Star US comic Chris Tucker wants SA audiences to guffaw and think
The comedian has had success with film roles but is back doing stand-up as he believes laughter is good for the soul
Comedian Chris Tucker had a successful career long before other black comedians like Chris Rock became popular among African comedy fans.
His career peaked after he appeared in the Rush Hour franchise — action-comedy movies in the mould of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s Lethal Weapon series — alongside fellow funny man and action-hero Jackie Chan.
Tucker says he was looking for a break from his usual comedy routines when he was offered the role of detective James Carter. His rapport with the established film star Chan helped seal the deal.
“I was looking for something different at the time when the role came along — something with a little action as well as comedy,” he says. “Then when I met Jackie Chan, we just clicked.”
Before Rush Hour, Tucker had made his name as a stand-up comedian on the HBO television series Def Comedy Jam created by music and fashion mogul Russell Simmons. It is credited with giving African American comics such as Bernie Mac, Martin Lawrence and Tucker opportunities to hone their stand-up skills and later launch themselves into the film industry. Def Comedy Jam was aired for five years from 1992-97.
In 2001, Tucker appeared in Michael Jackson’s video of You Rock My World. The two became friends, and Tucker is known to do a mean impersonation of the late moon-walking superstar.
The laughs started in high school when Tucker spoke out against things he thought needed fixing at the institution. However, instead of taking him seriously, his classmates would respond to his attempt to mobilise them by laughing.
“I was sort of the class clown. I would talk about things that were wrong with the school and the other kids would laugh,” he says.
When his school hosted a talent show, the positive response Tucker received drew him into a lifetime addiction to being on the stage. “After I got my first big laugh, I was hooked,” he says. This was a deviation from the norm as other children in his neighbourhood largely dreamed of becoming professional athletes, playing either football or baseball.
Although he never turned into an activist in the true sense of the word, Tucker says he develops his comedy routines from personal experiences. “Most of my comedy comes from real life. I see things happening in normal everyday life and talk about it from my point of view. I also share some of my experiences with the audience,” he says, adding that he is aware that people go to comedy shows to switch off from everyday life.
“Laughter is good for the soul. When people come to a comedy show they can just laugh and forget about their problems for, at least, that little while.”
While every comedian’s goal is to get the loudest and longest laughs, Tucker thinks a few thought-provoking lines are good for his shows. He wants his audiences to go home afterwards and think about what he has said.
A 2006 documentary, African American Lives, traced Tucker’s patrilineal ancestry to Angola and one line of his mother’s family to the Bamileke people of Cameroon. “I was not surprised to have African roots but finding out that the Cameroonian tribe I was traced back to were performers also — that kinda surprised me,” he says.
The Bamileke are notable for their public dances and wear colourful and intricate masks when they perform.
Tucker says he respects the entertainers he has worked with, such as Chan, Jackson and 2Pac, as they worked hard and were perfectionists. While Tucker has fun impersonating Jackson, he says he can impersonate other people too. “I have several impressions, from presidents to famous actors. I do a lot of impersonations.”
So for his SA tour, will he do a Nelson Mandela, Donald Trump or Bill Clinton impression? People will have to come to the shows to find out, he says enigmatically.
• Tucker is at the Grand Arena at GrandWest, Cape Town, on November 7; at Durban ICC on November 9; and the Ticketpro Dome in Johannesburg on November 10.