Jonathan, 34, plays Stamps Ballantine, the freeloading, debonair younger brother of R&B singer-turned-pastor, Royce “The Voice” Ballantine (Cedric the Entertainer), and his wife, Lolli (Niecy Nash). Since its Jun. 2012 debut, The Soul Man is TV Land’s second highest rated series behind Hot In Cleveland.
Jonathan’s wit and clever one-liners are a good match with his co-stars. “It’s extremely professional. We have 18 to 22 minutes to tell a story, and it has to be funny. The first time you see it is the first time we see it. We don’t know all of the time what they’re gonna cut or what they’re gonna keep to keep the story consistent and to make sense,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan, who starred on NBC’s Saturday morning series City Guys (what he calls “Saved By The Bell with color”) and The WB’s What I Like About You, has appeared on countless sitcoms, films and primetime dramas for over two decades.
The veteran performer appreciates the nostalgic network for having an original show on its roster featuring a primarily black cast. Joking consistently between comments, a humble Jonathan points out the writing, casting and network politics that come along with working on The Soul Man.
“There are some jokes that were a lot funnier I thought they should’ve kept. The ad-libs are funnier to me. When [Cedric] does it, it’s hilarious,” says Jonathan.
Currently in its second season, Jonathan further acknowledges The Soul Man’s changes. The Ballantines’ daughter, Lyric (Jazz Raycole), was written off. Royce and Stamps’ father, Barton (John Beasley), went from being a regular cast member to a recurring role. The first season’s church scenes, pre-taped without an audience, are being edited out, Jonathan says, as a cost effective measure. Before the show even debuted, a younger son didn’t even make it on-screen.
Airing immediately following Hot in Cleveland and The Exes, The Soul Man’s cast, Jonathan in particular, questions if its Wednesday 11:00 p.m. time slot can keep viewers tuning in. “The time slot stresses me out. We were given the option to have another night without the lineup. We might as well be alone out there by ourselves,” says Jonathan.
Far from being cynical and just telling it like it is, a humorous and relaxed Jonathan sits on the arm of a sofa sipping a cranberry mimosa. Executives, he says, argue that airing in the summer and a rise in DVRs will sustain The Soul Man’s black viewership.
Jonathan disagrees. “This is what [networks] do. They’ll give us our lines, get all of the numbers, throw us away and then go back to their thing. Technically, [Hot In Cleveland’s] viewers are not the same as ours. The old white ladies and white people that watch are pretty much not gonna stay and watch us. Some maybe but not completely,” he says.
Despite The Soul Man’s place in TV Land’s bureaucracy, Jonathan believes this season is funnier than the previous one. Never receiving formal training, Jonathan refuses to be typecast as an actor. When he’s not on set, he donates his time to numerous causes and charities.
Jonathan also executive produces films and owns a recording studio in Vegas. “Being successful in this business is a shot in the dark. Know what you are and where you stand. I love drama, death, anger, pain and agony. Comedy is the hardest thing to do. If you can do that, you can do anything. It’s not just reading or memorizing lines. You have to really convey reality but still entertain at the same time.” says Jonathan.
*’The Soul Man’ airs on TV Land on Wednesdays at 11 EST. Check your local listings for channel information.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.