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BIOGRAPHY - Chris Tucker


Although comics like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and Robin Harris helped break down some of the barriers for African American comedians, very few outlets exist whereupon young up-and-comers can learn the ropes and find an audience. Chris Tucker knew it would be hard making himself heard, but he was crafty enough to find his way into the spotlight. Since then he, too, has been breaking barriers. Regarding Tucker's stand-up routine, Omoronke Idowu wrote in Vibe, "If you haven't heard a joke delivered in Chris Tucker's high-pitched rhythmic drawl, then you've used only part of your laugh muscle." In the same article, Tucker explained, "I don't try to speak that way, but when I'm hyper and on the mike, that's how it comes out." He also told The Source's Todd Williams, "Whenever I would have to deal with bill collectors my voice would go up, but I didn't notice. I started doing it on stage, not really for laughs though, and people would love it. They would say, 'talk in that voice,' and I would always be like, 'What voice? What are you talking about?'" Williams described Tucker's niche in comedy with Tucker himself making parenthetical comments as "a little bit Richard Pryor ('he used so many facial expressions'); a smidgen of Robin Harris ('his quick punchlines'); and some Eddie Murphy to top it off ('nobody can control an audience like him')."Williams continued singularly, saying of Tucker, "Whether he knows it or not, he's probably more Jim Carrey than anything similarly, Carrey is all of them." This comment came on the heels of William's question, "What's the problem for black comedians in Hollywood?" Tucker replied, "There just aren't enough black writers out there. They have all these white guys trying to write for us." While in school, Tucker also began participating in talent shows. "When I was growing up," he explained in The Real State!, "I watched a lot of comedians on television: Robin Harris, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor. I was fascinated with the whole art of comedy and watched all their movies. I decided I could do comedy. I just felt like being funny! I love to perform."

Apparently he needed to perform, so much so that he snuck into a small, popular comedy club in Atlanta, talked his way on to the stage, and eventually received a standing ovation, "which was quite something at the time considering I was too young to even get into a club," he remarked to The Real State!. Tucker became such a local icon that complete strangers would stop to give him a high five on the street. Tucker eventually decided to try his hand in Los Angeles. He slept on a friend's living room floor in a Sunset Boulevard apartment that had a leaky icebox. "I just kept hustling for work as a comic and started getting fixed up for shows," he mentioned in The Real State!. After making a name for himself around town, Tucker got himself a spot on Russell Simmons's Def Comedy Jam, a Home Box Office (HBO) cable television showcase for African American comics. Two years and many gigs later, the rapping/acting duo Kid 'N Play caught Tucker's show one night in Los Angeles. They had already made their successful films House Party I and II, and offered Tucker a role in their upcoming House Party III. Tucker had just 90 seconds of onscreen time in the 1994 movie, but in that minute and a half he managed to make a huge impression as the outrageous party promoter "Johnny Booze." "His skill for milking something-from-nothing ... turned a brief 90-second appearance into the film's brightest moment," wrote BAM's Victor Everett, just one of the many critics in consensus. Tucker actually received standing ovations at press screenings and was featured in the film's promotional billing.

Not long after that, rapper and filmmaker Ice Cube happened to be at a club where Tucker was headlining. Cube remembered his performance from House Party and was impressed by Tucker's skills. He decided to take a chance on Tucker and cast him in the comedy motion picture he was making with DJ Pooh about a day in the life of a South Central LA "homeboy."

In Friday, Tucker played a guy named Smokey--so named for his constant marijuana use--but he was a bit worried about the potentially stereotypical nature of the character. "[Smokey] isn't a drug addict," Tucker cautioned Rowe in Venice. "I didn't want to portray him as strung out and unable to talk. He acted the same, high or not, smokin' was just a part of him." According to BAM's Everett, "The critics all agreed: Tucker's on screen performance as the weeded out "Smokey" seemed so natural, it was uncanny. He has had no formal training as an actor, so what filmgoers saw was an honest portrayal from a guy who's still much too green to brown nose. "The film was attacked by some critics who suggested Friday was a warmed-over Boyz N the Hood that inappropriately poked fun at the issue of violence. Others, like Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, felt that "at least Friday has energy, and sass, and the nerve to suggest that the line between tragedy and comedy may be in the bloodshot eye of the beholder."

Tucker landed the role of Skip in Dead Presidents. As directed by twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes--the two men behind the hit Menace II Society--1995's Dead Presidents tells the story of lower-middle-class kids in the South Bronx during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It follows them to Vietnam and back, detailing their trouble on the return home. Tucker was confident in his turn to a dramatic role. "It felt natural to play Skip," he told Idowu in Vibe, "because of the seriousness that's in my comedy. I was glad I got the part, because it will prove to directors I can go in any direction." Although not a huge hit, the movie was well-received by audiences and critics. Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, who gave the film an A-, remarked that "The Hughes brothers get a subtle performance from the stand-up comic Chris Tucker, whose heroin addicted Skip speaks in a nonstop Richard Pryoresque patter." That comparison surely came as a complement to Tucker, who has cited Pryor as one of his influences. In 1997, Tucker teamed with Bruce Willis in the science fiction adventure The Fifth Element. As a cross-dressing talk show hostess named Ruby Rhod, Tucker made his presence known on screen. In his big yellow wig and flowing gown, Entertainment Weekly described Tucker as a "kind of interstellar descendant of RuPaul." The Fifth Element was a highly successful film, and exposed Tucker's comedic talents to an even wider audience. Following his outstanding performance in The Fifth Element, Tucker played a street hustler named Franklin Hatchett in the 1997 film Money Talks. However, the film suffered from a muddled plot and a lack of chemistry between Tucker and co-star Charlie Sheen. Money Talks was panned by critics and moviegoers alike. Tucker finished 1997 with a cameo role as Beaumont Livingston, a small-time drug dealer, in Quentin Tarantino's successful film Jackie Brown. Tucker scored a box office smash in 1998 with the film Rush Hour. The film featured Tucker as Detective James Carter, a cocky Los Angeles police officer who is given the assignment of hosting a visiting Hong Kong police officer, played by martial artist Jackie Chan. The two men form an unlikely duo as they try to capture a Chinese crime lord, and rescue the kidnapped daughter of a Chinese diplomat. Rush Hour grossed millions at the box office and was a number one hit for several weeks. Despite a flurry of films at the start of his career, Tucker has only made three appearances since 1998, all as Detective James Carter. Tucker's career trajectory is unusual in that, while he has made such a relatively small number of films, he has already become a member of the unofficial "$20 million per film"club, joining such actors as Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Tucker signed a two-movie contract with New Line Cinema for 40 million dollars to star in Rush Hour 3 and another unnamed film. He is also to receive 20% of the gross against his salary from the 3rd Rush Hour film.

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