The Adult Swim series “Black Jesus” on Cartoon Network attracted a mix of high praise and virulent controversy when it premiered last August. This was fairly predictable, as the show depicts a present-day Jesus Christ who lives in Compton, smokes weed and turns water into Cognac. The Los Angeles Times called it “gentle and hopeful,” and Time magazine called it a “stoner hangout comedy with a heart.” The more publicity prone fringes of the Christian right were not convinced. “We, the Christian Community, are vehemently opposed and violently offended,” one pastor, Chicago’s David Rodgers, wrote. “We are demanding an IMMEDIATE retraction of this show and a PUBLIC APOLOGY to the Christian Community at large.”
Of course, no apology was forthcoming, and the show’s second season is set to premiere at 10 p.m. Sept. 18. I spoke with the show’s star, Gerald “Slink” Johnson, about his career, his associations with rapper Too $hort and “Grand Theft Auto V” (in which he provided the voice of Lamar Davis) and his upbringing in Dumas:
You’re originally from Arkansas.
Yes sir, originally from Dumas. I come from humble beginnings, man. Dumas is a great town, a small close-knit community. My family’s been there for years, I got a lot of love for it. Lot of memories, too. Spending my summers outdoors — that’s what I loved about Arkansas, having the opportunity to really be a child. My father still lives there. I was just there in March. The town is really proud of me, everybody’s really supportive there. And I need that, I need that hometown support. I don’t want to be one of those artists who make their mark then fail to acknowledge their beginnings. I’ll always make Arkansas part of my journey.
I love my little town. And I want to be the guy to figure out how to bring opportunity to Arkansas. Given the chance to go back and look at Dumas, it’s a beautiful place with beautiful scenery, but a very impoverished town. There’s a lot of poor people, education is poor. I love that place, and I don’t want it to die. I’ve seen it shrink exponentially since I was born and left. And I hate to see that. Though I guess nowhere stays the same.
Anything you’d recommend people do in Dumas?
When I go to Dumas it’s all about eating. So check this out: You got to go to the Pic-Nic-Ker, you got to go to Debbie Dean’s — a little hole-in-the-wall joint, great food — and you got to go to the Sonic right there on [U.S. Highway] 65. Those are the places I have to eat at when I get there. Also, when you go to Dumas you got to go to the west side and see the fly hot wheels. The economy might be pretty tough down there, but there’s always some nice whips.
You were into music before acting?
My first foray into entertainment was hip-hop. I was signed by Too $hort actually — one of my relatives in California was also a relative of his — and I rapped for a while. They called me Slink Capone. I did my thing with him, got the chance to tour and make a few records. I got a taste of the life. Me and $hort are still cool, that’s my guy.
What made you want to act?
Acting kinda came to me. I took no formal acting classes, never would have imagined I’d be on TV. But I’ve always been an outspoken, boisterous kind of dude. Always been a comedian. And I met a guy by the name of Jason Van Veen, and I was such a character, he wanted to film me. So I did one of his student films back in ’93, and the first time I saw myself on film I fell in love. Then through Jason and [“Boondocks” creator] Aaron McGruder, I met DJ Pooh, who took a liking to my style as well. When “Grand Theft Auto V” was happening and they were casting for it, Pooh said I’d be perfect and told me to go read the script. And the rest is history.
“Grand Theft Auto” was amazing. What can I even say? To see the whole wild process of making a video game. I knew “Grand Theft Auto” was a huge franchise, but I had no idea the project I was a part of would be as big as it is. It was an amazing opportunity. Everybody got that game. Not that I didn’t think they would, but it’s just overwhelming and humbling to be involved in something like that. I’m a guy from Dumas, Arkansas, you know?
How did “Black Jesus” come together?
I was approached about “Black Jesus” in late 2007. Aaron approached me with the idea. He said, “Hey, how would you like to play Jesus?” I was like, “OK, hell yeah.”
That’s how he put it: “How would you like to play Jesus”?
Something to that effect, yeah. He gave me the concept and I improvised the original sketches. There was no real script or direction, it was just, “You’re Jesus. Be Jesus, but as yourself. What would you do if you were Jesus?” A lot of the Jesus that you see on the show directly comes from me and my personality, and I thank Aaron for allowing me to convey it like that.
It seems like there would be an enormous amount of pressure getting that role.
You know what? I’m having fun. That’s how I operate. All the disdain some people have for the show, it came afterward. I was just having fun, it was a great thing. I look at it like, the same God that I portray is the one who gave me the job. God gave me the opportunity. I’m from the Bible Belt. I’m as spiritual as anybody else down in that region. So I honestly and truly feel that this is a gift from God.
Did you expect the controversy?
Yes I did. I wasn’t surprised by it at all. Because we’re dealing with a faith, and a central figure to that faith. A lot of people want to be up in arms, but I feel confident in the idea that, you know, I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. And I believe that Jesus had a sense of humor. I find it no different from mocking your parents. People just have to watch the show.
What can we expect for season two?
Hijinks. Revelation. Miracles, of course. There will be miracles.