Perry, Tyler 1969–

views updated May 18 2018

Tyler Perry 1969

Playwright, actor, director

Failed Theater Ventures Almost Derailed Career

Found Success with Change

Gave Birth to Madea

Selected plays


Perhaps not as famous as Americas greatest playwrights, Tyler Perry has become known as the man who revitalized urban theater and gave new meaning to gospel theater. Emerging from the African-American experience, and perhaps sharing a characteristic comedic exuberance, urban theater and gospel theater are nevertheless separate genres. Unlike urban theater, gospel theater includes a distinct religious element, incorporating religiously-inspired characters into the narrative. Wearing all the hatswriting, producing, directing, and actingPerry has been creating wildly popular plays that have repeatedly sold out in major cities around the United States. He has been nominated for several awards including the Helen Hayes award for outstanding lead actor and for four NAACP Theater Awards. At one time, three of his plays were touring the United States. While his plays often shock the audience because they address issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, his narrative method is side-splitting humor which places the disturbing themes in a universal context. All his plays have the same underlying message: Forgive through the power of God. Interestingly, audiences all over the country have regarded his shows as truly inspirational; some even describing Perrys plays as a life-altering experience.

W.E.B. Du Bois declared that Black theater should have four components: it should be for us, by us, about us, and near us. While some critics asserted that Perry fulfills these requirements, others simply dismiss urban theater, including Perrys work, as an unsophisticated art form which basically relies on stereotypes. Perry admitted to Ytasha L. Womack, writing for Essence, Some of these plays give all of us a bad reputation. Furthermore, gospel plays, as Toledo City Papers Brett Collins observed, mainly address a church-goingi.e. very specificaudience. What distinguishes gospel plays from regular musicals, Collins explained, is the presence of saved characters who spout scripture and sing God-centered songs. They usually contain at least a couple of buffoonish, stereotypical characters, which led to the genre being widely derided as chitlin circuit theater. Since Perry has become a mainstay in the black theater circuit, American Theater magazine has replaced the term chitlin circuit theater, a generic description for Black theater, with the term Urban Theater.

Failed Theater Ventures Almost Derailed Career

Born Emmitt Perry, Jr. on September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, Perry has had a life that brings to mind a Hollywood screenplay about a man who, after great hardships, relies on his faith and attains wealth and fame. Named after his father, Perry was called Junior during his young life, a childhood that was filled with abuse. While Perrys father provided materially for his family, he was the primary source of his sons physical and emotional pain. The pain was so overwhelming that Perry attempted suicide as a young teenager. When he was sixteen, the young man, who hated to be called by his fathers name, changed his name to Tyler, a name which, years later, he found meant builder of great things.

At a Glance

Born Emmitt Perry Jr. on September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, LA; son of Emmitt Perry Sr. Religion: Christian.

Career: Playwright and stage actor, 1998; television screenwriter and producer, 2003.

Address: Office 235 Peachtree Street, Suite 400, North Tower, Atlanta, GA 30303.

Although Perry was the class clown and loved to make people laugh, he was a very depressed and introspective boy, finding solace in writing and drawing. Failing to finish high school, he earned a GED and learned the carpentry trade. In an effort to heal deep emotional wounds, Perry began keeping a journal, an exercise that he learned about from watching one of Oprah Winfreys weekday talk shows. In his journal, Perry wrote himself a series of letters, finding that writing was extremely cathartic. More importantly, he found that he was extremely good at articulating his emotions. The collection of letters evolved into I Know Ive Been Changed, his first gospel musical. The play, which addresses domestic violence and child abuse, described the particular ways in which emotional and physical trauma endured during childhood affects a persons adulthood. The play introduced the idea of the extraordinary healing power of having faith in God. Perry explained to Upscales Kitty J. Pope, Writing the letters was the first step in my healing process. I was full of anger and experiencing internal conflict and guilt. If you can forgive and move on with your life, you can find peace. You must learn to forgive not only other people, but also yourself. Years later, Perry was a guest on Winfreys show.

In 1992, after developing a script from his letters, Perry moved to Atlanta where he found a job and saved all he could to produce his show. After saving 12 thousand dollars, he quit his job, and rented the 14th Street Playhouse, where he produced his play. Unfortunately, few came to see the play. Losing everything he had, Perry had to move in with friends. Subsequently, Perry entered a vicious cycle: the shows which he, with the help of some investors, financed, would always fail. He would quit his job, invest all his money, stage an unsuccessful show, and find himself destitute. After many years of this dispiriting routine, Perry simply exhausted all his resources, including places to stay. At one point, after several months of being jobless and homeless, he found a job, moved into an apartment and could even afford a telephone.

Found Success with Change

In 1998, after a telephone conversation with his parents, Perry found that, like the characters in his play, hed been changed. The conversation was an angry one, and ended with Perry baring his soul to the people who had hurt him the most. In Madeas Class Reunion Special Tenth Anniversary Collectors Edition program, he recalled: I told them everything that I had wanted to say as a little boy. I talked about all of the things that they had done to me and told them that I knew that I was not responsible for it. He felt remarkably better. When the next opportunity to stage the show arose, Perry, now feeling completely insecure, and remembering what it felt like to be without food and shelter, decided not to go ahead. His friends prompted him to try again. Relenting, he asked for a leave from his jobthe request, as usual, was denied. Overcome by fear and doubt, he turned to his higher power for guidance. He quit his job and threw himself into the project. By this time, he had lost his apartment and moved into a pay-by-the-week hotel with only a few of his possessions. Completely overwhelmed at this point, but still taking guidance from God, Perry called his mother, Maxine, initiating contact after a long period of silence. He felt nothing but forgiveness, for her, for his father, and for himself. Perry wrote on his official website, Victims always feel as if they did things to themselves or something to deserve it. The moment was so genuine and real that I knew something was about to change, but I didnt know what.

In March of 1998 I Know Ive Been Changed was scheduled to open at the House of Blues in Atlanta. Still feeling doubtful and afraid, Perry wasnt sure of anything anymore. It was a cold night and there was no heat in the theater. Just when he thought everything was over something compelled him to look out the window. What he saw literally shocked him: a long line of people, wrapped around the corner, waiting to get inside the theater! That night, and for its entire run, the show was sold out. I Know Ive Been Changed became a hit. The play toured many large cities and, ironically, promoters who had initially dismissed Perrys work when he needed a break were now begging to book the show.

After seeing I Know Ive Been Changed, the Bishop T. D. Jakes approached Perry and asked him to work on a play, based on his New York Times best seller, Woman Thou Art Loosed. Perry agreed on the condition that he write, direct, and produce the play. Jakes accepted Perrys terms. Opening in 1999, the show was a smashing success.

Gave Birth to Madea

After working on these two shows, both dealing with very distressing and serious matters, Perry decided to write a light-hearted play. The result of this creative shift was, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, which introduced the extraordinarily eccentric character, Madea, who has since become the star of all Perrys subsequent shows. He remarked to BET Magazine, I Know Ive Been Changed dealt with the molestation of a little boy. In Woman Thou Art Loosed it was the rape of a little girl. Very serious subjects. In this show I just wanted to have some fun. I didnt want to go too deeply. I just wanted to be able to appreciate the laughter that we have as African American people. Perry and Jakes also collaborated to produce Behind Closed Doors, a play that portrays a character whose life has been dramatically altered by breast cancer.

One cannot talk about Tyler Perry without acknowledging his alter-ego, Madea, who, at first glance appears as someones grandma who wears cat glasses and carries a large pocketbook. But, upon further inspection the viewer will find that Madea, as Tom Sime wrote in the Dallas Morning News, makes Rip Wilsons Geraldine seem demure. The name Madea, not to be confused with the Medea of Greek mythology and tragedy (although there are some similarities), is an endearing term for grandmother, a contraction of mother and dear. Perry told BET how he was inspired to create the outrageous character, I was actually sitting watching the Nutty Professor if Eddie Murphy can do this, maybe I should try it and thats what I did. This woman is really like an aunt I have sitting around, overweight, smoking cigarettes and just talking trash all the time. Madea, whose motto is, I aint saved (nor ever will be), smokes her glaucoma medicine, totes a gun, and, doesnt know that everyone can see the stocking cap under her ill-fitting wig. Following the gospel theater formula, everyone finds Jesus at the end except Madea. She disappears not only to avoid being saved, but so that she can come back in the next play, bad as ever. Audiences like her to be bad. I think its because people miss this kind of grandmother in our community, Perry told Sime, Fifteen, twenty years ago, everybodys child belonged to the neighborhood and youd see Madeas on all of the corners. And if somebody did something wrong, before they could finish, their mother knew because Madea had called to tell them. Madea is also featured in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madeas Family Reunion, and Madeas Class Reunion, all of which have played to sold-out houses all over the country. In the fall of 2003, The Tyler Perry Show is scheduled to make its debut on television, featuring Madea and other characters played by Perry. Also in 2003, Perry wrote and produced, He Proposed To Me his first Madea-less, and Perry-less play.

In his Special Tenth Anniversary Collectors Edition theatrical program that was printed for Madeas Class Reunion, Tyler Perry reflected upon his successes during the past decade and described how he asks God what he should talk about. Asserting that forgiveness is the most powerful of lifes lessons, Perry explained that he owes everything to his experiences growing up, to being Junior. So many people want to forget their pains and struggles, but I have realized that it was those moments of pain that were the moments that molded and defined me and made me the man that I am today. As a grown man who has found forgiveness in his heart, he has realized that he is living the life he could only imagine when he was a child. Perry has definitely moved on and yearns to continue to share his life lessons, All the pain I went through, from my childhood until this very day has been worth itnow that Im able to help inspire people to be stronger and liver better lives.

Selected plays

I Know Ive Been Changed, 1998.

Woman Thou Art Loosed, 1999.

I Can Do Bad All By Myself, 2000.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 2001.

Madeas Family Reunion, 2002.

Madeas Class Reunion, 2003.



Black Enterprise, March 2001.

BET Magazine, September 29, 2000.

Dallas Morning News, October 4, 2000; November 5, 2002.

Essence, June 2002.

Hollywood Reporter, October 28, 2002.

Philadelphia Tribune, January 9, 2001.

Washington Post, April 2, 1999.

Upscale, February 2002.


Official Tyler Perry Website, (July 18, 2003).


Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Special 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition: Madeas Class Reunion, theatrical stage program and other materials provided by Tyler Perry.

Christine Miner Minderovic

Perry, Tyler

views updated May 23 2018

Tyler Perry

Playwright and actor

Born Emmitt Perry, Jr., September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, LA; son of Emmitt Perry Sr.

Addresses: Office—Atlanta, GA. Website—http://


Writer and actor, 1998—; adapted, produced, and directed Madea's Family Reunion, 2002, and Madea's Class Reunion, 2003. Adapted and produced film Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 2005.


Called "a playwright with a Midas touch for an uninhibited urban comedy," by the New York Times' Marcia A. Cole, Tyler Perry came to the attention of critics across the United States when his play Diary of a Mad Black Woman was made into a popular movie. Perry had become a playwright when all odds were against him. He raised himself above an abusive past and followed his dreams with unswerving determination. By 2005 he was a millionaire and a much sought-after writer, actor, director, and producer.

Perry was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 13, 1969. He was a middle child, with two older sisters and a younger brother. According to Margena A. Christian in Jet, "He says that he endured years of abuse as a child by his father 'whose answer to everything was to beat it out of you.'

Perry says he would 'go places in his mind' following beatings." At one point, unable to take it anymore Perry attempted to kill himself, slashing his wrists in an action that he has called a cry for attention. "I was pretty young and totally frustrated," he told Christian. After the incident he happened to be watching The Oprah Winfrey Show and heard about how sometimes troubles in life could be worked through if you wrote them down—a form of release that could be very cathartic and therapeutic. Perry gave it a try and discovered that he not only liked it, but that he was good at it, too. His first writings were in the form of letters to himself. Through them he came to terms with his childhood and even brought himself to the point where he could forgive his father for all the anguish he caused Perry's family. Perry was quoted by Zondra Hughes in Ebony as having said, "The things that I went through as a kid were horrendous. And I carried that into my adult life. I didn't have a catharsis for my childhood pain, most of us don't, and until I learned how to forgive those people and let it go, I was unhappy." With a newfound skill and a more positive attitude, Perry was ready to take on his future.

He wrote the musical I Know I've Been Changed based on those letters he had written in his journal to himself. According to the Tyler Perry website, "Because of having put all of his eggs in one basket, Tyler would eventually find himself homeless on one or more occasions over the following six years." Through it all, however, Perry kept up his spirits through his faith and his seemingly endless belief that things would turn out all right in the end. At one point he had saved up $12,000 and rented a theatre to put on his show. It took a lot of courage to put everything he had into a play that was not guaranteed to be successful, but Perry had a dream and he figured if he was going to succeed at it, he would have to give the endeavor his all. Unfortunately the gamble did not pay off, and I Know I've Been Changed failed horribly. Only 30 people showed up the first weekend to see the play. But Perry was not ready to give up yet. For six years he took on a slew of odd jobs in order to keep the show running, while sometimes living on the street because he could not afford to pay rent.

The play, however, despite all the effort Perry put behind it, continued to do poorly. He was just starting to think about quitting and giving the whole writing career up when he decided to do one last show so that he could say that he had really given it a try. The play opened at the House of Blues in Atlanta, Georgia, in the summer of 1998 and sold out eight times in a row. Two weeks later, the play moved to the Fox Theater in the same city where it also continued to sell out—this time selling out a much larger arena, since the Fox featured around 4,000 seats. Perry was flabbergasted. And that was not the end of the show's success. I Know I've Been Changed went on to gross several million dollars. It also brought the world of African-American theater into a more favorable light with theatre goers and critics alike. Once known by the rather derogatory term "Chitlin Circuit," African-American theater started to be called "urban theater," something that Perry and his play had a lot to do with.

Perry began receiving messages from many fans of the play who wrote that his show had changed their lives, encouraged them to confront problems with their past and other members of their family, and helped with the healing process. The play went on tour for the 1998-1999 season to cities like Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, and Dallas. In all locations the show played to sellout crowds. Perry was becoming a household name in African-American communities across the country.

The success of Perry's first play opened the doors to a whole new world that Perry was eager to enter. Bishop T. D. Jakes came to one of the shows in Dallas and immediately afterward invited Perry to become involved in the play Woman, Thou Art Loosed. a project Jakes had been working on and looking to find someone to help with. Perry agreed to do so as long as he was allowed to rewrite the play, produce it, and direct it, not for arrogant reasons but because he had learned to work that way. Jakes gave him his go ahead; when the show opened in 1999 it met with great success. It made more than $5 million in just five months.

In 2000 Perry opened the play I Can Do Bad All By Myself. By this time Perry's name on a play guaranteed that it would sell well within certain markets and this play opened to rave reviews and sold-out shows in New York, Washington D.C., Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Perry played one of the roles, a character named Madea Simmons, himself. Madea was a 68-year-old grandmother with a smart aleck mouth and a larger-than-life personality who audiences found hilarious. In 2001 Perry was nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for this role.

He next worked on another musical with Jakes which was called Behind Closed Doors. It was the first Broadway gospel show of its kind, and it met with success equal to Woman, Thou Art Loosed. Perry was nominated for an NAACP Theatre Award for his production of the musical.

He next worked on the play Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which opened in New Orleans to a full house in January of 2001. One thing that was different about this production was that the ending to the play changed; how it ended depended on the night it was seen. It was an interesting idea and one that audiences loved. The play was about Helen whose husband kicked her out of their house right before their 18th wedding anniversary so that his longtime mistress and their child could move in. The Madea character was in this play, too, and again Perry took on the role for the play.

In 2002, with audiences clamoring to see more of the character Madea, Perry wrote the play Madea's Family Reunion in which Perry again took on the role and toured all over the country. The character and her plays were so popular that in 2003 Perry wrote Madea's Class Reunion.

It was in 2005, however, that Perry got his foot in the door in Hollywood. Perry's script to Diary of a Mad Black Woman was purchased for a film which was released in February of that year. Called "a mix of broad comedy, soapy drama, social commentary, and earnest spiritualism" by Entertainment Weekly's Gregory Kirschling, the movie was a hit. It earned $22 million in the United States and Canada in its opening weekend. At the box office, the movie even beat such films as the Will Smith romantic comedy Hitch and the horror film Cursed, both of which analysts had thought would sweep the market. The movie moved Perry from a well-known figure in the African-American community to a playwright known by all ethnicities.

Also in 2005 Perry opened a new play: A Jazz Man's Blues. The play is the story of a male jazz singer who falls in love with a woman who wants a better life than the musician can give her. It was set in New Orleans in 1947.

Because of the demand to see more of Madea, in 2005 publishers vied to have Perry write a book from Madea's perspective. The proposed book would offer comic advice to African-American women. It was scheduled for publication in 2006 and be titled Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life.

When asked why Perry's works have been so successful, the playwright always puts it down to an non-traditional approach to storytelling. "I was never interested in learning the 'traditional' way to put together a play because I felt that would take away from the realness found in urban theaters.… People who understand the formalities of theater are caught off guard by my plays because they break all the rules," he told the New York Times' Cole. Whatever the case may be, Perry definitely knows how to connect with his audience; they love his honesty and humor.

With all the success of his plays and movies it is needless to say that Perry is no longer homeless. He had a house built in Georgia that would show to the world that anything was possible if you only dreamed big enough, stuck to it, and had faith that God would provide. "I wanted this house to be vast. I wanted to make a statement, not in any grand or boastful way, but to let people know what God can do when you believe. I don't care how low you go, there's an opposite of low, and as low as I went I wanted to go that much higher. And if there was an opposite of homelessness, I wanted to find it," Perry told Ebony's Hughes.

As of March of 2005, Perry's plays had grossed more than $75 million in tickets and DVD sales. The Internet Movie Database quoted Perry as having said, "I know my audience, and they're not people that the studios know anything about." If sales are any indication, this statement would seem to be true. And equally true is that audiences across the country are waiting to see what Perry will do next.

Selected writings


I Know I've Been Changed, 1998.

Woman Thou Art Loosed, 1999.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 2001.

Madea's Family Reunion, 2002.

Madea's Class Reunion, 2003.

A Jazz Man's Blues, 2005.

Also wrote Madea Goes to Jail, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Why Did I Get Married, Behind Closed Doors, and Meet The Browns.



Who's Who Among African Americans, 18th ed., Gale, 2005.


Black Enterprise, March 2001, p. 113.

Buffalo News (New York), March 6, 2005, p. G1.

Ebony, January 2004, p. 86.

Entertainment Weekly, March 11, 2005, p. 12; April 29, 2005, p. 152; June 24, 2005, p. 149.

Jet, December 1, 2003, p. 60.

New York Times, May 5, 2003, p. E3.

People, August 9, 2004, pp. 101-02.

Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2005, p. 12.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), March 9, 2005, p. 32.

Variety, February 28, 2005, p. 56; April 18, 2005, p. 2.


"Tyler Perry," Internet Movie Database, http:// (September 10, 2005).

Tyler Perry Online, (September 10, 2005).


Perry, Tyler

views updated May 29 2018

Tyler Perry


Playwright, actor, screenwriter, producer

When the film Diary of a Mad Black Woman shot past the romantic comedy Hitch to become the top-grossing film in the United States in mid-March of 2005, Hollywood forecasters didn't know what had hit them. The film, a careening blend of self-help, romance, Christianity, and outrageous comedy featuring an unstoppable grandmother named Madea, had been turned down by a series of distributors and bore little resemblance to any movie hit that had appeared up to that point. What Hollywood hadn't reckoned with was the creative energy of writer Tyler Perry, who realized that a huge untapped audience was ready for the stories he had to offer—stories drawn on his own rags-to-riches story of abuse and redemption.

He was born Emmitt Perry Jr. in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 13, 1969. Perry's contractor father, he told Margena A. Christian of Jet, was a man "whose answer to everything was to beat it out of you." Perry tried to commit suicide, acquiring a pair of wrist scars that would last a lifetime. He escaped the crushing weight of abuse through class clown antics in school and through drawing and fantasy, taking the first name Tyler at age 16 because he didn't want to use his father's name. Perry dropped out of high school but later earned a GED and became a carpenter's apprentice. Another 25 or 30 jobs, he estimated, would follow before he found his true calling.

Inspired by Oprah

Perry's writing career got started one day while he was watching Oprah Winfrey's television talk show and heard Winfrey say that writing down one's experiences could be cathartic. "After I found a dictionary and looked up cathartic," he told People, "I realized what she was saying, so I started writing," unearthing memories that he called "God's little flashes of light." At first he wanted to be able to disclaim any connection to the events described in his journal if someone else found it, so he used invented names for the people he was writing about.

So the journal gradually evolved into a piece of creative work. "That's how my first play started, which features a character who confronts an abuser, forgives him, and moves on," Perry told Zondra Hughes of Ebony. Around 1990 Perry moved from New Orleans to Atlanta and finished working on the play, now titled I Know I've Been Changed. Working at a variety of jobs that included collection agent and used car salesman, he scraped together $12,000 in savings. In 1992 he rented out Atlanta's 14th Street Playhouse and mounted his own production of I Know I've Been Changed, with himself as director, producer, promoter, and star. Perry from then on, even after becoming successful, would insist on total creative control over his productions; it was the way he had learned to work.

At first, however, it was a disaster. A grand total of 30 people showed up during the play's weekend run, by the end of which Perry was discouraged and nearly broke. An investment from one of the 30 original attendees kept him from giving up, however. He performed I Know I've Been Changed in Atlanta and other smaller southeastern cities over the next few years, losing a job each time he took off to rehearse and present the play. Perry continued to hemorrhage money and to edge closer to homelessness. In 1997 he hit bottom. "I couldn't eat. I was living in my car, with a friend, or at one of those pay-by-the-week hotels," he told Jet's Christian. "It was a nightmare for me." Perry's mother, Maxine, tried to convince him to give up his theatrical quest, and one of their telephone conversations turned into a confrontation in which Perry stated that he was not responsible for the abuse he had suffered. Instead of being angry, he found that he experienced feelings of forgiveness.

Perseverance Paid Off

Perry rented Atlanta's House of Blues for one final try at theatrical success in early 1998. The heat in the theater went out, and Perry had feelings of despair as he put on his costume in a freezing dressing room. "I said, 'This is it. I'm not doing this anymore,'" he recalled to Christian. But he happened to look out a window and saw a block-long line of people waiting to see the show. The House of Blues sold out eight times in a row, forcing Perry to move the production to the much larger Fox Theatre. Nine thousand people viewed Perry's play, the Washington Post estimated, and gave the show a positive review; the theater scene that until then had often been referred to as the chitlin' circuit soon had the new name of urban theater. Producers who had turned Perry down quickly approached him about new projects, but he next chose to collaborate with Dallas evangelical pastor T.D. Jakes on an adaptation of his book Woman Thou Art Loosed.

Some would criticize Perry's plays for their mix of serious and farcical elements, but Perry shrugged off the critics. "They say that Tyler Perry has set the Black race back some 500 years with these types of 'chitlin' circuit' shows," he told Ebony's Hughes. "The problem with the naysayers is that they don't take the opportunity to see my shows. With my shows, I try to build a bridge that marries what's deemed 'legitimate theater' and so-called 'chitlin' circuit theater,' and I think I've done pretty well with that, in bringing people in to enjoy a more elevated level of theater." Along the way, Perry was encouraged by August Wilson, often considered the dean of African-American playwrights.

Concentrated on Madea Character

The Perry phenomenon continued to build, in fact, because he devised a strong comic character to complement his serious themes of healing. Madea was first introduced in Perry's 2000 play "I Can Do Bad All by Myself." The name Madea was a common Southern black contraction of "Mother Dear," also sometimes spelled M'Dear. Perry, in drag, played Madea himself. One of her theatrical ancestors was comedian Flip Wilson's Geraldine alter ego, but Madea, who talked trash, smoked marijuana, and carried a gun, was a more outrageous figure. Perry based her character on several older women he had known as a child in New Orleans.

"We watch with nostalgia when we think about this type of grandmother…," he reflected in conversation with Christian. "When she was around, everybody's kid belonged to her.… Now we're in a different time and different age where grandmothers are in their early and late 30s. People are looking for this Madea, the 68-year-old who doesn't care about being politically correct. She doesn't care what you think about her. She's going to tell the truth." Perry's performance as Madea earned him a Helen Hayes Award nomination in 2001 in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor, Non-Resident Production—the first time an urban theater production had been honored at a traditional awards ceremony.

At a Glance …

Born Emmitt Perry Jr., September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, LA; son of Emmitt Perry Sr., a contractor. Education: GED.


Playwright, 1990s–.

Selected awards:

Helen Hayes Award nomination, Outstanding Lead Actor, Non-Resident Production, 2001.


Office—Suite 400, North Tower, 235 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30303. Web—

Part of the genius of the Madea character was that she could be transferred intact from storyline to storyline. Madea was featured in Perry's next play, 2001's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," as the grandmother of Helen McCarter, an Atlanta woman who is unceremoniously dumped by her attorney husband so that another woman can move into their home. Perry continued to hone his Madea act despite the rigors of the role–"I have to talk so high for two hours and the costume is really, really, really hot. I'm soaking wet under there," he complained to Christian. The effort was worth it, however, as he expanded the Madea franchise into new plays, Madea's Family Reunion (2002) and Madea's Class Reunion (2003), and Madea Goes to Jail (2005). Claiming profits of $50 million from his plays, which were widely distributed on DVD, Perry moved into a palatial new house on 12 acres outside Atlanta. "I don't care how low you go, there's an opposite of low, and as low as I went I wanted to go that much higher," he told Hughes. "And if there was an opposite of homelessness, I wanted to find it."

Filmed Diary of a Mad Black Woman

After Woman Thou Art Loosed was made into a successful film in 2004, Hollywood executives began to wake up to the financial clout of African-American theatrical audiences. Several studios approached Perry about filming Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but only one, Lions Gate (which had financial backing on the project from the BET cable channel), offered Perry the complete creative control on which he insisted. "The only way I was going to do this was if I was left alone," he told Aldore Collier of Jet. Starring Kimberly Elise as Helen McCarter and Steve Harris as her husband, the film opened in theaters early in 2005. Perry played three roles: Madea, her brother Uncle Joe, and Helen's cousin Brian.

The inspirational Diary of a Mad Black Woman received mixed reviews but quickly broke out beyond its African-American base. That base was already substantial. "My plays bring in 30,000 to 40,000 people a weekend, but my entire story has been completely underground," Perry pointed out to Claudia Puig of USA Today. After the film topped box-office charts, Perry was pursued by a variety of marketers eager to exploit his still-growing potential. A ten-publisher bidding war resulted in Perry being signed to write Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, slated for publication by Riverhead in 2006. Perry also planned to release a film version of Madea's Family Reunion that year, and the phenomenon of urban theater, thanks largely to Tyler Perry, was no longer invisible.

Selected works


Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, Riverhead, forthcoming.


Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 2005.


I Know I've Been Changed, 1998.

(With T.D. Jakes) Woman, Thou Art Loosed, 1999.

I Can Do Bad All by Myself, 2000.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 2001.

Madea's Family Reunion, 2002.

Madea's Class Reunion, 2003.

Madea Goes to Jail, 2005.



Black Enterprise, March 2001, p. 113.

Ebony, January 2004.

Entertainment Weekly, March 11, 2005, p. 12; April 29, 2005, p. 152; June 24, 2005, p. 149.

Essence, June 2000, p. 66.

Jet, December 1, 2003, p. 60; February 28, 2005, p. 51.

People, August 9, 2004, p. 101; March 7, 2005, p. 33.

Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2005, p. 12; April 18, 2005, p. 14.

USA Today, March 1, 2005.

Variety, February 28, 2005, p. 56; April 18, 2005, p. 2.


"Biography," Tyler Perry, (August 7, 2005).

"Diary of a Mad Black Woman," Cinema Review, (August 7, 2005).

—James M. Manheim