Robert Townsend (born February 6, 1957) is an American actor, comedian, film director, and writer. He is best known for directing the films Hollywood Shuffle, Eddie Murphy Raw, The Meteor Man, and various other films and stand-up specials, especially his eponymous self-titled character as the starring role as Robert Peterson on The WB sitcom The Parent ‘Hood, in which he created the series, as well as directing episodes.
In 1974, Townsend auditioned for parts at Chicago’s Experimental Black Actors’ Guild and performed in local plays studying at the famed Second City comedy workshop for improvisation. Townsend enrolled at Illinois State University, studied a year and later moved to New York to study at the Negro Ensemble Company. Townsend’s mother believed that he should complete his college education, but he felt that college took time away from his passion for acting, and he soon dropped out of school to pursue his acting career full-time.
He wrote, directed and produced Hollywood Shuffle, a satire based on the hardships and obstacles that black actors undergo in film industry. The success of his first project helped him establish credit in the industry. One of his films was the musical The Five Heartbeats based on 1960s R&B male groups and the tribulations of the music industry. Townsend has worked with Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Chris Tucker, Beyoncé and Denzel Washington.