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Martin Lawrence: He's Got Jokes

Essence West Coast editor Regina R. Robertson catches up with the multitalented comedian on the set of his new film, "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," in theaters this weekend

The cast of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins reads like a Black Hollywood Who’s Who–James Earl Jones, Mo’Nique, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Joy Bryant and its star, Martin Lawrence. Essence paid a visit to the movie set a few months back to find out from the funnyman what drew him to the film and how he was able to hold his own with the other comedians on set.

Essence.com: What attracted you to this project?

Martin Lawrence:
Ah, it’s a funny script, you know? And Malcolm Lee…he’s a hell of a director and you’re going to hear big things from him. He’s passionate about his work. We had a dinner and we just hit it off. It just seemed right.

Essence.com: Were you intimidated to meet James Earl Jones?

It was an honor, you know? He’s a legend, somebody who paved the way for us. And I’m really excited about being able to work with him. He’s a good dude, a good dude, with a good spirit. He makes you step your level up, step your game up.

Essence.com: Have you had a chance to have any talks with him or get any advice from him?

No, not too many. I compliment him and he’ll compliment me right back and then I’ll be on cloud nine the whole rest of the day that I got a compliment from Mr. Jones. (laughs)

Essence.com: Being such a comedic star yourself, how is it working with so many other comedians like Cedric the Entertainer and Mo’Nique?

It’s cool. I like to see people do their thing. I remember when I was coming up and going for mine, so I’m excited about it. If there’s anything that anybody can do to add to the team to make something work, I love it.

Essence.com: Do you like to do a lot of ad-libbing?

Yeah, but as long it’s not it’s forced, you know what I mean? I don’t like forcing comedy and people just trying to do things just to find a funny beat all the time. If it makes sense for what we’re doing, then it’s funny. That’s where you can find some magic sometimes.

Essence.com: So, with all of you comedians on the set, are there times when you think to yourself, “Alright guys, let’s stop trying to top each other with all the ad-libs.”

Nah. You know me, I’ve been doing it long enough, so I understand what it means to run in my lane. If you throw a left hand, I know when to throw a right hand, so I’m over the days of having to vie for position or anything like that. I love to watch comedians do their thing and if they’re going for theirs, I’m supportive, and if they come up with something funny and it works, you know, hopefully it stays in the film.

Essence.com: What about you and stand-up comedy? Will we see you get back on stage and doing stand-up?

Well, I never say never, but I’ve got to have something to say. After Runteldat, you know, I can’t just follow that up with just anything. I have to have something that’s meaningful, that my audience is used to getting from me. If it happens to pan out that I’m maybe able to come up with something, I’d love to hit that stage again.

Essence.com: It’s Mike Epps and you and Cedric the Entertainer and Mo’Nique in this film: why don’t the four of you guys go out and do something like the Kings & Queen of Comedy or something? Have you thought of going on the road with several other comedians maybe?

Well, I haven’t thought about that, you know? But, you never say never – you never if the timing’s right or if it’s right to do.

Essence.com: Do you ever miss going out on the road doing standup?

Well, Runteldat was big for me. It was something strong, I got to tell my story and I don’t like to force comedy. I don’t thirst for the road just because it’s there. If I’ve got something to say and bring to the audience, then fine. But for everyone who pays their dollar to come see Martin, I want them to leave out with something special, you know – that they got a part of me and that we didn’t just take their money and waste their time. So, I’m not just going to go out there and do something if it’s not there.

Essence.com: Is there a difference in how far you would go with a joke back then versus now? Were you more reckless then?

I didn’t consider it reckless, but it could have been considered that way because I would just do anything. I would say anything…I didn’t give a f–k, it was like, “This is what it is!”

But as I get older I realize that, “Yo, whoa, damn, you was kind of a buckwild youngin’, and I thank God for bringing me through that time. I thank God for that time because it made me who I am today.

Essence.com: We’re seeing a lot with actors like Eddie Murphy doing drama in films like Dreamgirls. Do you ever see yourself doing more serious roles or are you just going to stick with the comedy?

I don’t get offered serious roles, you know what I mean? I don’t know, maybe they’re afraid of wha t I can do (laughs). But no, I don’t get offered serious roles, it’s always comedies and things like that. You might see some of the movies that I’m in where there are shades of drama or whatever, but for the most part, I don’t get offered serious roles.

Essence.com: But is that something that you want to do?

M.L.: If the right one came along. I won’t just do anything. If it’s something that I think I can really bring some credit to, that has substance and is meaningful, and maybe something that’ll make ya’ll go, “Damn!,” maybe I’ll take it on. (laughs)

Essence.com: How do you like shooting in this town?

I love it. Shreveport has been wonderful to me.The people are nice and respectful and I would gladly shoot here anytime.

Essence.com: Everybody seems to love you, regardless of race…what do you think makes you so colorblind in your appeal?

Well, I would credit, first and foremost, my God, who just teaches me to be a good person and give the respect to people that I would want them to give to me and I take it from there. I’m trying to be a good person and a genuine person…and I can still whip some ass! (laughs) I just try to get along with people and show the love that I would like to be shown to me.

Essence.com: Can you talk a little bit about your project with Starz: Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand-up?

It’s an opportunity to give some comedians…I lent my name to it for awareness so that people would come out and see some comics that they wouldn’t normally get to see and watch the young and up-and-coming go for theirs. So, it was an opportunity to lend my name, sort of like Russell Simmons.

Essence.com: As a comedian, is it hard for someone to get you to laugh?

No, I love to laugh. If you say a joke right now, I’ll laugh! (laughs)

Essence.com: With the success of Wild Hogs, what do you see in store for your character if the sequel gets made?

M.L.: I’m very happy about the success of Wild Hogs. Those are my partners – John, Tim and Bill Macy – and I look forward to hooking up with them again and doing part two. I don’t know where they’re going to take the characters, they’re working on the script. But I really look forward to doing it again.

Essence.com: You mentioned that it was honor to work with James Earl Jones…is there anybody you haven’t worked with yet that you would love to?

M.L.: My days of “This is who I want to work with…” – when I was younger, I would always pull a name out of the hat, “Oh, I want to work with this person,” but this is such a business with the egos and all of that, so I’ll work with whoever wants to work with me, if we get along! (laughs)

Essence.com: Will we ever see a Bad Boys 3?

M.L.: I don’t know. That’s up to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay and Will Smith. You know, I’m ready if they call.

Essence.com: You have a movie coming up with Raven Symone. Tell us about it.

M.L.: Yes, it’s called College Road Trip. I’m leaving here to go do that in Connecticut. I’m looking forward to working with her – I play her father. She’s so talented and I’m really proud of what she’s done and just the person that she is. So, I’m excited about working with her.

Essence.com: And after that, is there a vacation or something…or are you doing another movie after that?

M.L.: No, I’m going to rest for a minute and then probably come back and do Wild Hogs 2, probably.