Black History Month: Martin Lawrence!!!

martin-14Hip Hop, being an entity that has propelled young black rap musicians in a new elite of youth culture, appeals to people who practice all art forms. This wave had young black comedians bringing the culture of the streets into the clubs, with Lawrence leading the Hip Hop comic invasion. Martin Lawrence was part of a new force in comedy that was changing stand-up in late 1980s.When the “Martin” television show started, it captured the chemistry of the cast and a pure sense of comedy, which still resonates with today’s youth. The show displayed relatable and crazy characters that people feel in love with.Becoming a huge celebrity, Martin Lawrence’s life was exposed to the world. Here are a few things a true fan might not know about.1) Martin took up boxing as a kid  to keep the bullies off of him.2) He played a DJ in the movies “House Party” and “House Party 2”, and later was a radio DJ in his own TV show “Martin”.3) Martin hated to wear costumes and makeup, but on the “Martin” TV show he transformed himself into multiple wild characters: his own mother Mama Payne, Bob the white guy, Sheneneh, and many more. Despite praise from its audience, the critics lashed out at “Martin” for portraying a false image of black people, despite the show winning NAACP awards.

4) Martin Lawrence’s show came to an end due to his blossoming movie career, and his deep feelings for Tisha Campbell (Martin’s on-screen love interest) which quickly turned to jealousy after Campbell became engaged to Duane Martin. That’s what insiders say led to the messy situation, involving sexual harassment allegations, between the popular TV couple.

5) “Martin” had lots of hip hop musical guests like Tone-Loc, OutKast, Method Man, Notorious B.I.G., Bushwick Bill, Snoop Dogg, and “Kid” of Kid n Play. He used his show to help propel their music careers, spreading Hip Hop to an even wider audience. For that we thank you, Martin.


A couple of weeks ago I went to a house party in Brooklyn that included an arduous task of walking up several flights of stairs to get to the event. Oh, old New York City apartment buildings and their lack of elevators. I digress. To lighten the mood and the load, the host of the party posted fliers of Brother Man from the Fifth Floor, the beloved gentle giant from one of my favorite 90s sitcoms, Martin, on the walls of each staircase landing. Brother Man was of course holding up his signature four fingers to let us know the party was on the fifth floor.
Now, if you didn’t giggle to yourself knowingly, you must not have seen the show Martin. The illiteracy of Brother Man, one of Martin’s many acquaintances, was a running joke on the show. Whenever he appeared on screen he introduced himself as “Brother Man, from the fifth floor,” whilst holding up four fingers. I implore those who don’t know to order the DVD and prepare to be entertained. Then revisit this article. Everything will make sense.
Martin premiered in 1992 and ran for five seasons. Coming off of the heels of The Cosby Show, Martin showed a different side of the black experience, young black professionals who were not wealthy, but not poor, who were young and trying to make it. I was too young to catch the show when it first premiered. However, my dad was, and still is a big fan, so when I was old enough, my entire family would watch it together. The show centered around the fictional character of Martin Payne, played by Martin Lawrence. Set in Detroit, Martin was a young radio DJ with a corporate working girlfriend named Gina Waters, played by Tisha Campbell. Rounding out the cast were Pam, Martin’s nemesis and Gina’s best friend, Tommy, Martin’s best friend whose perpetual unemployment was a never-ending joke and Cole, the dimwit of the crew. Followed by a host of characters played by Martin Lawrence. Clearly, as the show title presents, the meat of the show was focused on Martin and his endless shenanigans. However, the female talent on the show proved to be just as funny, if not funnier than Martin.
The way in which Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold were able to keep up with Martin’s comedic genius was truly brilliant. Unlike, other wives on sitcoms like, Julie Kotter from Welcome Back Kotter, Gina Waters was not only engaging she was able to go toe to toe with Martin comedically. Sometimes even outshining him. Like the episode when Gina gets her head stuck in the headboard after having sex with Martin, and she has to wear a huge wig to cover up the accident in order to attend an important presentation at work. Or the episode when Martin attends his high school reunion, and in an effort to impress him and his childhood antagonists, Gina goes to the dentist who leaves her mouth overly swelled and her brain a little loopy off the laughing gas. Tisha Campbell stole that episode hands down. I can’t imagine Martin without Gina, more importantly without Tisha Campbell.
As funny and comedically acrobatic as Martin was, he was not without his flaws. Martin was indeed uncomfortable in certain episodes when it came to women and their power, especially when they wielded more power than him. In one episode when it was revealed that Gina made more money than him, Martin’s manhood was definitely threatened, and it became a prevailing theme in that episode. He even went as far as to buy a group of random elderly ladies lunch to prove to everyone that he could afford to. Similar themes persisted when Martin’s television network outsourced Gina, a marketing guru, to help them run Martin’s marketing campaign for his talk show, “Word on the Street”. He was so visibly uncomfortable with Gina telling him what to do. These themes spoke to issues of patriarchy and misogyny at a time when I did not consciously understand that they existed. Martin was also a man who could become extremely irate when things didn’t go his way, or if he felt like people were not siding with him. He was not above kicking people out of his bachelor pad when the odds were not in his favor. One consistent thorn in Martin’s side was Pam, the curvaceous, brown skinned beauty who never failed to let Martin know just how little she thought of him both figuratively and literally. Martin was a physically short man with a Napoleon complex, and this was always a source of comedy for Pam. Upon watching the show further, the young adult me can’t help but feel uncomfortable with the way in which Martin would insult Pam. Her hair and her looks were always the target of such scathing remarks. I remember one episode where Martin compared Pam to a wilder beast. Never one to let a wise crack go, Pam always got back at him. However, watching some of these episodes over again made me uncomfortable which eventually made me sad because I love Martin.
What was refreshing about Martin was that it was a show about black people living. Not living in the context of whiteness. Just living, loving, fighting, breaking up, and doing it all over again. It seems simple, but with mainstream films today like 12 Years a Slave and The Help glaringly focused on race relations of a certain time, watching Martin is a kind of relief because race was never brought up as an issue in their lives. We’ve all heard the complaints and frustrations about films only showcasing black people in times of strife. Not taking anything away from these films but only seeing struggle can be tiring and repetitive. I don’t even think the show ever tackled racism in a serious way. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong in the comments section. And in Martin, much like Living Single, we get to see young black people like us, who share our dreams, sense of humors, and overall everyday struggles.
Although Martin, Gina, Tommy, Pam, and Cole are fictional characters, I sometimes wonder what they would be doing now in 2014. Maybe having kids, divorcing, or still in Detroit causing a ruckus. One thing is for sure, despite the complaints of “cooning”, a term used to describe African American entertainers who play stereotypical roles and black entertainers that promote ignorant behavior; a charge I wholeheartedly disagree with, Martin will live inside of the African American cultural canon for a very long time. After all, we are still laughing at his jokes some twenty years later. Which is not only a testament to the brilliant writing and spot on casting. But also, a challenge to mainstream media that an all black cast will not garner an audience. That claim is truly fictitious, and should no longer be used, as it has been proven incorrect, time and time again.
Towards the end of season five, the final season, we began to see less and less of Martin and Gina in scenes together. Which was actually a result of sexual harassment charges made against Martin Lawrence by Tisha Campbell. The show wrote it off as Gina getting a job in Los Angeles, while Martin continued work in Detroit. The show also began to focus more on other characters like Pam, who ventured off from her job in Marketing to doing more A&R work in the music industry. Which to me was good, but it wasn’t great. If anything, it proved to me that the show had truly become the Martin and Gina show, and both characters were equally as important to the overall story arch. As a result, the show went off the air and re-runs appear frequently on television, introducing new generations of people to the satiric marvel that is Martin. When I watch  shows like Steve Harvey, The Wayans Brothers, All of Us, One on One, and Blackish, I see remnants of Martin. The one thing that sets them apart is that I still hear people repeating jokes they first heard on Martin. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a video of two young men who found a dead raccoon on the side of the road screaming, “That aint no damn puppy,” which was an ode to the episode when Martin and his crew got stuck on Chilligan’s Island on an awful vacation. Whether we enjoyed the show or not, chances are we know at least five people who did. And as I realized on that autumn day, laughing with a group of strangers as we struggled up a New York City walk up, Martin, is still one of the funniest shows to ever hit primetime, and it is still relevant.
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