we lost Robinson’s characters too quickly on Saturday Night Live. Many still don’t understand why he left the cast so soon, as critic Mike Ryan said “[Taran] Killam and [Bill] Hader told me he’s the funniest guy at table reads. I don’t get it.” But whatever the reason, Robinson hasn’t let it stop him from writing great sketches and his own show. As the world continues to see more of his awkward-yet-warm brand of comedy, Tim Robinson is a name you’ll want to remember.