Among comedians there once were Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and a bunch of struggling unknowns. Everything changed in the 1990s when a new generation of young African-American comedians emerged, with the help of national exposure offered by HBO's Def Comedy Jam and its associated tours. Mike Epps became one of the brightest stars among that group. He built his reputation on the comedy circuit, however, he landed what he considered to be his "biggest break," as he told Jessica Williams-Gibson of the Indianapolis Recorder, in 2000, with a role in the hit film Next Friday. While more film roles came his way, Epps continued to do his comedy routine. Since 2001 he has been one of the most visible African Americans on the stand-up comedy circuit. His career has continued to rise toward genuine stardom, but that's not how Epps sees it: "I don't like the word star. Stars fall. I consider myself as a successful survivor," according to the Indianapolis Recorder.
Mike Epps was born on November 18, 1970, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Growing up, he split time between Indianapolis, where he lived in a house with his mother and eight siblings, and Gary, Indiana, where his spent summers in his grandparents' home. Epps has pointed to his large family, in which he had a lot of competition for his mother's attention, as the source of his natural inclination to entertain. He was always the class clown, sometimes taking it too far. He spent a few months in a juvenile detention center for a prank gone bad: sticking a classmates' hands together with Super Glue.
More trouble followed. Epps dropped out of high school, started dealing drugs, and spent some time in prison. Back on the streets, Epps one day followed an impulse that seemed obvious to everyone who knew him: He decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy. He entered a stand-up contest at an Indiana club called Seville's. Epps was an instant hit. Emboldened by his relatively easy early success in stand-up, he left the Midwest with $80 in his pocket and moved to Atlanta to launch a career in comedy. In Atlanta, he began to establish a reputation at the Comedy Act Theater, which held regular amateur nights on Tuesdays. Meanwhile, he paid his rent and grocery bills working in a manhole during the day. The style he developed during this period was modern in its sensibility, but in many ways his spontaneous approach was more a throwback to the comedy heroes he had admired as a youth, such as Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Redd Foxx.
So well was Epps received in Atlanta that the owner of the Comedy Act Theater suggested he try his luck in New York. At 21 years old, Epps hopped aboard a Greyhound bus and headed for the Big Apple. In New York, he immediately set out to find a place in the city's comedy clubs. The mainstream clubs proved to be exceedingly difficult to break into. However, a vibrant underground black comedy scene was emerging around this time, inspired by the phenomenon of HBO's Def Comedy Jam. Epps quickly found a home in this movement, and within half a year he had established himself as one of the best young African-American comics around. By 1995 he had appeared in two of HBO's Def Comedy Jam broadcasts and traveled with the Def Comedy Jam Tour. In 1997 he made his movie debut, appearing in Strays, Vin Diesel's first film as a director.
Epps landed a role in an episode of the hit HBO series The Sopranos in 1999. Later that year, he learned that Ice Cube was looking for somebody to cast as his co-star in Next Friday, a sequel to the movie Friday. In Friday, Ice Cube's debut as a film producer, Chris Tucker had filled the sidekick role, and it had made him a household name. Upon hearing that Tucker had bowed out of the sequel, Epps decided to make his best pitch for the part. He went to Los Angeles and invited Ice Cube to catch his stand-up act. Ice Cube was impressed and urged Epps to audition for the role of Day-Day, his suburban cousin being stalked by his obsessed ex-girlfriend and her thuggish younger sister. Epps soon landed the part. While much of the public already knew him from his stand-up exploits, Next Friday proved to be a breakout performance for Epps. The movie opened at the top of the box-office charts.
Other movie appearances, some of them rather small, followed on the heels of his role in Next Friday. He had a cameo in DJ Pooh's 3 Strikes, and had a supporting role in the action comedy Bait, starring Jamie Foxx. The movie parts continued to pile up in rapid succession over the next few years. Epps had a voice role in the 2001 family comedy Dr. Doolittle 2, and later that year he played the wacky pimp Baby Powder in How High, a vehicle for hip-hop artists Redman and Method Man, whom some have described as the modern day, black Cheech and Chong. Epps then joined forces with Ice Cube once again in All About the Benjamins, in which he played the bumbling thief to Cube's bounty hunter. He teamed up with Ice Cube again for the third installment in the Friday series, Friday After Next.
Epps continued to land film roles over the next two years, but the movies he was in tended to be big flops, including the musical comedy The Fighting Temptations (2003) with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyonce Knowles, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), the sequel to the horror flick Resident Evil. In 2005 Epps portrayed Ed Norton to Cedric the Entertainer's Ralph Kramden in a new African-American film version of the classic 1950s situation comedy The Honeymooners. While the movie did not especially impress the majority of critics, it represented another step forward in Epps' Hollywood career. It was apparently a year of remakes for Epps; he also appeared in the film Guess Who, an update of the Sidney Poitier classic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, in 2005.
Later that year, Richard Pryor himself tapped Epps to star in his planned biographical motion picture. "He never really told me why but I'm pretty sure he picked me because of my real life experiences," Epps told Janice Malone of the Tennessee Tribune. "I've been through a whole lot early in my life just as he has." To Epps, being cast as Pryor was the role of a lifetime. Unfortunately, the movie was delayed due to squabbles over the scripts. Epps remained hopeful about the project, telling the Indianapolis Recorder that "It's going to make a real change in my life and others. I'm hoping we get a good script, we get a good director and that I'm in the right frame of mind to represent Richard Pryor 'cause he is the greatest comedian." As of early 2007, there was still hope that the script issues would be resolved in time to start shooting later that year. Meanwhile, Epps remained busy with other projects, including another installment of the Resident Evil series and several other films still in the development phase. Yet stand-up comedy remained a vital part of Epps' career. As he explained to the Tennessee Tribune: "It will always be a part of my life no matter how big I become as an actor."
At a Glance …
Born on November 18, 1970 in Indianapolis, IN; married Michelle McCain, 2006.
Comedy Act Theater, Atlanta, comedian, 1990(?); Def Comedy Jam tour, performer, 1995; actor, 1997-.
Management—Sphinx Management Group, 601 Upland Avenue, Suite 206A, Brookhaven, PA 19015.
Next Friday, 2000.
Dr. Doolittle 2, 2001.
How High, 2001.
All About the Benjamins, 2002.
Friday After Next, 2002.
The Fighting Temptations, 2003.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse, 2004.
The Honeymooners, 2005.
Guess Who, 2005.
Roll Bounce, 2005.
Something New, 2006.
Talk to Me, 2007.
Resident Evil: Extinction, 2007.
Def Comedy Jam, 1997, 2006.
Inappropriate Behavior, 2006.
BackStage West, September 16, 2004, p. 7.
Essence, July 1, 2005, p. 100.
Houston Chronicle, April 3, 2003.
Interview, September 1, 2005, p. 144.
Real Detroit Weekly, December 27, 2006.
Recorder (Indianapolis, IN), October 6, 2006, p. 3.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 2003, p. 24.
Tennessee Tribune, October 20, 2005, p. D2.
"Def Comedy Jam: Interviews: In Steps Epps," HBO,www.hbo.com/defcomedyjam/interviews/index.html (February 12, 2007).
"Mike Epps Bio," Sphinx Management Group,www.sphinxmg.com/artist/mike_epps.asp (February 12, 2007).
"Mike Epps: The Honeymooners Interview," Black-News,www.blacknews.com/pr/mike-epps101.html (February 12, 2007).
"Mike Epps," Richard de la Font Agency,www.delafont.com/comedians/mike-epps.htm (February 12, 2007).
"Movie News: Hold The Laughter: Mike Epps Says Richard Pryor Biopic Being Rewritten," VH1, www.vh1.com/movies/news/articles/1548064/story.jhtml (February 12, 2007).
"Movie News: Mike Epps Compares Upcoming Richard Pryor Movie To ‘Ray’," VH1, www.vh1.com/movies/news/articles/1503041/20050526/story.jhtml (February 12, 2007).
Epps, Mike 1970- (Michael Epps, Michael E. Epps)
Epps, Mike 1970- (Michael Epps, Michael E. Epps)
Born November 18, 1970, in Indianapolis, IN; son of Thomas Epps; married Michelle McCain, July 2006.
Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles, CA 90067; International Creative Management, 10250 Constellation Way, 9th Flor, Los Angeles, CA 90067; William Morris Agency, One William Morris Pl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—Alchemy Entertainment, 9229 Sunset Blvd., Suite 720, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Actor and stand-up comedian. Comedy Act Theater, Atlanta, GA, regular performer; toured on Def Comedy Jam circuit, 1995; Naptown Productions, principal; appeared in television commercial for Miller Lite, 2003.
BET Comedy Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor in a box office movie, Black Entertainment Television, 2004, for The Fighting Temptations.
(Uncredited) Himself, Pimp Up, Ho's Down (documentary), MTI Home Video, 1999.
Day-Day Jones, Next Friday, New Line Cinema, 2000.
Crackhead, 3 Strikes, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2000.
Stevie Sanders, Bait (also known as Piege), Warner Bros., 2000.
(As Michael E. Epps) Voice of Sonny, Dr. Doolittle 2 (also known as DR.2 and DR2), Twentieth Century-Fox, 2001.
Baby Powder, How High, Universal, 2001.
(As Michael Epps) Reginald "Reggie" Wright, All About the Benjamins (also known as All About the Money), New Line Cinema, 2002.
Day-Day/Old man with shotgun, Friday After Next, New Line Cinema, 2002.
Himself, All About the Stunts (documentary short), New Line Home Video, 2002.
Miami Nice (documentary short), New Line Home Video, 2002.
Himself, Strictly Business: Making "All About the Benjamins" (documentary short), New Line Home Video, 2002.
(Uncredited) Rap-battle host, Malibu's Most Wanted, Warner Bros., 2003.
Lucius, The Fighting Temptations, Paramount, 2003.
L. J., Resident Evil: Apocalypse (also known as Resident Evil—L'apocalypse), Screen Gems, 2004.
Himself, Game Over: "Resident Evil" Reanimated (documentary), Columbia TriStar Home Video, 2004.
Himself, Game Babes (documentary short), Columbia TriStar Home Video, 2004.
Bobby Ray, Still 'Bout It, Urban Works Entertainment, 2004.
(Uncredited) The cab driver, Guess Who, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2005.
Ed Norton, The Honeymooners, Paramount, 2005.
Byron, Roll Bounce, Fox Searchlight, 2005.
Walter, Something New, Focus Features, 2006.
Reggie Marshall, The Grand, 2007.
Talk to Me, Focus Features, 2007.
Resident Evil: Extinction, Screen Gems, 2007.
Co-executive producer, All About the Benjamins (also known as All About the Money), 2002.
Executive producer, The Honeymooners, 2005.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Uncensored Comedy: That's Not Funny!, TRIO, 2003.
BET Comedy Awards, Black Entertainment Television, 2004.
Ed Norton, Showtime Special: "The Honeymooners," Showtime, 2005.
Richard Pryor: The Funniest Man Dead or Alive, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
Mike Epps: Inappropriate Behavior, HBO, 2006.
3rd Annual VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, VH1, 2006.
Comic Relief 2006, TBS and HBO, 2006.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Mike, The Unsuccessful Thug, HBO, 2006.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Jerome, "46 Long," The Sopranos, HBO, 1999.
Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry (also known as Def Poetry and Def Poetry Jam), HBO, 2004.
106 & Park Top 10 Live (also known as 106 & Park), Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2005.
Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC, 2005.
"What You Know," Access Granted, Black Entertainment Television, 2006.
"Ice Cube: ‘Why We Thugs,’" Access Granted, Black Entertainment Television, 2006.
Host, Def Comedy Jam, HBO, 2006.
Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, ESPN, 2006.
The Wendy Williams Experience, 2006.
The Unsuccessful Thug, HBO, 2006.
Voice of Moe "Mo Gunz" Jackson, "Wingmen," The Boondocks (animated), Cartoon Network, 2006.
Also appeared in The Daily Buzz.
Television Work; Series:
Producer, The Unsuccessful Thug, HBO, 2006.
Television Work; Pilots:
Creator and executive producer, The Unsuccessful Thug, HBO, 2006.
Television Work; Specials:
Executive producer, Mike Epps: Inappropriate Behavior, 2006.
T. I.'s "What You Know," 2006.
Ice Cube's "Why We Thugs," 2006.
Also appeared in N.O.R.E.'s "Nothin'"; Alicia Keys' "How Come You Don't Call Me."
Mike Epps: Inappropriate Behavior, HBO, 2006.
Interview, September, 2005, p. 144.
People Weekly, June 27, 2005, p. 77.