Nyambi Nyambi, who plays wisecracking, educated waiter Samuel on CBS' "Mike & Molly," has had two defining moments for an actor onstage.
He was an understudy in "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," his favorite play, by his favorite playwright, August Wilson, and in his favorite role, Herald Loomis. The star lost his voice, and Nyambi went on.
"It is one of the most frustrating and humbling experiences, being an understudy and being an understudy for an August Wilson play because you have such beautiful language in you that you can't express," Nyambi says. "And days before we were closing, that afternoon I was having lunch with a friend, and I said, 'You know what? Understudying is really hard, and I have learned this is what it is all about, and I am happy I am not going on.' I was able to pay my bills. It was an amazing experience, and I had reached the place of comfort."
That night, June 12, 2009, he went on.
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who starred in the play, "gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, 'You are never going to be the same,' " he recalls.
His second pivotal actor's moment had him in "The Merchant of Venice" starring Al Pacino.
"It was so amazing being there with Al," Nyambi says. "He was just one of the guys."
He also acted with Mandy Patinkin, just after graduate school at NYU. Nyambi attended Bucknell on a basketball scholarship, starting as a computer science major.
"I found myself at 4 a.m. still trying to figure out how to make a clock move 12 seconds," he says. "And practice was at 6, so I dropped out and became an art major because I draw. ... (Painters) are not famous until they die, and I don't want to wait until then."
Clearly, Nyambi, an eventual Business major, didn't have to.
Hometowns: Born to Nigerian parents in Oklahoma; reared in Houston, Dallas and Virginia; now lives in New York and Los Angeles.
Cool resolution: Watched 365 movies last year after becoming irritated with himself for holding onto a Netflix DVD for a year.
Best dish he cooks: Rice with tomato stew, a traditional Nigerian dish.
Recent honor: Was awarded a grant through Lincoln Center, which allowed him to travel to London, Johannesburg, Manhattan and Edinburgh, Scotland, to see plays. "In Paris, France, I saw a play completely in French," Nyambi says. "I did not understand a word, but I understood the play."
Favorite movies: " 'Diner.' 'Coming to America' is always a favorite. 'The Lives of Others.' "
Favorite Books: " 'Prior Convictions' by Richard Pryor, 'The Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, The 'Harry Potter' books by J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss books."
Favorite Artists: "Fela Anikulapo Kuti (upon whom the musical 'Fela!' is based), Howlin' Wolf, because I love, love, love, love the blues! Anything neo soul, Nina Simone."