A talented comic actor with a flair for improvisation, Cedric Yarbrough is best known for his role as Deputy S. Jones in the reality cop show parody Reno 911! Debuting in 2003 the improvised show became an instant hit for cable network Comedy Central and has been compared favorably with the hit BBC offering The Office. But it took almost three years for the show to make it onto the air, and in the meantime Yarbrough worked on various other television shows and in theater, while making his living waiting tables. His notable TV appearances include the Cedric the Entertainer Show, and Andy Richter Controls the Universe, but he also appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse alongside Phylicia Rashad and Diahann Caroll in Blue. Since coming to the attention of a wider audience in Reno 911! Yarbrough began to break into movies, including the 2004 comedies Meet the Fockers and Broken.
Cedric Yarbrough was born on August 26, 1971, and raised in Burnsville, Minnesota. He has two brothers, Eni and Trevor, and a sister, Amber. He attended Burnsville High School and after graduation attended Minnesota State University in Minneapolis, where he studied drama and musical theater, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1996. He appeared in several student theater productions including playing the title role in Sweeney Todd. He worked with theater groups in Minneapolis and after graduation became heavily involved as a writer and actor. In particular he appeared with Mixed Blood Theatre, The Children's Theatre, Penumbra and The Brave New Workshop, where he showed a strong talent for improvisation.
Yarbrough moved to Los Angeles, California, in 2000 to look for work in television and movies and within a few months he was part of the team booked by Fox to shoot the show that several years later would become Reno 911!, a spoof of Fox's own long-running reality TV show, Cops. Then a sketch show called Ugly Americans, the spoof police reality show idea came up when producers Tom Lennon, Robert Ben Garrant, and Kerri Kenney tried to win over skeptical Fox executives, but the gamble failed. Yarbrough went back to waiting tables and picked up a little acting work here and there, including appearances on TV comedy shows The Cedric the Entertainer Show and Andy Richter Controls the Universe. In 2002 he also appeared in the play Blue at the Pasadena Playhouse. Then in 2003 Comedy Central decided to bring Lennon, Garrant, and Kenney together again to remake the pilot of Ugly Americans; the result was Reno 911! Kenney, who plays Deputy Trudy Wiegel, described the process of making the program to the Denver Post : "We know we have to get from point A to point B. The rest is improv."
A theater workshop veteran, Yarbrough's talent and experience are well suited to the approach, but he is also aware that Reno 911! is unusual. He told the Department of Theatre and Dance at Minnesota State University: "The network actually trusts us to come up with things. The executive producers trust us to come up with character development. What a novel idea! I wish more production companies (and directors for that matter) would allow their actors to have an opinion." His character, Deputy S. Jones, sees himself as a Billy Dee Williams type and spends much of his looking for "action" and acting "smooth." Yet despite the freedom Yarbrough and the other actors enjoy as a result of the format, making each show is a time-consuming and laborious process. Actor and producer Kenney explained to the Denver Post that a 29-minute take can yield as little as 30 seconds of usable footage. She said, "Tape is cheap, you know" and in some ways that attitude is exactly what the show parodies in its take-off of cheap reality-TV documentaries. Though the humor comes from the behavior of a bunch of inept cops patrolling Reno, Nevada, another of the show's targets is TV production values themselves. The success of Reno 911! was something of a surprise. Since debuting in July of 2003 it has become a favorite for the network and a third series will air in the summer of 2005.
Reno 911! provided a platform from which Yarbrough could extend his acting career into movies. In 2004 he appeared in the short comedy Broken, directed by Paco Farias, and as a prison guard in Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2000 film Meet the Parents, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. In 2005 Yarbrough's career as a comic actor seemed to be on the rise. Having lived for years in some of Los Angeles' least desirable areas, including Korea Town, he moved to Beverly Hills following the success of Reno 911! But he remained realistic about his career as an actor. His experiences of Hollywood have taught him not to expect it to be easy, as he related in an interview the Department of Theatre and Dance at Minnesota State University: "But if you're not prepared to work and struggle and to be kicked down and to get up only to be kicked down 500 more times, don't come out here. It really isn't for the weak."
At a Glance...
Born Cedric Yarbrough on August 26, 1971, in Burnsville, Minnesota. Education: Minnesota State University, BA, drama, 1996.
Career: Actor, 1990s–; Mixed Blood Theatre, Minneapolis, 1990s; The Brave New Workshop, Minneapolis, 1990s.
Addresses: Agent— Arlene Thornton & Associates, 12711 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 490, Studio City, CA, 91604, USA; MBA Theatrical Agency, Concorde House, 18 Margaret Street, Hove, BN2 1TS, UK.
Meet the Fockers, 2004.
Blue, produced at Pasadena Playhouse, 2002.
Reno 911!, 2003.
Boston Herald, June 9, 2004, p. 49.
Denver Post, July 14, 2003, p. F01.
Houston Chronicle, July 23, 2003, p. 8.
Maxim (USA), June 2004.
New York Times, July 23, 2003, p. E5.
Washington Times, October 18, 2004, p. B06.
"Cedric Yarbrough," Comedy Central, www.comedycentral.com/press/bios/bio.jhtml?f=Cedric_Yarbrough.xml (March 10, 2005).
"Former Student Cedric Yarbrough Is on Patrol in Reno 911," Minnesota State University, Mankato, Department of Theatre and Dance, www.mnsu.edu/theatre/index/feature.htm (March 10, 2005).
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