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Robert Guillaume

Actor

Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with “dignity” on Soap

03:15

One of the things I was trying to avoid was dignity, that terrible term that you're either a buffoon if you're black or you play it with dignity. I hated that idea because I knew that dignity did not make people laugh. I wanted desperately to make people laugh. So I found a way to say what I was going to say in the script without demeaning black people or myself. At the same time, I found a way to do comedy that I don't think many blacks had found before that -- that you could be yourself and make people laugh.

About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview, Robert Guillaume discusses his lengthy career in television, which began with guest appearances on the series Julia, All in the Family and The Jeffersons. He describes originating the character of "Benson DuBois" in the series Soap and continuing to play the role in the spin-off, Benson (1979-86). He speaks eloquently and openly about avoiding stereotypes in his portrayal of "Benson" and the evolution of the character from Soap to Benson. He details several other television performances, including his work in The Robert Guillaume Show (1989), and discusses his lengthy stage career, which included replacing Michael Crawford in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera. Guillaume also speaks of his then-current role in the ABC sitcom Sports Night which premiered in 1998 and the stroke that sidelined him during the series. Meryl Marshall conducted the interview in Encino, CA on March 24, 1999.

One of the things I was trying to avoid was dignity, that terrible term that you're either a buffoon if you're black or you play it with dignity. I hated that idea because I knew that dignity did not make people laugh. I wanted desperately to make people laugh. So I found a way to say what I was going to say in the script without demeaning black people or myself. At the same time, I found a way to do comedy that I don't think many blacks had found before that -- that you could be yourself and make people laugh.

Interview Highlights

Embedded thumbnail for Historic Events and Social Change ^^ Diversity in Television ^^ Minorities

Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with “dignity” on Soap

Historic Events and Social Change ^^ Diversity in Television ^^ Minorities03:15
Embedded thumbnail for Robert Guillaume on the end of         Benson

Robert Guillaume on the end of  Benson

Robert Guillaume on the end of  Benson02:07
Embedded thumbnail for Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap ; but finding ways to make a statement

Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap ; but finding ways to make a statement

Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap ; but finding ways to make a statement03:53
Embedded thumbnail for Robert Guillaume on forming a publishing company, The Confetti Company, to publish children's books with African-American characters

Robert Guillaume on forming a publishing company, The Confetti Company, to publish children's books with African-American characters

Robert Guillaume on forming a publishing company, The Confetti Company, to publish children's books with African-American characters01:29