Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Cedric the Entertainer

When it comes to notable St. Louisans, some need no introduction, and that’s certainly true for Cedric Kyles, better known as Cedric the Entertainer. The comedy icon has conquered both film and television, and his career is constantly innovating. From building a barbecue empire to becoming a published author, we checked in with the local legend to learn what he’s been up to.

What’s keeping you busy these days?
I’ve been stretching myself with some new businesses. Anthony Anderson and I started AC Barbecue. Our sauces and rubs are in Walmarts nationwide, and we’re planning to grow the company to a whole barbecue empire. Being from St. Louis, barbecue is a legendary part of our culture, and this was a way to show people how it and grilling bring us all together.

You’ve written a novel, Flipping Boxcars.
During the pandemic, everyone was sitting around, and I had the opportunity to write a book loosely based on my mother’s father, who passed away before I was born. We all have legendary tales in our families, and my grandfather is one for mine. He was an entrepreneur and businessman, but also a gambler and bootlegger at the same time. I created a crime capper about him doing a whiskey exchange with the Irish mob back in the 1940s. It’s fun and very much has Devil in a Blue Dress or Boardwalk Empire energy.

Sounds like a movie in the making.
No doubt. It’s easily one for sure. I come from the world of television and film, so I wrote it very descriptively. As soon as you start reading, you’re going to feel like you’re watching a movie.

What did you learn about yourself while writing a book?
It was a stretch for me, and that’s a great thing at this stage in my life and career. While doing the research, I also learned the similarities I share with my grandfather. He was a go-getter with big dreams who wasn’t going to be put in a box—we even share a sense of style with suits and hats. I’ve never had the chance to sit down with him, but I’m very much like him.

How did you come up with the title?
It’s a double entendre. For gamblers, rolling two sixes is flipping boxcars. It’s a big bet, a desperate one with 30-to-1 odds. In the book, the capper with the whiskey is done with railroad boxcars.

Did you ever think you would have so many other entertainment opportunities other than standup comedy?
I think that’s always the desire. For us back in the day, we saw the Richard Pryors and Eddie Murphies of the world take their standup and make great careers. I definitely desired those things. You don’t really know what’s going to happen until you do it. You don’t know where the next opportunity is. I was working for State Farm and on the corporate path. You believe that’s going to be your life. The first time I decided to do standup, I won $500. That was a different type of adrenaline.

When the lights are not on you, are you working on your craft?
For the most part, I make observations. I’m not super joke telling when out and about. I’m cordial and cool, and I will be funny if something happens. I watch situations and develop ideas. Most of my jokes to some degree come from watching other people.

What is the hardest thing about your career?
Always trying to make sure you manage expectations. This business has ebbs and flows. You want to make sure you are in as much control as possible. When you have that, nothing takes you all the way out. If a TV show ain’t popping, I can go do standup. I’ve learned to allow to let that part of my creativity lead. It doesn’t necessary always have to be at the tippy top for me to enjoy the ride. Be in control of yourself. Do what you do and what makes you happy.

Beach or Mountains

Golf, Fishing, hunting or sailing?
I love to golf.

Your go-to drink and food?
I love a good tequila on the rocks with a squeeze of orange on it. That’s my go-to drink. I also love a good pizza.

What do you like on your pizza?
I’m fairly simple. Pepperoni or jalapeno and a little chicken. Don’t got to put the pineapple on the pizza.

Where do you go for dinner in St. Louis?
In Clayton, Capital Grille. I also like to go downtown around the ballpark. When I was growing up, the Central West End was fire. That’s where you’d find the girls.

Why is St. Louis still home to you?
It’s truly the place where I discovered who I was as a young person. I went through high school, got my first job, bought my first house and launched my career here. It’s important to have a place where you can have that Norm from Cheers feeling. Everyone knows your name, and they know the real you, not just the celebrity. I love the vibration I get when I’m in St. Louis.

When people learn than you are from St. Louis, what do they ask you?
If they’re from St. Louis, what high school I went to, of course. Other people want to know about the barbecue, the Arch and the Cardinals, and they want to know if I know Nelly.

When it comes to fashion, are you trendy or traditional?
I’m fairly traditional. I like some trends, but my wife will let you know, I stick to the same things. Whenever I buy something, she’s always on me that it’s what I already have. It’s new, but it’s old.

You wouldn’t be caught dead wearing what?
I’ve been seeing the latest trend is little short shorts. They’ve gone back to the old days of Nate Archibald.

What era of fashion do you wish would make a comeback?
I really love the super stylish suits of the ’40s. The ties, flowers in the lapels and hats, it’s very gentlemanly, and you feel good when you go out. I like that flavor.

Who still makes you laugh, and is it hard to make you laugh?
I love a good laugh, and I admire so many comedians out there. Right now, I’ve really been rocking and rolling with my man Deon Cole.

As a comedian on stage, did you ever hear crickets when the crowd was not feeling you?
If any comedian tells you they haven’t felt that, they’re not a real comedian. There are nights it just doesn’t go your way. One night at The Brass Rail at Laclede’s Landing, I was hyped up, but I bombed. It was terrible. I thought people would show me love because I was in my hometown, but everybody but three people wanted their money back.

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