Hot In Cleveland spin-off The Soul Man launches with heavenly ratings, casting funny, engaging stars Cedric the Entertainer (also co-creator/exec producer) and Niecy Nash as church pastor and wife, Boyce and Lolli Ballentine. Divine intervention? Read why Cedric and Niecy say they're a perfect pair.
Story By John Griffiths As published in Emmy® magazine.
In any case, the ratings for the June premiere of TV Land comedy The Soul Man seemed downright heaven-sent. Nearly 2 million viewers tuned in to Soul Man from the creators of Hot in Cleveland, making it the second highest-rated debut in the network's history. (The June 2010 bow of Hot in Cleveland is number one.)
The soulful man in question is played by Cedrick Kyles - the stand-up comic known in funny circles as Cedric the Entertainer. He is also a co-creator and executive producer of the show, which features him as R&B superstar Boyce "The Voice" Ballentine, who leaves the Vegas high life to bellow instead as a pastor at a St. Louis, Missouri, church. The move comes much to the chagrin of his pampered wife Lolli (Niecy Nash) and ever-texting daughter Lyric (Jazz Raycole).
To hear Nash and Kyles tell it, the show's instand success - and their pairing - were destiny.
Before teaming up for Soul, they worked together briefly in 2007. That's when Nash, a Los Angeles native - famous for her hilarious role as dippy deputy Raineesha Williams on the Comedy Central hit Reno 911! - vamped through a supporting role as a quasi-vixen named Jacuzzi in the spy spoof Code Name: The Cleaner, starring the Jefferson City, Missouri-born Kyles.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the two have discovered much in common. Both were raised by single moms with serious mettle. Both spent formative years in St. Louis (the city that gave Redd Foxx and John Goodman their starts). And they're both big on family. Kyles - who voices the plucky Maurice the lemur in Disney's Madagascar flicks - is married and has three kids; Nash, as fans discovered in her recent reality show, Leave it to Niecy, has three offspring herself.
The similarities continue. They both have a flair for design. Nash, who started wearing roses and gardenias in her hair to stand out when she was hosting Clean House, Style's home makeover show, sells her own flower-themed accessories on HSN ("A rose deserves a rose!" she quips). And Kyles markets a line of hipster hats under banner Who Ced.
The eerie kicker: Nash's first husband, Don, was an R&B singer who - just like Kyle's Soul character - switched paths and became a minister (they divorced in 2007; she's now married to Jay Tucker, an electrical engineer).
In a chat with Emmy® magazine contributor John Griffiths, the two stars reveal why they're a TV match made in heaven.
Nash: I actually turned down the part initially because I was working on something else. But it came around again, and I took that as a sign. So many parts of the story intersected my real life. Lolli is suddenly the first lady of a church - I was the first lady of a church. Lolli is a beautician for a living, and I used to do hair. I was like, "This is crazy!"
So, even though you had been married to a minister, you had nothing to do with creating the character?
Nash: No, it was just a happy coincidence. I say - lovingly, by the way - "Some roles you were born to play; others you were divorced to play." [Laughs.]
What do you like about Lolli?
Nash: I just know her. She's very showy, flashy, over the top, but she loves very hard, is very comfortable in her skin and would do anything for her family. I love that.
How would you describe Lolli and Boyce's relationship?
Nash: They are a very loving couple. A lot of times in the sitcom world, the couple are each other's foils - and the butt of each other's jokes. Lolli and Boyce, though, absolutely love each other and each is the other's biggest champion.
Cedric, what's it like working with Niecy?
Kyles: It's been growing - very unique and dynamic - very loving too. We have a great time. We look forward to seeing each other each day. If I'm eating breakfast, [Niecy] will say, "Get your plate and bring it over here." I'm like, "You've got some real wife's demands going on here!"
Sounds like a marriage...
Nash: I would say it is very much like a marriage. If I go make a cup of coffee, I come back with two. I will even give him a list of things to do, and he will say, "I've got to get to my real wife's list first." I'm like, "Oh, yea, my bad!" [Laughs.]
Niecy, what do you admire about Cedric?
Nash: He's kind. When I was growing up, my grandmother would say, "People don't have to be kind." But he is just a really nice guy. He also has a very strong work ethic. He's very, very smart. He knows the business. Not to mention the fact that he's hilarious. He's constantly entertaining, so his name is very befitting. Whether he's dancing, singing or telling a joke, he's always entertaining the cast and crew.
If Cedric is the Entertainer, what is Niecy?
Kyles: Niecy the Outrageous! [Laughs.] She's a wild character, full of personality. She's dancing and singing and telling stories - all day long, she's fun. She's got a lot of energy.
Nash: Often times I call myself the Mother of Mayhem and Foolishness. If that stuck, I would really be happy with it.
How do you stay sane in this crazy business?
Kyles: I like to work hard and play hard. I play golf, hang out with my boys, take a number of small vacations throughout the year. I've got an old truck I like to play around with. And I just try to be a good spirit.
Nash: It's all about love. If I'm not spending time with my new husband, then I'm planning how to hook my girlfriends up, I'm planning a matchmaking party. [Nash also hosts Let's Talk About Love, a lighthearted web talk show about relationships.] I think love is the very thing we were created for.
Do either of you subscribe to a faith, à la Bryce and Lolli?
Kyles: I grew up in the church. I don't go as much as I used to. My feeling on spirituality and faith is: whatever floats your boat. But I do think you need to instill values, do the right thing, be good to others, be kind, be loving.
Nash: My children have been going to church with their father since they came into the world.
So, they haven't rebelled?
Nash: Oh, I'm not having that!
Is is tough raising kids in show biz?
Nash: You get what you work for. I don't subscribe to this philosophy of entitlement. I drive a Mercedes because I work. I can buy you one, but that doesn't mean I'm going to. Buy your own! The thing is, if you give and give to your children, when you're not there anymore, suddenly they're handicapped and don't know how to work for themselves. And I love my children too much to do that to them.
Kyles: My philosophy is to give kids the opportunity to figure things out and give them room to grow, instead of always telling them where the line is - and know that those mistakes can help make them stronger. That can look like leniency sometimes. But I think it's a good lesson to give them a little room and let them fall down sometimes.
Nash: Cedric is a softie. His daughter's going to have him wrapped around her finger! [Laughs.]
Kyles: My mom was an elementary school teacher and pretty serious, so I grew up a responsible type. But I was gregarious and fun-loving, too. I wasn't the class clown, but I was a person of interest. [Laughs.] At school, if something bad happened, I would get called in [to the principal's office]. They probably didn't think I was the instigator, but they knew I was somewhere in the vicinity.
Nash: My mom worked for the phone company as a supervisor, and my dad did anything and everything I don't think there was a job in the world he hasn't had. My mom had three words that I lived by and still do: No matter what. After my parents divorced, she raised her kids on her own. Failure was not an option.
Where did you get the drive to perform?
Nash: I was always a star in the making! When I was little, my family used to say, "Oh, my goodness, she's so silly, she's always jumping around! Sit down somewhere, the world is not your stage." I was like, "Yes, it is!" I would dance down the aisle in the grocery store. If I didn't have something to stand on, I would get the phone book and let that be my stage.
Cedric, who were your heroes growing up?
Kyles: I've always been a big fan of Eddie Murphy. I think he's amazing. He seemed so young when he got his start, so I really identified with him. That helped me to dream big. But my personal hero is Robin Harris [the late comic and costar of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing]. He was just so regular - his whole approach and delivery. He made me realize I could just be me and pursue this as a career.
Your character Boyce switches careers. Have you ever thought of chucking Hollywood? And what would you do?
Kyles: I've thought about it. I've never really had a desire to do anything else. I've always loved entertaining people. But there've been moments when I felt I did want to get out of the rat race. I probably would give Chicago a try. I'd open a cool haberdashery and call it Frostwood Park - that's the park that was behind my house when I grew up near St. Louis. That's where all the young men in my neighborhood hung out and basically grew up. There was just something about the camaraderie of that area. I'd have a place where everybody just hangs and philosophizes!
Speaking of dreams, if you two ever sang a duet on the show, what would it be?
Kyles: We could do "Solid as a Rock" by Ashford & Simpson! Or maybe [the Barbra Streisand - Barry Gibb tune] "Guilty." [Sings.] We got nothing to be guilty of!
Nash: I would love it! But might I suggest something else: "Endless Love"!