Cedric The Entertainer has built an illustrious comedy career playing likable and controversial characters with quick wit. In his new comedy The Neighborhood, Ced distills all of that experience into a surly business owner name Calvin Butler, who is none too pleased with his new neighbors, a white family named the Johnsons.
In a move that’s a little on the nose, Butler’s new neighbor Dave is good-natured professional conflict negotiator and Calvin puts all of those skills to the test. While racial tension instigated by gentrification is not a new topic, it feels particular timely in 2018 America. Cedric stopped by the BET studios to give us a better understanding of Calvin and tell us why we should tune in to his latest.
1. Who is Calvin Butler?
My character Calvin Butler, he is a family man, he owns his own business and he’s been living in this neighborhood for many years. For Calvin, he believes that he has earned his right to be in his spot of the world and that nobody should come in there without getting a pass from Calvin Butler. So, he is the man in this neighborhood.
2. Why is he so prejudiced?
Calvin’s prejudice is once the neighborhood starts accepting in these ‘others’ —and it happens to be white people, but for him it could be any culture other than Black people—he feels that it will be a trickle effect that starts to change the whole neighborhood. You see his alarms go off when the new neighbors come in, the white family named The Johnsons. Not only are they white, they’ve got a Black last name.
3. Is this making light of gentrification?
This is not necessarily putting a happy face on gentrification. What this show is about is when gentrification starts, what is the effect to the actual neighborhood and the people who live there. We look at it and we understand that people are being displaced and eventually priced out of their homes. But for those who are homeowners and been living there a while, they can find an advantage in the increase of their property value and greater services around their neighborhood.
4. Was there anyone like Calvin in your neighborhood growing up?
I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis and we had a guy, Mr. Chapman who was like the Mr. Butler of our neighborhood. His sons were athletes and they went to Catholic school. We all went to the public school. But he was a no nonsense kind of dude. You had to show respect when you went by his house and say hi to his daughters. I remember his house was next to the swimming pool and when kids would come out and hang out and be loud Mr. Chapman would come out and shut it down. But then he was the one who taught a lot of us who didn’t have fathers. He taught me how to shave. He taught you how to change a tire on a car. He was definitely also that father figure in the neighborhood who made sure all the young men were acting responsible.
5. Why people should tune in with so much racial tension in real life?
This show is set up in a way that where a lot of the racial and political [differences] people have with each other right now, this show has an opportunity to take that, something that’s edgy, something that people find themselves uncomfortable talking about and put a fun light on it. It’s done in a way that makes for provocative television like back in the days [with] ‘All In The Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’when people said things that you thought was a little bold and was possibly over the line, but eventually you got to learn who that person was and find yourself really being endeared to this characters.
The Neighborhood airs Monday nights on CBS. Check your local listings for times.
Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images