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'Hell Date' cast member comes home to the southside

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Comedy is hard, but so is life, according to Keedar Whittle, one of the stars of the hit BET comedy, "Hell Date."

The Lovejoy High School graduate traveled a long, bumpy road from being a college basketball star to becoming a middle school science teacher, and then later, an actor and comedian.

This week, Whittle came back to the Southern Crescent to share his experience with students at the Eula Ponds Perry Learning Center in Jonesboro, Riverdale High School, and North Clayton Middle School.

Before Whittle got into comedy, he was a gifted triathlete at North Clayton Middle School, excelling in baseball, basketball, and tennis. After graduating from Lovejoy High School in 1997, he took a basketball scholarship at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo.

After leaving the program, Whittle went back to Clayton County to teach special education courses at North Clayton Middle School. In January 2000, he decided to complete his education at Norfolk State University in Virginia, again joining the basketball team.

Soon after getting there, however, he found that playing basketball was stifling his creativity.

"You are not a student-athlete, you are an athlete-student," were the first words the basketball coaches at Norfolk State said, according to Whittle. "We were basically slaves to the program."

Whittle grew tired of the pressure of being a student second and an athlete first. In an effort to experience life like other college students, he turned to acting. After trying out for a campus production of "Bourbon at the Border" by Atlanta playwright, Pearl Cleage, he landed a leading role.

The director exclaimed, "Where have you been for the last four years?" said Whittle. "That started the acting bug for me."

Whittle graduated from Norfolk State with a degree in biology and eventually went to Boston to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology. In Boston, he designed science curriculums for three private schools, while continuing to act in local plays, winning an IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) Award for best supporting actor for his role in "G.R. Point," a Vietnam War drama.

"Education was my calling," Whittle said, but it was from there that he decided that he could have more influence as an actor, and decided to pursue acting full-time in New York City. In 2004, he joined Circle in the Square Theater School and performed in several off-Broadway plays. During that time, he began doing stand-up comedy.

"Stand-up is hard," Whittle said. "The first time I did it, I was great and then the next 10 times, I sucked."

Whittle said he has "never been booed a day in my life," but has gotten the "stone-face" and silent-treatment many times. That exposure, however, "made me more comfortable in my skin," he said. It also put him in contact with the producers of BET's "Hell Date."

In the television show, unsuspecting singles are paired with paid actors who put them through a variety of ridiculous dating situations.

Whittle has played many antagonistic characters on the show, including a date who is slightly deaf in both ears and whose hearing gets worse as the date goes on, a swinger (a person who shares his mate with other people), a cult leader, an overly committed boyfriend, who proposes on the first date, and an Australian kite (flying) instructor.

Whittle said the most ridiculous character he has ever played on the show was a "recovering homosexual," who was going on his "first straight date."

While he enjoys acting, Whittle said he is still committed to education.

"Education is my calling," but "youth listen to people on television," he said. "Just this week, I was able to go to schools and talk to students. If I was working in Boston, or was an educator, I wouldn't be able to do that."

Currently, Whittle is preparing for the "Funny As Hell Tour," which will feature stand-up comedy performances from cast members of "Hell Date." The tour is tentatively scheduled to come to the Atlanta area around Thanksgiving.

In the future, however, he said that he would like to open a chain of education centers that focus on science, liberal arts, and religion.

"[Education] gives you opportunity," said Whittle. "It might not give you money or teach you how to live life, but it gives you opportunity ... it gives you a vehicle."