What the Hell Happened to Martin Lawrence?
In the mid-90′s, Martin Lawrence had a hit TV show and a burgeoning movie career. He went on to establish himself as a Hollywood A-lister in big screen action movies and comedies. But by the end of the decade, Lawrence was surrounded by scandal. Since then, his movie career has slowed down considerably. His last box office hit was in 2007. What the hell happened? Lawrence began boxing after high school. He was a Golden Gloves contender until he suffered an eye injury that made him reconsider his career. Lawrence moved from Maryland to Colorado where he started performing at the Kings Wood comedy club. Not long after, Lawrence appeared on the televised talent competition, Star Search aka American Idol for the 80′s.. Here he is facing against the show’s then-champion, Jason Stuart.
You have to feel for the guy. He had no idea he was competing against a future giant of comedy. Lawrence was very successful on Star Search. He went on to the show’s final round, but he did not win. However, his performance caught the eye of executives at Columbia TriStar Television. This lead to Lawrence being cast on the sitcom, What’s Happening Now!!
What’s Happening Now!! was a follow-up to the 1970′s sitcom, What’s Happening!!
The original show was only moderately successful on ABC. But it did very well in reruns which is a bit ironic given that the most popular character on the show was actually named Rerun. This lead to the show being revived in 1985 as What’s Happening Now!!
Lawrence joined the cast in the show’s third and final season from 1987-1988. He played a teenager who worked as a busboy at the restaurant owned by the show’s main characters. Lawrence was actually 22 at the time.
Lawrence made his big screen debut with a small role in Spike Lee’s comedy/drama, Do the Right Thing.
Do the Right Thing told the story of a neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn that erupts in racial tensions. Lee wrote, directed and co-starred opposite Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson and Rosie Pérez who was also making her film debut. Lawrence is basically a background character in the neighborhood as seen in this NSF clip:
The ending to Do the Right Thing sparked controversy. The message of the movie is intentionally mixed. But many feared that the movie would incite violence. In spite of the controversy, reviews were very positive and it was a hit at the box office.
In 1991, Lawrence appeared opposite hip hop duo, Kid’n Play in Reginald Hudlin’s comedy, House Party.
The title pretty much tells you everything you need to know. A couple of teens throw a house party. Lawrence plays the DJ. The cast also included comedian Robin Harris in his last film role before he died and Lawrence’s future TV co-star, Tisha Campbell.
House Party was originally written for DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith and “that other guy”). But by then, Smith was already on the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Hudlin made House Party as his thesis film for his Harvard University degree. Reviews were positive and House Party was a hit at the box office. It launched a series that includes two sequels which were released in theaters and two more that went direct-to-video.
Lawrence got his first starring role in the 1991 comedy, Talkin’ Dirty After Dark.
In what I’m sure was a stretch for Lawrence, he played a stand-up comedian trying to earn $67 to pay his phone bill.
Talkin’ Dirty After Dark was written and directed by Topper Carew. Although the film was not a hit, Carrew would go on to create and produce Lawrence’s hit TV show, Martin. At the time of its release, reviews were mostly negative. But the film has grown a cult following on video.
Later that year, Martin returned for the sequel, House Party 2.
Most of the original cast from the 1990 movie returned. Hudlin passed directing duties on to Doug McHenry and George Jackson. The movie is exactly what you expect from a quicky sequel to a low budget comedy. The kids throw another house party of course. This time they are in college and need to raise money for tuition. So naturally they throw a “pajama jammy jam”. That’s how I plan to put my kids through school.
Critics didn’t like the sequel which they considered raunchy and lacking the sweetness of the original. But the movie was a hit with audiences anyway. House Party 3 was released three years later in 1994. Lawrence was a bona fide TV star at the time and opted not to return. Tisha Campbell appeared only in a cameo. That was the final film of the House Party series to be released theatrically, but two direct-to-video sequels have also been released.
Next: Boomerang and “Martin”
Posted on November 23, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged bad boys, big momma's house, eddie murphy, entertainment, house party, martin, Martin Lawrence, movies, tisha campbell, TV, wild hogs. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.