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Tisha Campbell-Martin: Funny Lady

Actress joins BFF Tichina Arnold on "Everybody Hates Chris"

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Tisha Campbell-Martin gets comedy. The New Jersey-bred actress knows how to laugh at herself before anyone else does because she can
find the funny in most things. It’s one of the reasons we loved her on
“Martin” with Tichina Arnold, her longtime friend and Hollywood partner-in-crime. This season, the real-life bosom buddies reunite on “Everybody Hates Chris” to bring their wry humor back to the small screen. ESSENCE.com caught up with the wife and mother to discuss her new role as an ex-con, why she and husband Duane Martin are so proud of their autistic son, and why sometimes it’s okay for Black folk to laugh at themselves.

ESSENCE.COM: Welcome back. So you’re reuniting with your girl Tichina Arnold on “Everybody Hates Chris.” How’d you manage that?
Tichina had been trying to get me on the show for years. They wrote a really funny character for me. I play the mother of Tasha, Chris’s girlfriend. My character is something else—she just got out of prison. [My character] thinks that [Tichina’s character] is so fly, so she gravitates toward her and develops a friendship of sorts.
ESSENCE.COM: Whoa! An ex-convict? Do you address the severity of her plight or just the funny?
It’s probably from more of a comedic standpoint and how she interacts with Tichina’s character. I have to teach Tichina how to use a computer. It takes place back in the eighties and [computer technology] is the trade I learned while I was in the pen. One misconception about ex-prisoners is that they have no skills or education, and we explore that on the show, again, from a comedic standpoint. We don’t get too deep of a message because it doesn’t lend itself for a dramatic piece. Of course you get to see how some people might view my character and her situation.

ESSENCE.COM: Did you do anything special to prepare for the role?
Not really. Other than the fact that my father ran a group home all of my life and I lived there for about two or three years, just me and 16 boys with my dad. My father was the house dad and we lived on the third floor of the house and [the boys] slept downstairs. We’re not just poking fun, but it really is okay for us as Black people to laugh at ourselves once in a while. 
ESSENCE.COM: Sounds like it will be over-the-top hilarious. When we last spoke we talked a lot about your son, Xen, and his autism. How is he progressing?
Thank you for asking! Girl, he’s doing so well! I was just talking to Holly Robinson-Peete, whose son is also autistic, about how far our boys have come and how diligent you must be as a parent to bring them along in their personal development. My son is being social and meets with his behavioral counselor and is even talking in complete sentences! And I want to thank his counselor for helping him talk. God gave her a gift to help children and she’s so amazing. Every day me and Duane are always like, “Look at your boy!,” because you just didn’t know whether we’d ever see the day.

ESSENCE.COM: You all are truly blessed. I’m so happy to hear he’s progressing. Is there any particular weaknesses he still has that you’re working on?
Well, there are so many things he does well now, but there are certain weaknesses. It’s very slight stuff like self-stimulation behavior and making sure he doesn’t repeat himself. I think one of his weakest points is perception and reading people’s faces, but compared to where he was last year he’s doing great. This year he can play a game of cops and robbers, and just last year he wasn’t able to grasp the concept of the game. One thing we do is when he’s done something that’s a little quirky, I’ll ask him what he’s doing and he’ll say, “I’m being weird. I’m not autistic!” And he really gets it. He has a great support system around him, including his friends, who will tell him if he gets stuck on repeating things. They’ll say you already talked about that; let’s talk about something else. We’re so proud of him. We’re so excited. Duane is always like, “My boy is killing them in school!” He’s really trying hard and we see the effort. We can all go to church together now, because for a longtime we couldn’t because we didn’t know what his reaction might be. I just thank Duane and God every day for giving me our son.