Jeff Pearlman

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Conroe Brooks

#146
He should have dominated Happy Days: The Musical. Instead, this singer/actor has earned his stripes as the world's king of flash mobs. POSTED March 19, 2014

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I love people who bust their asses chasing a dream.

We always throw around terms like, “Busting my ass” … but how many actually do so? How many chase a dream, even when the dream keeps taunting, teasing, proving elusive? How many are willing to sustain, even when said dream pulls back, darts off, dashes away?

Conroe Brooks is a dream chaser. He’s an actor, a singer, a dancer. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you haven’t. You’ve certainly seen him—leading famed flash mobs, starring as Sam Cooke. He’s an amazing talent who aspires to great things, while eternally experimenting in his pursuits. In short, he’s a performer. An excellent one.

This is one of my favorite Quazes, because guys like Conroe Brooks—and their efforts—speak to me. You can follow him on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

Conroe Brooks, welcome to the land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Conroe, before I get into your history and some nitty gritty—you’re the man behind many of the flash mobs that went viral. Which leads me to ask: What the hell? Some phenomenons I get, some I don’t. This one—the idea of a ton of people just starting to dance, without anyone else knowing—caught me totally (but pleasantly) off guard. How do you explain the evolution of popularity of the flash mob? How did you get involved? And does it have any remaining steam, or is it sorta 2010ish?

CONROE BROOKS: I got started doing flash mobs when Michael Jackson died. After he passed I felt like I needed to do something to celebrate him. I came across the Sweden “Beat It” flash mob and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I sent a message out to all my friends—including Staci Lawrence, who is now my business partner with Flash Mob America. She really jumped on board to help out, make this thing happen and invite people. It ended up being a major success, getting tons of news coverage. After that I really thought I was done with. I expected it to be one and done. But people kept begging for another one. So we did another MJ flash mob on his birthday. And then I honestly thought that was it. Next thing we knew Janet Jackson’s record label found us on Facebook and hired us to do one for her. Janet showed up to watch, which ended up giving us international press. It was insane. We began to get news coverage on MTV, CBS, etc. And they were naming us as the leading flash mob company. And really we were the only flash mob company. Lol!

So the popularity really sprung up after Michael Jackson died. People ended up doing MJ flash mobs all over the world. Next, major PR agencies began hiring us. We haven’t had a day off since. I’d say that now, almost five years later, the big major company flash mobs have decreased a lot. We are still very busy though. Now people are doing them mostly for marriage proposals, weddings, sales conferences and trade shows. There’s still plenty of steam as far as I can see.

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J.P.: You’re best known as an actor now, but when you were 18 you joined the R&B group Special Generation—which was discovered by MC Hammer. What exactly does that mean? Did Hammer literally find you in a club? How does one get discovered? And what did Hammer do for you and your career?

C.B.: Hammer actually literally discovered Special Generation. I think it happen at a show. They sang for him and he told them to pack their bags, you’re coming with me tomorrow. I say ‘they’ because I joined the group later in the game. They sang background on his “U Can’t Touch This” album and then recorded their own. After a couple years things got rough and a couple members left the group. In came me. An 18-year-old bright-eyed kid. I was over the moon because I had their album and knew all their songs already. At this point though, MC Hammer wasn’t really involved. We were basically starting from scratch again. The name definitely helped us get in a few doors. We released a single and toured for a summer, but that was it. So after a few years I decided to leave the group and get back into acting.

J.P.: Being Denzel or Redford seems awesome. Being Conroe Brooks, actor, seems hard. In 2000 you played Sam Cookie in the TV movie, “Little Richard,” and since then much of what you’ve done has been small parts—“Kevin” in an episode of Will and Grace, a police officer in Heroes, a process server in The Young and the Restless. Why is it so hard to strike it big in Hollywood? And how rewarding/frustrating has your career been?

C.B.: It is definitely hard at times. But I love being an actor. It’s been a long roller coaster for me. When I first got to Los Angeles in 2000, things moved pretty quickly. I landed the role of Sam Cooke on my very first audition. There have been some great parts here and there since then, but of course I’m not famous yet. There are hundreds of thousands of actors out here. So that’s one thing that makes it tough. Also, you’ve got to be absolutely ready to handle a lot of pressure. There is an extremely small percentage of people that could actually handle carrying a movie or a TV show. That takes either being born with that it factor or somehow finding it along the way. No one can teach you that. Or else, of course, more people would be famous. It has been quite frustrating for me because I don’t get a lot of auditions. Although I book a good percentage of the auditions I go out on. But six-to-eight auditions a year won’t cut it. So that’s the most frustrating part. Getting casting directors to know you exist and bring you in. I have the chops, but only a handful of casting directors know that. The good thing that’s happen for us up-and-coming actors is that now it’s easier that ever to make your own movies, webseries, etc. And that’s really all I want to do. I’m not looking to be famous. I just wanna tell great stories and be able to make a living doing it.

J.P.: You were born and raised in San Jose, and you got your start singing in musicals. But what, exactly, was your path from birth to here? How did you decide upon entertainment as a career? What pushed you throughout your early days?

C.B.: I can tell you the exact moment when a light bulb clicked in my head that entertainment is what I wanted to do. It started when I was in sixth grade. It was recess and I walked by an open classroom door and heard a teacher call my name. I went in and he said, “I want you to audition for the school play. Here, look at this monologue for a little while and then come back in and read it for me.” I was kind of a shy kid so I’m not sure why I agreed. But the role I was reading for was a shy kid, so that worked in my favor. I came back in and read the monologue and as soon as I was finished he said, “You got the part!” That actually wasn’t the moment I knew I wanted to be an actor. I was so nervous, but also a bit excited. It was after the play that sealed the deal. It was the reaction of everyone telling me how good and funny I was. That’s when the light bulb turned on. I loved making people happy. I loved making people laugh. I was hooked.

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J.P.: What is it like seeing yourself on TV? Is it still a rush or a thrill or anything? Does it get old? Are you ever horrified, or elated?

C.B.: Seeing myself on TV now doesn’t have the same thrill as it did in the beginning. Now I watch with more a critic’s eye. I’m not too hard on myself, but I watch carefully to see if I pulled it off and was believable.

J.P.: According to your IMDB bio, you were cast by Garry Marshall to help develop Happy Days the musical. I was a Happy Days fanatic as a kid—looooooved and lived for that show, but I remember nothing of a musical. What happened, Conroe? What’s the story behind the story?

C.B.: Garry Marshall did, I think, about three or four workshops trying to get a musical off the ground. I did a few of them and then my manager advised that I stop because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I think he only ended up running it for a short time at his little theater in Toluca Lake. So it just never got going.

J.P.: Several years ago I wrote a piece for TV Guide about a short-lived show called “Love Monkey.” Jason Priestly was a cast member, and after watching a scene filmed for the 20th time I said to him, “This seems pretty boring.” He replied, “You have no idea.” Conroe, is film/TV acting actually fun? And, if so, how/why? Because it seems like there’s a helluva lot of standing around.

C.B.: There is a lot of standing around for sure. But you get used to that. It’s still a thrill once those cameras start rolling and you have to do your best to portray real life. It’s the ultimate challenge. And when you get to do fun action stuff like shooting guns or high-speed chases, well, then the wait is worth it.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? 

C.B.: I just released a music video for my cover of Say Something. This is my first music I’ve done and first song as a solo artist on iTunes. The video is starting to pick up some steam and getting amazing feedback! I’m very proud of the song and I think the video is going to be something different and risky that people haven’t seen before. I think it’s going to doing something pretty big.

J.P.: Sam Cooke was friggin’ amazing and awesome and the smoothest singer I’ve ever heard. That was your first-ever TV role. What do you recall of the experience? How does one prepare himself to play a legend? And do you recall how you received word that you landed the part? What your reaction was?

C.B.: Well, Sam Cooke is my favorite singer so I was very familiar with him already. I watched anything and everything I could get my hands on to learn about him and see him in interviews and performances. My voice is already similar to his so that wasn’t a problem. My manager called me to tell me the news. I was at work waiting tables when I got the call. She actually left me a message to call her as soon as I got it. So I snuck off at a time when nobody needed anything at my tables. When she said “You got the part,” I was overjoyed. I jumped around and screamed like a crazy person. I immediately called my parents to tell them the news. Sam Cooke is also my dad’s favorite singer so I knew he would be excited.

J.P.: In the aftermath of Newtown, liberals blamed guns, and the NRA turned around and blamed—in part—violence in TV and film. I’m wondering what you think about this. Are some movies and shows too violent? Have we, as a society, crossed a line?

C.B.: I don’t think they are too violent. I watched all kind of scary movies, violent movies as a kid and I had no desire to shoot people. It’s ridiculous to blame TV and movies. They aren’t turning kids into killers. These kids are already disturbed for whatever reason and people/family aren’t taking the time to really talk to these kids about their problems. They obviously aren’t feeling loved or a part of society. There’s a disconnect with their parents somewhere.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONROE BROOKS:

• Not a ton of Conroes in the world. How’d you get your name?: It’s a family name. My dad is Conroe and my grandfather was Conroe as well.

• Five reasons one should make San Jose his/her next vacation destination?: Hmmm. Ummm. It’s close to San Francisco?

• Three memories from your experience playing “LAPD Officer No. 2” on 24: Meeting Kiefer Sutherland. Feeling nervous about acting like an authority figure. The feeling of wearing a cop uniform and walking around downtown LA.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino and Daniel Day-Lewis.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)Jim Rome, The DH, Whole Foods, “Clueless,” The Rock, Lindsay Hartley, New York City, Milk Duds, “Jerry Maguire,” Jose Reyes, Pete Wilson, Buddy Biancalana, Canada Dry products: New York City, Lindsay Hartley, “Jerry Maguire,”, “Clueless,” Whole Foods, The Rock, Milk Duds, Canada Dry products, Buddy Biancalana, the DH, Jim Rome, Pete Wilson, Jose Reyes, Cher.

• The most underrated film of all time is …: The Shawshank Redemption

• One question you would ask Jimmy Carter were he here right now?: What was up with that UFO incident?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall …: Yes. But I’m a bit nervy about flying. It was really just turbulence that last longer than I could handle. I sort of let out an “Oh god!” at one point.

• Can you make an argument, in 18 words or less, for Celine Dion?: Not really. I don’t pay much attention to her. I mean I know she’s amazing. I just don’t get excited about her.

• Best joke you know: Knock knock. Who’s there? Control Freak – OKAY NOW YOU SAY CONTROL FREAK WHO!

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life