Capital City Comics:
An Interview with Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle
September 16, 1999
by Dan Lybarger
Originally appeared in the September 16-23, 1999 issue of Pitch Weekly. ........................................................................................................
Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle are two black comedians who cut their teeth in Washington, DC, clubs. Surprisingly, the new movie Blue Streak marks the first time the two have shared the screen.
In Blue Streak, Lawrence plays Miles Logan, a cat burglar who poses as a detective so that he can retrieve a $20 million diamond he has hidden at a local police station. One of many obstacles is his former partner in crime, Tulley (Chappelle). Miles arrests Tulley in order to keep him from exposing the ruse.
In a roundtable interview last month, Lawrence says, (Blue Streak) gives me an opportunity to show so many different elements of my acting and my abilities: comedy, action, character, and to combine them into one film. Life (the prison comedy in which he co-starred with Eddie Murphy) was much more serious for me. I played such a straight man in that.
Chappelle, although in a supporting role, shares his co-stars enthusiasm. Everything Tulley says is a punchline, he says. Ive been lucky with the roles Ive been getting (in movies like Con Air and Youve Got Mail) because theyre pivotal story parts, so you know theyre not going to be cut.
(Lawrence) was like the local legend when I started, Chappelle says of his co-star, because he had done Star Search and that show Whats Happening Now! I met him for the first time when I was 15, and he had just done Do the Right Thing. He was always real nice to me. He was that guy who inspires you...from your hometown to Hollywood. DC, if youre a comedian, seems a million miles away from here. To work with him is fun and a privilege, but its a milestone.
One indication of Chappelle reaching another milestone was his breakfast. During the interview, he was amused when he was handed a poached egg on a fancy tray. He poked at it a bit and proclaimed, This is when you know youve really made it.
Lawrence recently made the headlines when he suffered a severe attack of heatstroke. He was reportedly wearing heavy winter clothing as he jogged in 90 degree heat to lose weight for the upcoming movie Big Mamas House. The actor has often pushed his body to the limit. He was a one-time Golden Gloves contender and has frequently taken physically challenging roles. In Blue Streak, for example, he appears in every scene except one and performs some of his own stunts.
I welcome it because its what I get paid for, Lawrence says. The major stunts I dont do. I leave that up to the professionals. They do a hell of a job with it. I just sell the shot.
In one scene, he goes on a lengthy, intense foot chase after a suspect. The sequence is shot in long, wide takes that indicate Lawrence himself did the running. I had to be in shape for it. I was tired. We did it a few times. I was so used to jogging and conditioning myself that I could do it, he recalls. After a short pause, he adds, I probably couldnt do it right now.
Lawrence has also been flexing his muscles behind the comedy club microphone. Despite his success in movies and his sitcom Martin (which lasted from 1992 to 1997), he still performs in clubs. He says, Ive been working out. Im still working on the set and trying to pull it together, trying to find out what material that I really want to take back out there. Two weeks ago, I was onstage. I believe Ill get on there some more once I can.
Chappelle also refuses to give up the stage. If a gun was put to my head and I had to choose one facet of show business, Id do (standup). Its the purest. Theres no committee. Sometimes when you do movies, youve got to tone it down for the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), he says. If your act is bombing, just do something else; but in a movie, youve got to wait. I hope that shit is funny in September. It made me laugh today, but I dont know how the people in September are going to feel. A bad day in a movie is a bad day people will see forever and ever.
Both comics expressed concern about the dwindling number of minorities in this falls lineup of shows from the big four TV networks. The NAACP and the National Council of La Raza have called for boycotts. Chappelle says, Im sure its just money. I dont think the people who make television (shows) are racist. I do think theres something about the system thats institutionally racist. Once they start seeing the more diverse depictions of blacks as lucrative, then itll happen. Its a money-making venture way above and beyond anything.
Lawrence adds, I think there should be more black shows on, and there should be more (from other) minorities. Thats why you have all these different channels. I dont see why they cant mix them up. You have enough hours in the day for people to see all the programming they want to see. It shouldnt be that hard to put on shows with all the talent out here looking for work. I had my hit, and we were able to get through five years, and other people should get the same opportunity.
Chappelle also expressed concern about how MPAA ratings seem arbitrary. When we did Half Baked (which he starred in and co-wrote), it was a reefer movie. We couldnt say fuck. We couldnt say all these things. Dont do that. Dont do that. In American Pie, this kid is sticking his dick in a pie. I loved American Pie. Im just jealous, he says.
When asked if he would like to be a leading man like Lawrence, Chappelle replies with a tone of mock importance, Hell yes. Ive been told it will never happen. Now, I tell everyone I will shock the world. Im a sex symbol waiting to happen. He adds, Theres a few actors that script for the lead is going to go to before it goes to me. Thats going to mean Martin, Chris Tucker and Chris Rock are going to have to pass on that shit before I get it.
When it is mentioned there are others below him on the list, Chappelle quickly replies, I know. Thats why I dont complain.
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