Romany Malco claims that he is often recognized by fans, but usually as the "funny black guy" from such crowd-pleasers as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Baby Mama, Weeds and No Ordinary Family. That may change next month when his film Think Like a Man is released. Based on a script by Steve Harvey, Romany plays the handsome one in a group of friends that includes Chris Brown, Taraji P. Henson and Terrence J. He laughs at the idea that he'll be upgraded to "the handsome black guy," and says, "my work speaks for itself."
The first day of March found Malco in the revered Roosevelt Room of the White House, just steps from the Oval Office, invited alongside CEOs, media moguls and technology gurus to participate in the White House's 21st Century Innovators & Communicators series. If you follow Romany on Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, you will understand why he was invited. His mastery of social media is legendary. But his first visit to the White House left Malco feeling uncomfortable for the first few minutes: "Being who I am and coming from where I come from, I felt out of place," he concedes. "I'm so used to hearing hostile references to the government. But here I was with these smart people wanting to know how to be more effective in the world of social networking and I felt comfortable and understood my value."
He also tells a funny story: One of the White House staffers asked if he wanted an official pen and he jumped at the chance. Later, he looked at it closely and saw that the name of a hotel was on the pen. "I guess even White House staff steals swag," he laughs ruefully.
The day after his DC visit, Romany Malco is on an Amtrak train taking him home to Brooklyn and reflecting on his life. The son of immigrants from Trinidad, he grew up in a "chaotic" home in Queens. While his home life was rough, he says he always knew his parents loved him and he appreciates the time they spent with him. The importance of one-on-one attention was a lesson he embraced and one of the reasons he has so successfully used social media. He also points out that, while outside on the South Lawn of the White House at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, he and others were rushed back into the White House. "The Obama girls were arriving home," he says. "Where I grew up, kids stayed out until really late. It was nice to know that's not the case at the White House."
From his earliest days, Malco wanted to be a rapper. He went straight into the Marines after high school and is glad he did. "It gave me drive and instilled discipline. It turned me into the type of dude who applies himself," he says. After his discharge, he moved to California and began to make a name for himself. He was part of a rap group called College Boyz which had a chart-topping hit and was encouraged to become an actor by John Leguizamo. He's appeared in many films including Blades of Glory and the Love Guru. Along the way, he gained a loyal fan base he interacts with through social media.
He explains, "It is interesting how disconnected celebrities can be from their fans. I worked in hip hop, where you start with the grassroots. I always believed it was important to have a direct relationship with fans." Toward that end, he is working on a project called Romany Meets His Friends where he will travel the country meeting his Facebook friends. And, completing the cycle of social media, he will surprise each one with activities that the "friend" has identified as important to him or her.
Until it debuts, you can catch his popular Tijuana Jackson: Life Coach series on YouTube or see him guest starring on The Good Wife. Romany isn't one to rest on his laurels, even when they are generic as in "funny black guy." He describes himself this way: "I am an individual who believes in self-empowerment through self-examination and entrepreneurship. I try everything without judgment and try to inspire through example."
This man, who is incredibly interesting to talk to, claims he is putting the "fun" in "profundity" and it is easy to believe. At 43, he is still learning and stretching. His next goal is to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction on television. He says, "I am so excited about the next year," and consequently, so should we all be.
Follow Tamar Abrams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@Tamarabrams