Sunday Conversation: Martin Lawrence On the ‘Martin’ Reunion, Eddie Murphy, Basketball And More

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This Thursday, June 16, BET+ will bring Martin stars Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold and Carl Anthony Payne back together to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the hugely popular '90s sitcom (sadly the fifth core member of the cast — Thomas Mikal Ford — passed away in October of 2016).

Since the show premiered three decades ago Lawrence has become a massive star of stand-up comedy, TV and film. His 2020 movie with Will Smith, Bad Boys For Life, was the biggest box-office hit of that year. And he has starred in other successful franchises, like Big Momma's House.

As Lawrence says when I spoke with him about the reunion, "I have done everything I set out to do." So now he gets to have fun, from being dad to joyful entrepreneurial ventures such as the Creative Thinking Journal he partnered with Pilgrim Soul on. It features more than 50 creative exercises that are recommended to try while high.

Martin: The Reunion, a 90-minute special is part of that fun for him. As we discussed, he has nothing but good memories from the show. During our lengthy conversation, we looked back on the show as well as talked about his film career, his comedy heroes — Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy — his love of basketball nd much more. .

Steve Baltin: I am bummed not to meet in person because I was told you usually do your interviews on the basketball court. And you get me on the court, I'm going to start shooting no matter where we are.

Martin Lawrence: [Chuckle] I like that. Shooters paradise.

Baltin: What's your specialty? Inside game, outside game, what's your strength?

Lawrence: Perimeter shooting.

Baltin: How's your three-point range? Is it Steph Curry or is closer to college three-point line?

Lawrence: No, I can't do the Steph Curry. I might hit one every now and then but I can't do the Steph Curry.

Baltin: What do you think of the finals?

Lawrence: I'm liking Boston so far, what they're doing. Just how hard they're playing and their defense and the way [Jayson] Tatum's playing over there. He's a good friend of mine and I like what they're doing. And coming out of the West, I like Golden State, Curry. But I'm a big fan of all the players, I love ball, period. So I just love to see all of them get down. I'm probably the biggest fan of NBA basketball and WNBA. WNBA, I like the [Los Angeles] Sparks, I like Las Vegas, I like the Chicago Sky, so it's a few WNBA teams I like. And like I said, I love all NBA ball players so I just have a good time watching them.

Baltin: Having a hit series everything is so busy, you don't necessarily get a chance to go back and appreciate everything. And so these types of reunions are, I imagine, a lot of fun, not just for the fans, but it becomes the first opportunity to really look back at all you did.

Lawrence: Right, and it's truly a blessing. It's truly a blessing to even be here and to be able to have a reunion and go back and to reminisce on your work. And watching and enjoying your labor that you put in, and the fun that you had, and the camaraderie, and the chemistry, and just everything you had with each other.

Baltin: When you started to think about doing this reunion were there things about the show that really stood out to you? The perfect example is I was just watching "Player's Ball" in season three, you have OutKast on there. Back then you couldn't know that OutKast are going to become as big as they did.

Lawrence: Right, that's true. You don't know and you don't know what you're getting 'cause you're in the midst of it, but you know you want it to work. And one thing that drove us is that they moved us every season to a new time and a new day. And so we had to fight to stay on the air to make sure that we had a place on the air and make sure that our audience had to find us and things like that. And it just so happened, wherever we went, our audience went with us.

Baltin: Was there a moment for you where you started to notice how the show was carrying on to new generations who were appreciating the show?

Lawrence: Yeah, I guess I would have to say it's just around the time I got the hip-hop award (2017 Hip-Hop Honors) and the show was still running on BET and VH1. And when it was running I was like, "Oh man, it's still on the air, and the hip-hop generation is still loving it and everything." And they gave me the award and everything, and that's when I knew, I said, "Wow, we had something special." And so for me, if you ask me, "Did I know? Or that it would go 30 years?" I honestly will tell you, "No, I had no idea, I had no clue." But I knew the work that we put in and how funny the show was, that it could last the test of time, like a Good Times, Sanford And Son and all the other hit sitcoms, Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy and all that stuff.

Baltin: What were the shows that you see now having been a big influence on Martin?

Lawrence: Good Times was a big influence. Good Times most definitely was the big influence on the Martin show and the things that we would do. And just because of things they did on their show and the heart they had in the show, and the moments they would move you and things like that. And so we would try to take from there and emulate some of that stuff.

Baltin: Did all of that chemistry with the cast come back for you when you set foot on the set for the reunion?

Lawrence: Yeah, it was like, "Wow." Being back on the set I was around my cast, my team that I was comfortable with for five years. And so it was so comfortable and for us to reminisce about old times and scenes and have stories that we told, just fun. It was just a beautiful moment to be a part of.

Baltin: How often did you guys keep up in between the reunion and the end of the show?

Lawrence: I would say every now and then. We would touch base and talk and say hello and see how each other is doing, or wish each other happy birthday, things like that. But no more than that. [But] we got together before the reunion, before we had the reunion.

Baltin: It's a very unique bond because even though there have been other hit shows and other hit movies, Martin was a unique phenomenon to the four of you.

Lawrence: Yes, I would say the five. Tommy is not here. But yeah, all five of us.

Baltin: Did you find then that it's a unique relationship and you guys understand each other in a way that maybe other people can't?

Lawrence: I would say so. We do because when you work together and you work side by side with each other every day you get to know each other and you talk to each other. You get to know each other personally, and then you get to know each other's strength in their art and work and things like that, and what to do and what not to do. How to have fun and give each other their space and just timing and everything else. So you learn all these things about each other and everything. It's like you said, basketball, and how it's like building up the basketball team, you start in five.

Baltin: Looking back do you have favorite episodes?

Lawrence: One of my favorite ones is the boxing episode. That's the episode I wrote. I wrote that episode and we had "The Hitman" Thomas Hearns on there. That was one of my favorite episodes to do because I get beat up and at the end of that episode, I come out with the big head all swollen up and everything else. And you had never had seen nothing like that on TV, not on a sitcom. So that's one of my favorite episodes.

Baltin: How hard did Tommy actually hit you for that episode?

Lawrence:[Laughter] He hit me hard enough for me to put that head on.

Baltin: You brought on a number of guests, BeBe & CeCe Winans, Brian McKnight. So for you how much fun was it to be able to have that format where you can bring your friends and people you admire in?

Lawrence: It was great. I was honored to be blessed with their talents, to be able to honor them, and have them honor our show by coming on and doing their thing and be exposed to our audience, and us be exposed to their audience. It was a blessing and a lot of fun. We enjoyed it and they enjoyed themselves when they came on the show 'cause we showed them nothing but love and gave them nothing but respect and space and let them do what they do, and they embrace what we did, and it was magic. It was blessing. It was magic.

Baltin: Obvious question, but since we are talking about Martin in the context of 2022, if Martin was on today who are the top two or three dream guests that you would love have on the show?

Lawrence: My man Ice Cube. Who else? Denzel Washington. And let's see, Viola Davis.

Baltin: What I love about the show is that while having fun, but also admitting when you're wrong and learning from mistakes. So for you, what are the coolest things that you would like people to hear from the show today?

Lawrence: It is not to take life so seriously. To live life and know that it's about laughter. And comedy is about anything that you can do to get a laugh and have fun with respect and love and all good intention and everything. But to not to take life so seriously, and to live and to laugh.

Baltin: Who taught you those lessons early on?

Lawrence: Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Richard Pryor, I stayed up all night when Super TV was on. That was back when they first had cable TV, and I was supposed to be getting ready for school, and I was studying Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip. That's when I knew I wanted to be an actor. And then when Eddie Murphy came along, and he took comedy to rock star status. And I got into stand up, I wanted to be like Eddie. And so, those were the two people that I emulated and I followed until I came into my own.

Baltin: Are there moments that really stand out to you for both of them as a fan? To me, the greatest Saturday Night Live skit in the history of the show in all the years was the Richard Pryor, Chevy Chase Job interview.

Larence: For them, most definitely Richard Pryor Live in Concert, it gets no better. If anybody who ever wants to be a stand-up comedian, they should watch Richard Pryor live. Him walking through the woods to all of that and bringing all that to light, that's when I knew, "Oh man, that I want to be as good as that. If I could ever get as close to that I'd be alright." And when Eddie Murphy did Delirious his stand-up, and then he did Raw. I think he had the best debut anybody could ever have. And when he had 48 Hrs, the way he came out and his delivery and his talent and with Nick Nolte, and the way their chemistry was, and the way they bounced off each other and everything, I just thought it just gets no better than that. And that's when I knew, "Oh man, I want to have moments like that."

Baltin: When you look at those moments for them do you have those moments you can say you are proudest of?

Lawrence: I'm proudest of all my work because it's been a blessing. And it's brought me to where I am now, it's made me who I am today. From my stand-up, from me selling out 18,000 people in the round, at the Capital Center in my home town. From me selling out so many venues, arenas all over the country. For me having two TV shows simultaneously on the air, Def Jam and Martin at the same time. One airing on Thursday, one airing on Friday, and they both being hit shows. From me doing all the movies from Do the Right Thing, Boomerang, House Party, and all these things that launched me into doing my own movies. Like Blue Streak and Big Momma's House and all those. I'm thankful for all those things, Bad Boys, and all the movies with Eddie and all those things. It's like, I've come full circle.

Baltin: So where do you go from here? What are you excited about?

Lawrence: What I'm excited about is continuing to do God's work, continuing to do blessings, continuing to do good work and to have fun with this thing. I obtained up all the riches I could say that I've wanted, and things like that. And the cars and the houses and all that, I've been there, done that and had fun with it. And now I get to watch my kids do their thing 'cause they're all grown up and just watch them mature into nice beautiful young women and watch my family grow. And me for myself, continue to grow in God's grace, and to continue to be a good person every day that I'm here on this earth.

Baltin: Is there one person that you would still love to work with?

Lawrence: Denzel, because he's one of the best ever, if I had to pick it wouldn't be just Denzel. I would pick Robert De Niro, I would pick Al Pacino. Those would be my top three. If I had a chance to work with any of those guys I know I would be learning something from them. I will have a joy from working with them, and I know whatever the project is we're doing would be a good project.

Baltin: Are there that you've really enjoyed watching over the years that maybe you even see their influence in your comedy a little bit?

Lawrence: It's so many, I would be leaving all this out to name names. But you could go from Jodeci, Anthony Hamilton, Maxwell, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Monica, Lauryn Hill, my list goes on and on and on. It's the whole R&B and rap, and you could even throw some country in there some Randy Travis in there and some "Tennessee Whiskey." If it's good music and it's good for the soul, and it uplifts you, that's what I'm for.

Baltin: If you were to do a biopic of an NBA player who would you play?

Lawrence: If I did a biopic of somebody, I probably would want to play Chris Paul. 'Cause I probably could get the body look and you could shave my head and I look more like a Chris Paul. I wouldn't look like a Steph Curry (laughs).

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