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Lawrence, Martin

Martin Lawrence

1965—

Comedian, actor

Comedian Martin Lawrence has been one of the busiest entertainers in show business. As star of the FOX-TV series Martin and host of HBO's Def Comedy Jam, Lawrence has found a wide and varied audience for his humor based on the black urban experience. Ratings for Lawrence's situation comedy in particular indicate that the young performer has found a "young, multiracial audience," to quote New York Times writer Mark Stuart Gill. The reporter added that most of the appeal of Martin "emanates from Mr. Lawrence himself…. He resembles a teddy bear on caffeine." Lawrence's star continued to rise at the turn of the millennium with a mix of adult-oriented stand-up concerts, comedy films, and even a G-rated animated movie. Yet in 2007, his comedy in Martin remained a strong foundation for his audience appeal, and a DVD of the show's first season was released. His unique, irreverent style continued to endear him to audiences.

Celebrated Positive Urban Life in Martin

In the Source, Eric D. Hatcher wrote: "Despite [the 1992-93 television] season's explosion of new sitcoms featuring black casts, Martin is perhaps the only one that successfully portrays a slice of urban reality. The show tends to exemplify the comedian's own beliefs in love, cultural pride and the black family unit. And the on-screen love thang between Martin and upscale girlfriend Gina (Tisha Campbell) is a true-to-heart depiction of a '90s brotherman, his woman and their relationship." Lawrence himself told the New York Times that Martin is closely based upon his own experiences, his own joys and pain. "Martin is a black man in his own world," the entertainer said. "He does hard, physical comedy. But he can be silly and gentle and romantic. His persona is about trying to find a place in society and a loving relationship that works." He added: "I'm portraying me, my personal experience. Young black men struggling to be the head of their households. Not always doing it right."

Upscale magazine contributor Sonya Jenkins wrote of Lawrence: "At a very young age, he was on a mission to make it as a comedian or nothing at all." Martin Lawrence was born in 1966 in Frankfurt, Germany, while his father was stationed there with the Air Force. While Lawrence was still a baby, the family moved to Landover, Maryland, a suburb midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. There Lawrence's father left the family, so the youngster grew up in a one-parent household with five siblings. Times were hard for the Lawrences. Martin's mother supported the family by working as a cashier in a series of department stores. The hours were long and the paychecks slender. Lawrence told People that when his mother would come home from work tired, "I would lie on the end of her bed, trying to make her laugh. I knew when I made my mother laugh, I had something."

Lawrence credits his mother and siblings with keeping him out of trouble as a youth. He did not live in a particularly deprived or dangerous neighborhood, but drugs and petty crime were common all the same. "I avoided [crime] because I had a family that stayed on top of it," he told TV Guide. "Me and my friends were smart enough to know we didn't want to go to jail—we didn't want to be behind somebody's bars. We had people who talked to us and helped us stay out of trouble by channeling our energy into sports and boxing, things that weren't destructive." Lawrence in particular found a niche as a boxer. As a teen he was a 90-pound Golden Gloves contender in the Mid-Atlantic region.

School held little appeal for Lawrence. He preferred clowning over studying and was constantly being scolded for his attitude. "I was always a hyper kid and could never stay still," he told The Source. "I'd much rather be up in front of the class makin' them laugh, so it became practice for me." Indeed, one of Lawrence's teachers finally made a deal with him: if he would behave through class, he could test his comedic abilities for the last five minutes of the period. He was a hit, and he became determined to make a living from comedy. "For me, this was all or nothing," he said in Upscale. "I left no room for anything else. That goal was just for my own push—my own self-esteem. The fear of not being a success in my life made me push even harder."

Launched Career with Stand-Up Comedy

With the encouragement of his family and friends, Lawrence began to seek work as a stand-up comic as soon as he had graduated from high school in 1984. He began his career in comedy clubs in Washington, D.C., while holding down a day job as a janitor in a Kmart department store. He was not an overnight success. "I went onstage with my wild street humor and needless to say, the audience just didn't get it," he recalled in Upscale. "It was like a nightmare." Such rejection can shatter confidence, especially in a young performer. Lawrence kept his faith in himself, however, and he kept experimenting with new material, drawing special ideas and inspiration from comedian Richard Pryor. "Richard taught me that honest emotions about sex could be really funny onstage," Lawrence told the New York Times.

Eventually Lawrence moved to New York City. There he performed for free in Washington Square Park, a noted proving ground for would-be entertainers. In 1986 he got his break, so to speak, when he appeared on the television show Star Search. A variety show that allows unknown performers to compete for prizes and exposure, Star Search marked Lawrence's debut on national television. He did not win the night he was on the show. In fact he had to fly back to Washington, D.C., and return to his janitorial work for a time. Then, some months later, a Hollywood producer telephoned him and asked him to come to California for a screen test at Columbia Pictures.

Lawrence's first regular television work was for the comedy series What's Happening Now! He also made progress as a stand-up comedian, appearing in Los Angeles comedy clubs and in cable television comedy shows. His stand-up work drew the attention of director Spike Lee, who gave Lawrence a small but significant role in the 1989 movie Do the Right Thing. After Do the Right Thing, Lawrence landed the part of Bilal in House Party and House Party II, both successful black comedies.

Adapted to Different Audiences

From the outset Lawrence showed an ability to mold his comedy to the level of sophistication of his audience. Movies and network television featured a hyper but somewhat respectable Lawrence. Cable television was an entirely different matter. There, in the less restrictive, pay-TV environment, Lawrence indulged himself in raunchy monologues about sex and masculinity in the modern world—precisely the same earthy, personal brand of humor that had won fans for Richard Pryor. That type of comedy helped establish him as host of HBO's Def Comedy Jam as well as the star of several made-for-cable specials. And in September of 1993, Lawrence produced his first comedy album, Talkin' Shit, recorded live at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and The Funnybone in Philadelphia.

At a Glance …

Born on April 16, 1965, in Frankfurt, Germany; raised in Landover, MD; son of John (a former Air Force serviceman and policeman) and Chlora (in retail sales) Lawrence; married Patricia Southall 1995 (divorced 1996); children: one daughter. Education: Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Landover, 1984.

Career:

Comedian and actor, 1984-; writer for and star of Martin, FOX-TV, 1992-1997.

Selected awards:

NAACP Image Awards, 1995 and 1996, for Martin; BET Comedy Icon Award, 2005.

Addresses:

Agent—Jim Berkus, United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—The Firm, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 212, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

Lawrence found the national spotlight in 1992. First he appeared with Eddie Murphy in the comedy movie Boomerang. The experience of working with Murphy was particularly helpful to Lawrence, who had long admired the established star. Boomerang also reunited Lawrence with Tisha Campbell, an actress he had worked with before on the House Party films. Lawrence and Campbell became the nucleus of a cast for a new situation comedy to be produced by FOX Television.

Lawrence worked with the producers at FOX to create Martin, a 30-minute weekly comedy about a young Detroit disc jockey, his executive girlfriend, and his buddies. The show is more than a mere light treatment of the battle between the sexes: in it, Martin must struggle with his dual impulses to be macho and needy, to assert himself with his girlfriend and to depend upon her for emotional support. Topper Carew, the executive producer of Martin, told TV Guide: "I think the reason so many people love [Martin] is they can see that he's not perfect. He's expressive, animated, tender, sincere, and very honest. He represents the voice of the young African-American male in his mid-20s. One who doesn't have the benefits of an Ivy League education, who comes from the housing projects and had to struggle through all the social and economic obstacles that so many young black men face."

Developed Martin into a Hit

Martin first aired in 1992 in the time slot just after FOX's most successful comedy, The Simpsons. Figures from the A.C. Nielsen television ratings company in 1993 showed that the program ranked in the top five nationally among viewers from ages twelve to seventeen, and even in the top ten among viewers from ages two to eleven. The teen and young-adult audience is a particularly sought-after one by broadcasters and advertisers. Yet for all its mainstream appeal, Martin did not sacrificed its allegiance to black dialogue and attitude. Lawrence told the Source: "Coming up in the business I had people telling me what I could say, what I couldn't say, what I could do, what I couldn't do. Now I'm doing things the way I want to do them…. I am doing exactly what I want to do."

Some observers found fault with Martin and its modern, urban-romantic themes. In a speech in 1992, entertainment mogul Bill Cosby expressed the opinion that shows like Martin, among others, reinforced negative black stereotypes, including the idea that black men are oversexed and insensitive. Other critics faulted Lawrence for the two female characters he plays on the show—his mother and Sheneneh, an "around the way girl." Lawrence took exception to the criticism. He told TV Guide that he tried to make sure his show reflected his own perception of life—both comically and seriously. "These are characters that I've always wanted to play and have fun with," he told Upscale. "They're people I knew while growing up. ‘Sheneneh’—the round-the-way girl and my mother—who's better to play my mother? I grew up with her." He added that he tried not to take the criticism personally. "It's like anything else in life. If you don't believe in yourself, then who will believe in you? The next man's way of getting there might not necessarily work for me, so I have to create my own ways of getting there."

Lawrence created one way of "getting there" to which audiences responded with sympathy and humor. During the February ratings "sweeps" in 1993, FOX broadcast three episodes of Martin that featured a running argument between Martin and his sweetheart. Viewers were given a telephone number and invited to vote on who should apologize to whom for the argument, and the winning vote was written into the final script. Response to the phone-in poll was overwhelming, and the majority of the callers felt that Martin should be the one to apologize. The stunt helped boost Martin's audience share past its competitors on the other three major television networks.

In January of 1993, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gave Martin—and Martin Lawrence—its prestigious Image Award for outstanding television series. The award reflects the respect Lawrence is receiving for attempting to field a television comedy about some very serious subjects: being African American, young, and involved in a serious monogamous relationship, as the 1990s progress. Newsweek correspondent Harry F. Waters wrote: "The message of Martin—and what probably accounts for its huge teen following—is engagingly unique. The show's leading man poignantly struggles to be just that: the man. What sitcom has ever shown us that?"

Continued to Refine his Comedy

Lawrence told the Source that his comedy seeks to poke fun at the very things that produce pain and anxiety in life. "No one is immune to a joke," he said. "When you look at laughter, you look at hurt. With a smile comes a frown. So if something happens that is terrible, I can take it and find a way to make you laugh at it and say, ‘Hey, yeah it is f—ed up, but let's try to laugh while we're up here."

Two years into his hit television show, film became a more dominant facet of Lawrence's acting career. In 1995, Lawrence co-starred with Will Smith in Bad Boys. Lawrence played detective Marcus Burnett, a financially pressed father and partner of Mike Lowry (Smith), a well-to-do bachelor. Bad Boys brought in $15.5 million in sales in its first weekend at the box office. The dynamics between the two detectives made the movie a hit. Producer Do Simpson told Jet: "Martin and Will are uniquely, inherently, and definitively funny. When you put them together they're screamingly funny."

In 1995, Lawrence married Patricia Southall who he reportedly met two years prior during the "Def Comedy Jam" concert. The former beauty pageant winner and Lawrence were married at the Waterside Marriott Hotel in Northfolk, Virginia. A year later, in early 1996, Patricia gave birth to their daughter, Jasmine.

Suffered from Fatigue and Stress

Lawrence's professional career continued to progress. While still continuing with his own show, he filmed Nothing to Lose, which was released in 1997. The stress and success of a comedic acting career, however, began to take its toll on Lawrence. He was known for frequent outbursts on the set of Martin and had difficulty while filming Nothing to Lose, forgetting his lines and breaking into hysterical laughter without reason. Being sent home one day from the set, Lawrence was found wandering the streets and even rambling in a carwash with a concealed and loaded gun. He spent the night in the hospital, reportedly to be treated for dehydration and exhaustion, returning to the set the next day to finish the remainder of the film without a problem.

On July 29, 1996, Lawrence attempted to walk through a metal detector at a Phoenix airport with a concealed 9mm gun. He eventually received two years probation and his family sent him to a drug rehabilitation center. He soon checked himself out and returned home. A few months later, Lawrence's instability and alleged abuse prompted his wife of less than two years to file for a divorce.

Tisha Campbell, the costar on Martin, left the show citing an unreasonable and unsafe working environment which she attributed to Lawrence's frequent outbursts and alleged sexual harassment. Competing lawsuits were settled out of court and she agreed to finish the season provided that Lawrence was not present when she was being filmed, a difficult feat for the show's writers as Campbell and Lawrence played an intimately married couple. Campbell's decision, nonetheless, brought the five-year hit series to a premature end and had in excess of $65 million in syndication sales.

Later in 1997, Lawrence was charged with battery after allegedly punching a man in a nightclub. According to Jet, the two men had gotten into a scuffle on the dance floor. Lawrence pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two years probation, 240 hours of community service, and to hold a fund-raising show in which he raised over $10,000 for two nonprofit organizations in July of 1998.

Found Renewed Success in Hit Films

After this period of turmoil, attributed by some to the pressure of success, Lawrence returned to the screen, acting with Eddie Murphy again in Life, released in 1999. In this prison comedy the two 1930s bootleggers make an emergency run down to Mississippi where they stumble onto a crime scene and are falsely accused of murder. Both are sentenced to "life" terms in prison. The film takes Lawrence and Murphy through sixty years of time, showing their emotional and physical changes as well as the growth of their friendship.

After Life Lawrence geared up for two more movies. But before he began filming, he suffered through another obstacle in 1999. While jogging in triple-digit temperatures in warm clothing he slipped into a coma with a temperature of 107 degrees. He managed to make a miraculous recovery. A hospital spokesperson told Jet: "He's made an amazing recovery. We nicknamed him our Miracle Man. It's not often that someone with a 107 [degrees] temperature makes such a recovery." After he recovered, he filmed two movies that were major successes: Blue Streak and Big Momma's House. Big Momma's House, a $120 million-plus success, led to Black Knight, a film for which he will reportedly made $16.5 million. Black Knight is about a restaurant employee who finds himself in medieval times.

Despite lending his talents to such family fare as Rebound and the animated film Open Season, Lawrence continued to gravitate back toward adult humor projects. Lawrence told Mike Szymanski of Word Magazine that "I'll always like adult humor more, that's my favorite," but added that he likes "mixing it up…I just love not being pegged into one specific thing." He filled his plate with projects that ran the gamut, from giving voice to Boog the bear to the delight of children in Open Season, to playing a middle-aged man on a motorcycle road trip with his buddies in Wild Hog, to contemplating another sequel to the hit Big Momma films, to seeking out a film role to play a villain.

His flexibility stopped with his acting roles, however. Lawrence kept his stand-up comedy separate. For his stand-up comedy concert Runteldat released as a film in 2002, Lawrence offered unflinching looks into his personal life—including his erratic behavior—stinging social commentary, and a stream of cuss words. Comparisons to Richard Pryor were plentiful. The box office receipts topped $20 million, a huge success for a comedy routine, which made Lawrence think long and hard about creating a follow up. But as he admitted to Szymanski, "I'm always thinking about standup, but you can't follow ‘Runteldat’ with just anything. If I have something to say and it's funny and the subject matter is interesting, then I'm right there." Testament to his prominence in comedy came in 2005 when Lawrence was honored with the BET Comedy Icon Award for his body of work and contribution to the field of comedy. While yet to release another stand-up performance, Lawrence kept busy. He hosted a new series for Starz Entertainment to feature little known comedians, Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand-Up, starting in 2007, and had begun work on two new films.

Selected works

Films

Do the Right Thing, 1989.

House Party, 1990.

House Party II, 1991.

Talkin' Dirty After Dark, 1991.

Boomerang, 1992.

Bad Boys, 1995.

Nothing to Lose, 1997.

Blue Streak, 1999.

Big Momma's House, 2000.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?, 2001.

Rebound, 2005.

Open Season, 2007.

Wild Hogs, 2007.

Television

Martin, FOX-TV, 1992-1996.

Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand-Up, Starz Entertainment, 2007.

Other

Talkin' Shit (comedy album), Atlantic, 1993.

You So Crazy (stand-up concert film), 1994.

Runteldat (stand-up concert film), 2002.

Sources

Periodicals

Newsweek, February 15, 1993, p. 47.

Jet, October 4, 1999, p. 38; April 19, 1999, p. 28; July 27, 1998, p. 37-39.

Hollywood Reporter, July 24, 2000.

New York Times, August 1, 1993, p. H-31; August 2, 2002, p. B12.

Newsweek, August 14, 2000, p. 60.

People, April 12, 1993, p. 53-54.

People Weekly, May 12, 1997, p. 194-197.

Source, April 1993, p. 46-48.

Spin, September 1993.

Tennessee Tribune, October 5, 2006, p. D6.

TV Guide, March 6, 1993, p. 28-30.

Upscale, February 1993, p. 78-79.

Variety, August 5, 2002, p. 21.

Washington Post, July 1, 2005, p. C5.

On-line

"Martin Lawrence, Not Turning into a Family Man," Word Magazine,www.wordmag.com/Film/FILMFEAT_2006.12_Martin.htm (April 10, 2007).

—Anne Janette Johnson, Laura L. Brandau, and Sara Pendergast

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"Lawrence, Martin." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lawrence-martin

Lawrence, Martin 1965–

Martin Lawrence 1965

Comedian, actor

At a Glance

Broke into Television

Became the Star of FOXs Martin

Displayed Broad Comedic Appeal

Sources

Comedian Martin Lawrence is one of the busiest entertainers in show business these days. As star of the FOX-TV series Martin and host of Home Box Offices DefJam Comedy Hour, Lawrence has found a wide and varied audience for his humor based on the black urban experience. Ratings for Lawrences situation comedy in particular indicate that the young performer has found a young, multiracial audience, to quote New York Times writer Mark Stuart Gill. The reporter added that most of the appeal of Martin emanates from Mr. Lawrence himself.He resembles a teddy bear on caffeine. in The Source, Eric D. Hatcher wrote: Despite [the 1992-93 television] seasons explosion of new sitcoms featuring black casts, Martin is perhaps the only one that successfully portrays a slice of urban reality. The show tends to exemplify the comedians own beliefs in love, cultural pride and the black family unit. And the on-screen love thang between Martin and upscale girlfriend Gina (Tisha Campbell) is a true-to-heart depiction of a 90s brotherman, his woman and their relationship. Lawrence himself told the New York Times that Martin is closely based upon his own experiences, his own joys and pain. Martin is a black man in his own world, the entertainer said. He does hard, physical comedy. But he can be silly and gentle and romantic. His persona is about trying to find a place in society and a loving relationship that works. He added: Im portraying me, my personal experience. Young black men struggling to be the head of their households. Not always doing it right.

Upscale magazine contributor Sonya Jenkins wrote of Lawrence: At a very young age, he was on a mission to make it as a comedian or nothing at all. Martin Lawrence was born in 1965 in Frankfurt, Germany, while his father was stationed there with the Air Force. While Lawrence was still a baby, the family moved to Landover, Maryland, a suburb midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. There Lawrences father left the family, so the youngster grew up in a one-parent household with five siblings. Times were hard for the Lawrences. Martins mother supported the family by working as a cashier in a series of department stores. The hours were long and the paychecks slender. Lawrence told People that when his mother would come home from work tired, I would lie on the end of her bed, trying to make her laugh. I knew when I made my mother laugh, I had something.

Lawrence credits his mother and siblings with keeping him out of trouble as a youth. He did not live in a particularly deprived

At a Glance

Born April 16, 1965, in Frankfurt, Germany; raised in Landover, MD; son of John (a former Air Force serviceman and policeman) and Chlora (in retail sales) Lawrence. Education: Graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Landover, 1984.

Comedian and actor, 1984. Television appearances include Star Search, Whats Happening Now!, and Def lam Comedy Hour; writer for and star of Martin, FOX-TV, 1992. Film appearances include roles in Do the Right Thing, 1989; House Party, 1990; House Party II, 1991; Talkin Dirty After Dark, 1991; and Boomerang, 1992. Debut comedy album, Talkin Shit, released by Atlantic, September 21, 1993.

Selected awards: Image Awards from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1993 and 1994.

Addresses: c/o Fox Television Stations, Inc., 5746 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028.

or dangerous neighborhood, but drugs and petty crime were common all the same. I avoided [crime] because I had a family that stayed on top of it, he told TV Guide. Me and my friends were smart enough to know we didnt want to go to jailwe didnt want to be behind somebodys bars. We had people who talked to us and helped us stay out of trouble by channeling our energy into sports and boxing, things that werent destructive. Lawrence in particular found a niche as a boxer. As a teen he was a 90-pound Golden Gloves contender in the Mid-Atlantic region.

School held little appeal for Lawrence. He preferred clowning over studying and was constantly being scolded for his attitude. I was always a hyper kid and could never stay still, he told The Source. Id much rather be up in front of the class makin them laugh, so it became practice for me. Indeed, one of Lawrences teachers finally made a deal with him: if he would behave through class, he could test his comedic abilities for the last five minutes of the period. He was a hit, and he became determined to make a living from comedy. For me, this was all or nothing, he said in Upscale. I left no room for anything else. That goal was just for my own pushmy own self-esteem. The fear of not being a success in my life made me push even harder.

With the encouragement of his family and friends, Lawrence began to seek work as a stand-up comic as soon as he had graduated from high school in 1984. He began his career in comedy clubs in Washington, D.C., while holding down a day job as a janitor in a Kmart department store. He was not an overnight success. I went onstage with my wild street humor and needless to say, the audience just didnt get it, he recalled in Upscale. It was like a nightmare. Such rejection can shatter confidence, especially in a young performer. Lawrence kept his faith in himself, however, and he kept experimenting with new material, drawing special ideas and inspiration from comedian Richard Pryor. Richard taught me that honest emotions about sex could be really funny onstage, Lawrence told the New York Times.

Eventually Lawrence moved to New York City. There he performed for free in Washington Square Park, a noted proving ground for would-be entertainers. In 1986 he got his break, so to speak, when he appeared on the television show Star Search. A variety show that allows unknown performers to compete for prizes and exposure, Star Search marked Lawrences debut on national television. He did not win the night he was on the show. In fact he had to fly back to Washington, D.C. and return to his janitorial work for a time. Then, some months later, a Hollywood producer telephoned him and asked him to come to California for a screen test at Columbia Pictures. Lawrence was thrilled. He has lived in California ever since.

Broke into Television

Lawrences first regular television work was for the comedy series Whats Happening Now! He also made progress as a stand-up comedian, appearing in Los Angeles comedy clubs and in cable television comedy shows. His stand-up work drew the attention of director Spike Lee, who gave Lawrence a small but significant role in the 1989 movie Do the Right Thing. After Do the Right Thing, Lawrence landed the part of Bilal in House Party and House Party II, both successful black comedies.

From the outset Lawrence showed an ability to mold his comedy to the level of sophistication of his audience. Movies and network television featured a hyper but somewhat respectable Lawrence. Cable television was an entirely different matter. There, in the less restrictive, pay-TV environment, Lawrence indulged himself in raunchy monologues about sex and masculinity in the modern worldprecisely the same earthy, personal brand of humor that had won fans for Richard Pryor. That type of comedy helped establish him as host of HBOs Def Jam Comedy Hour as well as the star of several made-for-cable specials. And in September of 1993, Lawrence produced his first comedy album, Talkin Shit, recorded live at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and The Funnybone in Philadelphia.

Lawrence found the national spotlight in 1992. First he appeared with Eddie Murphy in the comedy movie Boomerang. The experience of working with Murphy was particularly helpful to Lawrence, who had long admired the established star. Boomerang also reunited Lawrence with Tisha Campbell, an actress he had worked with before on the House Party films. Lawrence and Campbell became the nucleus of a cast for a new situation comedy to be produced by FOX Television.

Became the Star of FOXs Martin

Lawrence worked with the producers at FOX to create Martin, a 30-minute weekly comedy about a young Detroit disc jockey, his executive girlfriend, and his buddies. The show is more than a mere light treatment of the battle between the sexes: in it, Martin must struggle with his dual impulses to be macho and needy, to assert himself with his girlfriend and to depend upon her for emotional support. Topper Carew, the executive producer of Martin, told TV Guide: I think the reason so many people love [Martin] is they can see that hes not perfect. Hes expressive, animated, tender, sincere, and very honest. He represents the voice of the young African-American male in his mid-20s. One who doesnt have the benefits of an Ivy League education, who comes from the housing projects and had to struggle through all the social and economic obstacles that so many young black men face.

Martin first aired in 1992 in the time slot just after FOXs most successful comedy, The Simpsons. Figures from the A.C. Nielsen television ratings company in 1993 showed that the program ranked in the top five nationally among viewers from ages twelve to seventeen, and even in the top ten among viewers from ages two to eleven. The teen and young-adult audience is a particularly sought-after one by broadcasters and advertisers. Yet for all its mainstream appeal, Martin has not sacrificed its allegiance to black dialogue and attitude. Lawrence told The Source: Coming up in the business I had people telling me what I could say, what I couldnt say, what I could do, what I couldnt do. Now Im doing things the way I want to do them. I am doing exactly what I want to do.

Some observers have found fault with Martin and its modern, urban-romantic themes. In a speech in 1992, entertainment mogul Bill Cosby expressed the opinion that shows like Martin, among others, reinforced negative black stereotypes, including the idea that black men are oversexed and insensitive. Other critics have faulted Lawrence for the two female characters he plays on the showhis mother and Sheneneh, an around the way girl. Lawrence takes exception to the criticism. He told TV Guide that he tries to make sure his show reflects his own perception of lifeboth comically and seriously. These are characters that Ive always wanted to play and have fun with, he told Upscale. Theyre people I knew while growing up. Shenenehthe round-the-way girl and my motherwhos better to play my mother? I grew up with her. He added that he tries not to take the criticism personally. Its like anything else in life. If you dont believe in yourself, then who will believe in you? The next mans way of getting there might not necessarily work for me, so I have to create my own ways of getting there.

Displayed Broad Comedic Appeal

Lawrence seems to have created one way of getting there to which audiences can respond with sympathy and humor. During the February ratings sweeps in 1993, FOX broadcast three episodes of Martin that featured a running argument between Martin and his sweetheart. Viewers were given a telephone number and invited to vote on who should apologize to whom for the argument, and the winning vote was written into the final script. Response to the phone-in poll was overwhelming, and the majority of the callers felt that Martin should be the one to apologize. The stunt helped boost Martins audience share past its competitors on the other three major television networks.

In January of 1993, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gave Martin and Martin Lawrenceits prestigious Image Award for outstanding television series. The next year Lawrence picked up an Image Award for best comic actor. These awards reflect the respect Lawrence is receiving for attempting to field a television comedy about some very serious subjects: being African American, young, and involved in a serious monogamous relationship, as the 1990s progress. Newsweek correspondent Harry F. Waters wrote: The message of Martin and what probably accounts for its huge teen followingis engagingly unique. The shows leading man poignantly struggles to be just that: the man. What sitcom has ever shown us that?

Lawrence told The Source that his comedy seeks to poke fun at the very things that produce pain and anxiety in life. No one is immune to a joke, he said. When you look at laughter, you look at hurt. With a smile comes a frown. So if something happens that is terrible, I can take it and find a way to make you laugh at it and say, Hey, yeah it is fed up, but lets try to laugh while were up here.

Sources

Newsweek, February 15, 1993, p. 47.

New York Times, August 1, 1993, p. H-31.

People, April 12, 1993, p. 53-54.

Rolling Stone, November 11, 1993, p. 20.

The Source, April 1993, p. 46-48.

Spin, September 1993.

Time, November 22, 1993, p. 80-86.

TV Guide, March 6, 1993, p. 28-30.

Upscale, February 1993, p. 78-79.

Anne Janette Johnson

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"Lawrence, Martin 1965–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lawrence, Martin 1965–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lawrence-martin-1965

"Lawrence, Martin 1965–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lawrence-martin-1965

Lawrence, Martin 1965–

Martin Lawrence 1965

Comedian, actor

At a Glance

Broke into Television

Became the Star of FOXs Martin

Broad Comic Appeal

Launched Film Career

Problems Continued

Movie Career Rebounded

Sources

Comedian Martin Lawrence has been one of the busiest entertainers in show business. As star of the FOX-TV series Martin and host of Home Box Offices Def Jam Comedy Hour, Lawrence has found a wide and varied audience for his humor based on the black urban experience. Ratings for Lawrences situation comedy in particular indicate that the young performer has found a young, multiracial audience, to quote New York Times writer Mark Stuart Gill. The reporter added that most of the appeal of Martin emanates from Mr. Lawrence himself.... He resembles a teddy bear on caffeine. More recently, Lawrence has actively pursued his acting career on film, starring with such renown comedians as Will Smith and Eddie Murphy.

In The Source, Eric D. Hatcher wrote: Despite [the 1992-93 television] seasons explosion of new sitcoms featuring black casts, Martin is perhaps the only one that successfully portrays a slice of urban reality. The show tends to exemplify the comedians own beliefs in love, cultural pride and the black family unit. And the on-screen love thang between Martin and upscale girlfriend Gina (Tisha Campbell) is a true-to-heart depiction of a 90s brotherman, his woman and their relationship. Lawrence himself told the New York Times that Martin is closely based upon his own experiences, his own joys and pain. Martin is a black man in his own world, the entertainer said. He does hard, physical comedy. But he can be silly and gentle and romantic. His persona is about trying to find a place in society and a loving relationship that works. He added: Im portraying me, my personal experience. Young black men struggling to be the head of their households. Not always doing it right.

Upscale magazine contributor Sonya Jenkins wrote of Lawrence: At a very young age, he was on a mission to make it as a comedian or nothing at all. Martin Lawrence was born in 1966 in Frankfurt, Germany, while his father was stationed there with the Air Force. While Lawrence was still a baby, the family moved to Landover, Maryland, a suburb midway between Baltimore and Washington, D. C. There Lawrences father left the family, so the youngster grew up in a one-parent household with five siblings. Times were hard for the Lawrences. Martins mother supported the family by working as a cashier in a series of department stores. The hours were long and the paychecks slender. Lawrence told People that when his mother would come home from work tired, I would lie on the end of

At a Glance

Born April 16,1965, in Frankfurt, Germany; raised in Landover, MD; son of John (a former Air Force serviceman and policeman) and Chlora (in retail sales) Lawrence. Education: Graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Landover, 1984.

Career: Comedian and actor, 1984-, Television appearances include Star Search, Whats Happening Now!, and Dei Jam Comedy Hour; writer for and star of Martin, FOX-TV, 1992-1996. Film appearances include roles in Do the Right Thing, 1989; House Party, 1990; House Party t!, 1991; Talkin Dirty After Dark, 1991; Boomerang, 1992; Bad Boys, 1995; Nothing to Lose, 1997; Blue Streak, 1999; Big Mommas House, 2000; Whats the Worst That Could Happen?, 2001.

Selected awards Image Award from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1993, for Martin,

Addresses: Office c/o Fox Television Stations, Inc., 5746 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028.

her bed, trying to make her laugh. I knew when I made my mother laugh, I had something.

Lawrence credits his mother and siblings with keeping him out of trouble as a youth. He did not live in a particularly deprived or dangerous neighborhood, but drugs and petty crime were common all the same. I avoided [crime] because I had a family that stayed on top of it, he told TV Guide. Me and my friends were smart enough to know we didnt want to go to jailwe didnt want to be behind somebodys bars. We had people who talked to us and helped us stay out of trouble by channeling our energy into sports and boxing, things that werent destructive. Lawrence in particular found a niche as a boxer. As a teen he was a 90-pound Golden Gloves contender in the Mid-Atlantic region.

School held little appeal for Lawrence. He preferred clowning over studying and was constantly being scolded for his attitude. I was always a hyper kid and could never stay still, he told The Source. Id much rather be up in front of the class makin them laugh, so it became practice for me. Indeed, one of Lawrences teachers finally made a deal with him: if he would behave through class, he could test his comedic abilities for the last five minutes of the period. He was a hit, and he became determined to make a living from comedy. For me, this was all or nothing, he said in Upscale. I left no room for anything else. That goal was just for my own pushmy own self-esteem. The fear of not being a success in my life made me push even harder.

With the encouragement of his family and friends, Lawrence began to seek work as a stand-up comic as soon as he had graduated from high school in 1984. He began his career in comedy clubs in Washington, D.C., while holding down a day job as a janitor in a Kmart department store. He was not an overnight success. I went onstage with my wild street humor and needless to say, the audience just didnt get it, he recalled in Upscale. It was like a nightmare. Such rejection can shatter confidence, especially in a young performer. Lawrence kept his faith in himself, however, and he kept experimenting with new material, drawing special ideas and inspiration from comedian Richard Pryor. Richard taught me that honest emotions about sex could be really funny onstage, Lawrence told the New York Times.

Eventually Lawrence moved to New York City. There he performed for free in Washington Square Park, a noted proving ground for would-be entertainers. In 1986 he got his break, so to speak, when he appeared on the television show Star Search. A variety show that allows unknown performers to compete for prizes and exposure, Star Search marked Lawrences debut on national television. He did not win the night he was on the show. In fact he had to fly back to Washington, D.C., and return to his janitorial work for a time. Then, some months later, a Hollywood producer telephoned him and asked him to come to California for a screen test at Columbia Pictures.

Broke into Television

Lawrences first regular television work was for the comedy series Whats Happening Now! He also made progress as a stand-up comedian, appearing in Los Angeles comedy clubs and in cable television comedy shows. His stand-up work drew the attention of director Spike Lee, who gave Lawrence a small but significant role in the 1989 movie Do the Right Thing. After Do the Right Thing, Lawrence landed the part of Bilal in House Party and House Party II, both successful black comedies.

From the outset Lawrence showed an ability to mold his comedy to the level of sophistication of his audience. Movies and network television featured a hyper but somewhat respectable Lawrence. Cable television was an entirely different matter. There, in the less restrictive, pay-TV environment, Lawrence indulged himself in raunchy monologues about sex and masculinity in the modern worldprecisely the same earthy, personal brand of humor that had won fans for Richard Pryor. That type of comedy helped establish him as host of HBOs Def Jam Comedy Hour as well as the star of several made-for-cable specials. And in September of 1993, Lawrence produced his first comedy album, Talkin Shit, recorded live at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and The Funnybone in Philadelphia.

Lawrence found the national spotlight in 1992. First he appeared with Eddie Murphy in the comedy movie Boomerang. The experience of working with Murphy was particularly helpful to Lawrence, who had long admired the established star. Boomerang also reunited Lawrence with Tisha Campbell, an actress he had worked with before on the House Party films. Lawrence and Campbell became the nucleus of a cast for a new situation comedy to be produced by FOX Television.

Became the Star of FOXs Martin

Lawrence worked with the producers at FOX to create Martin, a 30-minute weekly comedy about a young Detroit disc jockey, his executive girlfriend, and his buddies. The show is more than a mere light treatment of the battle between the sexes: in it, Martin must struggle with his dual impulses to be macho and needy, to assert himself with his girlfriend and to depend upon her for emotional support. Topper Carew, the executive producer of Martin, told TV Guide: I think the reason so many people love [Martin] is they can see that hes not perfect. Hes expressive, animated, tender, sincere, and very honest. He represents the voice of the young African-American male in his mid-20s. One who doesnt have the benefits of an Ivy League education, who comes from the housing projects and had to struggle through all the social and economic obstacles that so many young black men face.

Martin first aired in 1992 in the time slot just after FOXs most successful comedy, The Simpsons. Figures from the A.C. Nielsen television ratings company in 1993 showed that the program ranked in the top five nationally among viewers from ages twelve to seventeen, and even in the top ten among viewers from ages two to eleven. The teen and young-adult audience is a particularly sought-after one by broadcasters and advertisers. Yet for all its mainstream appeal, Martin has not sacrificed its allegiance to black dialogue and attitude. Lawrence told The Source: Coming up in the business I had people telling me what I could say, what I couldnt say, what I could do, what I couldnt do. Now Im doing things the way I want to do them.... I am doing exactly what I want to do.

Some observers have found fault with Martin and its modem, urban-romantic themes. In a speech in 1992, entertainment mogul Bill Cosby expressed the opinion that shows like Martin, among others, reinforced negative black stereotypes, including the idea that black men are oversexed and insensitive. Other critics have faulted Lawrence for the two female characters he plays on the showhis mother and Sheneneh, an around the way girl. Lawrence takes exception to the criticism. He told TV Guide that he tries to make sure his show reflects his own perception of lifeboth comically and seriously. These are characters that Ive always wanted to play and have fun with, he told Upscale. Theyre people I knew while growing up. Shenenehs the round-the-way girl and my mother whos better to play my mother? I grew up with her. He added that he tries not to take the criticism personally. Its like anything else in life. If you dont believe in yourself, then who will believe in you? The next mans way of getting there might not necessarily work for me, so I have to create my own ways of getting there.

Broad Comic Appeal

Lawrence seems to have created one way of getting there to which audiences can respond with sympathy and humor. During the February ratings sweeps in 1993, FOX broadcast three episodes of Martin that featured a running argument between Martin and his sweetheart. Viewers were given a telephone number and invited to vote on who should apologize to whom for the argument, and the winning vote was written into the final script. Response to the phone-in poll was overwhelming, and the majority of the callers felt that Martin should be the one to apologize. The stunt helped boost Martin s audience share past its competitors on the other three major television networks.

In January of 1993, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gave Martin and Martin Lawrenceits prestigious Image Award for outstanding television series. The award reflects the respect Lawrence is receiving for attempting to field a television comedy about some very serious subjects: being African American, young, and involved in a serious monogamous relationship, as the 1990s progress. Newsweek correspondent Harry F. Waters wrote: The message of Martin and what probably accounts for its huge teen followingis engagingly unique. The shows leading man poignantly struggles to be just that: the man. What sitcom has ever shown us that?

Lawrence told The Source that his comedy seeks to poke fun at the very things that produce pain and anxiety in life. No one is immune to a joke, he said. When you look at laughter, you look at hurt. With a smile comes a frown. So if something happens that is terrible, I can take it and find a way to make you laugh at it and say, Hey, yeah it is fed up, but lets try to laugh while were up here.

Launched Film Career

Two years into his hit television show, film became a more dominant facet of Lawrences acting career. In 1995 Lawrence co-starred with Will Smith in Bad Boys. Lawrence played detective Marcus Burnett, a financially pressed father and partner of Mike Lowry (Smith), a well-to-do bachelor. Bad Boys brought in $15.5 million in sales in its first weekend at the box office. The dynamics between the two detectives made the movie a hit. Producer Do Simpson told Jet: Martin and Will are uniquely, inherently, and definitively funny. When you put them together theyre screamingly funny.

In 1995, Lawrence married Patricia Southall who he reportedly met two years prior during the Def Comedy Jam concert. The former beauty pageant winner and Lawrence were married at the Waterside Marriott Hotel in Northfolk, Virginia. A year later, in early 1996, Patricia gave birth to their daughter, Jasmine.

Lawrences professional career continued to progress. While still continuing with his own show, he filmed Nothing to Lose, which was released in 1997. The stress and success of a comedic acting career, however, began to take its toll on Lawrence. He was known for frequent outbursts on the set of Martin and had difficulty while filming Nothing to Lose, forgetting his lines and breaking into hysterical laughter without reason. Being sent home one day from the set, Lawrence was found wandering the streets and even rambling in a carwash with a concealed and loaded gun. He spent the night in the hospital, reportedly to be treated for dehydration and exhaustion, returning to the set the next day to finish the remainder of the film without a problem.

Problems Continued

On July 29, 1996, Lawrence attempted to walk through a metal detector at a Phoenix airport with a concealed 9mm gun. He eventually received two years probation and his family sent him to a drug rehabilitation center. He soon checked himself out and returned home. A few months later, Lawrences instability and alleged abuse prompted his wife of less than two years to file for a divorce.

Tisha Campbell, the co-star on Martin, left the show citing an unreasonable and unsafe working environment which she attributed to Lawrences frequent outbursts and alleged sexual harassment. Competing lawsuits were settled out of court and she agreed to finish the season provided that Lawrence was not present when she was being filmed, a difficult feat for the shows writers as Campbell and Lawrence played an intimately married couple. Campbells decision, nonetheless, brought the five year hit series to a premature end and had in excess of $65 million in syndication sales.

Later in 1997, Lawrence was charged with battery after allegedly punching a man in a nightclub. According to Jet, the two men had gotten into a scuffle on the dance floor. Lawrence pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two years probation, 240 hours of community service, and to hold a fund-raising show in which he raised over $10,000 for two nonprofit organizations in July of 1998.

Movie Career Rebounded

After this period of turmoil, attributed by some to the pressure of success, Lawrence returned to the screen, finally acting with Eddie Murphy again in Life, released in 1999. In this prison comedy the two 1930s bootleggers make an emergency run down to Mississippi where they stumble onto a crime scene and are falsely accused of murder. Both are sentenced to life terms in prison. The film takes Lawrence and Murphy through sixty years of time, showing their emotional and physical changes as well as the growth of their friendship.

After Life Lawrences geared up for two more movies. But before he began filming, he suffered through another tragedy in 1999. While jogging in triple-digit temperatures in warm clothing he slipped into a coma with a temperature of 107 degrees. He managed to make a miraculous recovery. A hospital spokesperson told Jet: Hes made an amazing recovery. We nicknamed him our Miracle Man. Its not often that someone with a 107 [degrees] temperature makes such a recovery. After he recovered he filmed two movies that were a major success: Blue Streak, and Big Mommas House. Big Mommas House, a $120 million-plus success, led to Black Knight, a film for which he will reportedly make $16.5 million. Black Knight is about a restaurant employee who finds himself in medieval times.

Lawrence has asserted his black, urban character into film and was celebrated with names like Eddie Murphy and Will Smith. According to MTVs David Gale, as quoted in Newsweek, I think weve evolved as a country to the point that white America wants to see a Martin Lawrence or an Eddie Murphy as much as they want to see a Jim Carrey or an Adam Sandler. Indeed, Lawrence continued to overcome various trials and push forward with his successful film career.

Sources

Newsweek, February 15, 1993, p. 47.

Jet, October 4, 1999, p. 38.

Jet, April 19, 1999, p. 28.

Jet, July 27, 1998, p. 37-39.

Hollywood Reporter, July 24, 2000.

New York Times, August 1, 1993, p. H-31.

Newsweek, August 14, 2000, p. 60.

People, April 12, 1993, p. 53-54.

People Weekly, May 12, 1997, p. 194-197.

The Source, April 1993, p. 46-48.

Spin, September 1993.

TV Guide, March 6, 1993, p. 28-30.

Upscale, February 1993, p. 78-79.

Anne Janette Johnson and Laura L. Brandau

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