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Martin Lawrence

The comic on Richard Pryor, black audiences and the freedom of stand-up

Martin Lawrence

Martin Lawrence

Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

From “Star Search” auditions and a floorbuffing job at Kmart, comedian Martin Lawrence has gone on to: star in and be the executive producer for the highly rated Fox TV series Martin; host Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam on HBO; make his first comedy album, Talkin’ Shit (East West Records), which was released in September; get his own concert movie, You So Crazy, to be released early next year; and sign a three-film development deal with 20th Century Fox. Oh, and rumor has it he’s getting married (but sometime next year).

The hip-hop generation’s own comic, he’s the guy who will wear a FREE MIKE TYSON T-shirt on his television show. He’s also the guy who immortalized the words you go, girl! Already notorious, Martin Lawrence is on the verge of being famous.

What’s the most exciting thing going on with you right now?
All of it is exciting because I want to be busy.

When do you feel most free?
On the stand-up stage. You can’t edit me. I say what I want to say. I tell it like it is.

What’s Hollywood like?
What you allow it to be. If you have things in perspective – your life and where you want to go and the moves you want to make – then you’ll stand back from all that Hollywood bullshit. I’m in Hollywood to do one thing: entertain and make people laugh. When I get caught up in “Hollywood,” that’s when it’s time for me to leave.

Some people have an immobilizing fear of failure.
I don’t have a fear of failure because I know where I come from. I can always go back home. I can take my little ass right back … [laughs]

To Landover, Md.?
Back to Landover, to North Carolina, or wherever I’ve got to go. I can kick it with my family, throw some chicken in some old grease and move on.

Who do you think Martin’s audience is?
People who tune in because they’re tired of seeing the same old sitcoms.

What makes Martin different from Fresh Prince of Bel Air or Roseanne?
I was the kid whose face you always recognized, but you couldn’t place the name. But they always remembered. Why? Because I’ve stuck to one routine and one routine only. Doing my comedy from the heart. Who I am, I bring with me. I may have left the ghetto, but the ghetto hasn’t left me.

You admire Richard Pryor.
Yes. His willingness to create. That’s all I want to do: create. And I wanna be different. But it’s like Arsenio [Hall] says: If you’re doing comedy and you haven’t stolen something from Pryor, then you ain’t doing it right. I agree with that. All I studied was Pryor. Pryor, [Eddie] Murphy, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley. I looked to the old school. I looked to those I considered to be the best of their times. I consider Richard Pryor the best of all time.

Did you watch TV a lot as a kid?
Good Times. My favorite character on the show was the father figure.

John Amos?
Yeah. If he wasn’t in the mood for no silly shit, he’d let you know. He was the black man whose opinion was his opinion, and he spoke on it. That’s what I respected. Another was Sherman Hemsley.

As George Jefferson?
Damn right! He was the first one to kick a white man in the ass and throw him out the door. How many people get to do that on TV? Nobody. When was The Jeffersons? The ’70s? Not to say it’s a positive thing to do, but as limited as they were on TV, to allow Jefferson to do that – as a black man on TV – that was a big thing.

It was kind of revolutionary.
Exactly. Just as Archie Bunker could throw you out of his house, here was a brother that came along who could throw you out of his house.

Why did you start telling jokes?
Just being a knucklehead. I wanted a little attention around the neighborhood, so I started telling jokes in front of everybody. Then I started getting a crowd.

So you’ve been doing comedy since you got out of high school?
Yeah, about nine years. Ten years.

Did your family want you to go to college or learn a trade?
Uuuummm… no. My mother basically wanted us [two brothers and three sisters] to do our own thing. She supported us in what we wanted to do as long as it was positive.

Do you think African Americans respond to your humor on some deep, essential level? Anyone who likes me, gets me. But to me, to make black people laugh – you can go no higher. To me [laughs]. All the pressure and shit that black people go through in everyday life – you wonder why we wake up and we have a mood that looks like “Muhfucker, I am not in the mood to be laughing today.” Because, a lot of times with black people, ain’t shit funny.

What do you dream about?
The way things are now – this is a dream on top of a dream. I guess, to make you laugh like you’ve never laughed before, that’s what my dreams are about. Happiness. That’s all I dream about [big laughter].

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