Saving Grace: Cocoa Brown
Sometimes your destiny finds you.” That, in a nutshell, is how Farah “Cocoa” Brown says she came to be one of TV’s most talented comics.
For seven years, Brown co-starred on Tyler Perry’s “For Better Or Worse” as the fiery and boisterous Jennifer, but the credits for the actress-comedian who has been characterized as “nothing short of a force of a nature” go far beyond the show that ended its run on the Oprah Winfrey Network last year.
In fact, it was the Newport News, Virginia native who, in part, inspired Tyler Perry’s 2014 film, Single Mom’s Club and who showed her range with her portrayal of “Queen Bee” in the award-winning FX TV series, American Crime Story (The People Vs. O.J. Simpson).
While she currently has two film projects in the works, Brown is presently wowing audiences around the country in Je’Caryous Johnson’s stage remake of the popular 2001 movie “Two Can Play That Game”, based on the highly-rated movie of the same name, starring Vivica Fox, Morris Chestnut, Anthony Anderson, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Monique. She’ll reprise the character played by Monique.
“Before they even told me what role I was going for, I knew it was the role Monique had in the movie,” Brown said. “Because this is one of my favorite movies, being able to do a play on this is fun.”
Ironically, while standup is where Brown got her start, she says she knew nothing of comedy growing up.
“I never went to comedy shows other than sitting in my college dorm watching it with friends. Never did it cross my mind to be a standup comic.”
That is until after graduating from VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) and starting her first job as an advertising associate for Ringling Bros and Barnum &
Bailey Circus, she found herself sitting in her cubicle, bored. It was then she realized that as a creative person, it was not for her. A friend suggested she try her hand at comedy.
“He saw something in me I didn’t even see because I did a lot of hosting and plays and I’d always end up playing comedic role. One day I was talking to him and I was telling him that I didn’t like this career choice and he introduced me to a guy who owns a comedy club in DC.”
An opportunity to do open mike followed and Brown is honest enough to say that it didn’t go so well at first.
“What I realized was that they weren’t liking the so-called jokes that I had written. They don’t want you trying to make them laugh.”
Instead, Brown found success and her own footing in retelling the gritty truth of her own hard-knock lessons in a way that not only drew audiences in but made them explode in laughter. And for that Brown was nicknamed by a cadre of female fans nationwide as “the truth”.
But while standup comedy was a release, acting was her first love.
“As soon as they say action,” Brown states, “I’m able to just step out of myself and be someone else, it’s one of the best feelings ever.”
Despite her successes on shows like BET’s “Comic View” and “One Mic Stand”, and “Showtime at the Apollo”, breaking into acting wasn’t at all easy.
“When I hear these comics and actresses who made it say, ‘you’ve got to do the work and believe in yourself,’ they always leave out that one manager or agent who believed in them and had the power to open those doors. I tell people that all the time that plenty of us do the work, but until someone of power opens those doors and blows you up, you are just going to keep spinning your wheels. Yes, you can get a lot of your own opportunities, but for the brass ring, it definitely takes someone of power to bring you there.”
For Brown, that someone was Tyler Perry, who in 2011, cast her as “Jennifer” in “For Better Or Worse” and with that the chance to shape the character that would come to define her breakthrough success.
“When we were working out the kinks of how I wanted Jennifer to be portrayed when we first started the show, I didn’t want her to come off as uneducated or unintelligent, I wanted her to be a woman who overcome some adversity—but she’s just a little rough around the edges.”
Ironically, while for six years, Brown had embodied the character almost like a glove, she is just as clearly working to establish that the range of her talent extends beyond the sistergirl stereotype.
“I think a whole lot of people were shocked when they saw me play Queen B on the people versus OJ.”
The reality is she is not that much like “Jennifer” in real life.
“Once my agent got to know me, she was like, ‘you’re really bougie’. I said, what? She said, ‘People really think you are this character who’s ghetto and over the top. Then I go no, she’s bougie.’
“I said to her, I grew up pretty refined in a pink and green bedroom,” Brown adds. “My mother is a firm believer that a lady knows how to act in whatever room she’s in, but I also got to experience both sides of the spectrum. I’m the kind of chick that can throw an A-class tea party and then turn it into a spades party afterward.”
Brown started acting in plays at the age of ten and even then was confident in her talent.
“Acting wasn’t a problem,” she says. “What threw my parents off was when I told them I wanted to become a standup comedian.”
What has always helped to smooth things out was the cocky faith she says her Mom instilled in her.
“My mother is so cocky with her faith that even growing up as a child she would just say God’s got it and just leave it,” Brown recalls. “She was one of those quiet praying women, so I grew up as a child hearing Mahalia Jackson and her saying you got to have a relationship with God.
“I’ve always said that I’m cocky with my faith because I was traveling the world by myself— going to countries where I could not speak the language to tell jokes—and I wasn’t worried when I got off that plane and walked into clubs in cities I didn’t know. I’ve always felt like God had me and that God has a sense of humor because some of the things that happen I’m like, ‘okay Lord’. My five-year-old now says “really Lord?”
That’s because Brown’s faith has been more than tested, particularly when she packed up and left Los Angeles to head back down south to Atlanta.
“Everybody probably thought I was a fool to at the height of my career just move to Georgia where it’s almost like starting over,” Brown said. “I’m A-list, but there’s not that many A-list opportunities in Georgia.
“At the time, I had big divorce and I really had an eye opening of who my friends really were through that divorce and becoming a single mom. I didn’t know anything about this single-parent thing. My parents celebrated 50 years of marriage. I realized God brought me to Atlanta to be closer to my family, but also to heal. So I know He is ordering my steps again. I just don’t know where he is taking me right now.”
What she does know is she’s finally comfortable in her own skin.
“I am in a good place now. I want audiences to connect with my story and in the
course of that journey find their own. That is my inspiration, my peace. I am finally learning how to love myself and most importantly, I am not afraid to use my voice.”