Obscure Black C-Lister Redux: Bumper Robinson
I’ve never needed to repeat a Black C-Lister profile because there are still dozens of random actors I need to point out and discuss. But thanks to VH-1’s recent heavy rotation of 1992’s The Jacksons: An American Dream I’ve caught a glimpse or two of the TV movie with fresh eyes lately. In fact don’t get me to lyin’ – I squeal with anticipation whenever it comes on. Who can resist Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as an almost comically tyrannical Joe Jackson or Angela Bassett as Katherine Jackson, a role that started her long career of playing somebody’s black mama? Not I, and the critic in me also loves pointing out the varied skin and hair textures that whoever cast this movie decided could exist not just in one family but over the span of one person’s life. Case in point: Bumper Robinson as Jackie Jackson, a role that won him a Young Artist Award and probably made the Jacksons thrilled since most of them have been trying to achieve that Bumper Robinson look through conks and plastic surgery for years (if you haven’t figured it out yet, no I do not think Bumper Robinson looks anything like a Jackson, let alone like Jackie, my second favorite of the brothers). I already profiled Bumper as an Obscure Black C-lister back in 2007 (giving birth to the Thembi-ism “avoid involving yourself with grown men who still go by childhood names”) but I didn’t know what I was doing back then so right now I need to dig deeper.
Bumper Robinson has been acting since he was four years old, first in a Jello Pudding Pop commercial, and then on sitcoms such as Webster, The Jeffersons, and as pint-sized break dancer Gimme A Break! Don’t bother just imagining how cute he was, check out a clip from his stellar turn in Mr T’s Be Somebody… or Be Somebody’s Fool! in a sort of rap video. Check it out:
See what a cutie pie he was? Let’s not get off track now, because this is about Bumper, not the mystical combination of 80’s-era-only factors that led to Mr. T’s rap career. He’s been in the game for a long time, but is it because he’s just so cute, such a great actor, or has that “you got Indian in yo’ family” look that casting directors (and, sadly, black America) seemed to crave throughout the 80’s and 90’s before light n’ curly men went out of style?
Two things have defined Bumper’s career: first, he tended to play small but key recurring roles on sitcoms such as Leon the shoeshine boy on Night Court, Clarence “The So Fine,” on Amen, Laura’s boyfriend Daniel on Family Matters, Jesus freak Dorian on A Different World, and Ivan the bike messenger on Living Single. What do they all have in common? They were all cutie pies delivering solid laughs, mugging for the camera, and zero edge. Second, Bumper Robinson seems to have killed more shows than the Saturday night time slot. He appeared on Punky Brewster in 1987, by 1988 it was canceled. Same goes for Hangin’ With Mr Cooper in 1996, by 1997 that was canceled. Furthermore, he’s joined numerous otherwise healthy sitcoms only to have the ax fall with him as a cast member, including A Different World (which had pretty much jumped the shark by then anyway), Amen, The Game, and even Sabrina The Teenage Witch. He’s always working but always losing his gig – what’s up with that? Does he actually kill shows or are the characters that he’s a fit for the last ditch effort to save shows that are already hanging by a thread? He’s only 35 years old and has plenty of career left, but has intriguingly very few leading roles to his credit or gossip about his personal life floating around. What is this guy’s deal? The world may never know, but if he is not the definition of black c-lister I don’t know who is!