Thursday, November 23, 2017

Cedric the Entertainer – Comedian balances family, career demands

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Born Cedric Kyles in Jefferson City, Mo., the performer known worldwide as Cedric the Entertainer is blanketing the entertainment industry with his inimitable talent. From filling arenas with laughter as one of the Original Kings of Comedy to starring on the hit sitcom “The Steve Harvey Show,” Cedric has in recent years not-so-quietly transformed himself into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after movie actors. With a wide-ranging filmography that includes everything from “Barbershop” and “Madagascar” to a new role as a real-life civil rights legend, the 46-year-old is also a regular on Las Vegas stages. He recently spoke to Black Image about his career trajectory, coping with the death of his close friend Bernie Mac, the racial divide in Hollywood, and the importance of developing confidence in black children.

Tell us about your next movie.
I just completed “Larry Crowne,” which is directed by and stars Tom Hanks. Taraji Henson plays my wife. It is a romantic comedy, and Tom Hanks plays a guy who has fallen on hard times late in his life and decides to go back to school at my character’s urging. I play his next door neighbor, and I tell him he should go back to college. There, he finds himself — as well as finding love with his college professor, played by Julia Roberts.

How do you manage to do film after film and keep your family together?
My family is my priority, and I try to be around the house during the week. Even now, I am going home to help my son with his homework. He is reading and doing book reports. Both he and my daughter speak French, and I just make sure I am a part of their lives. I still do shows on the weekend, and sometimes they come with me. They were here in Vegas to celebrate my birthday, because we all love Vegas. My son loves to gamble (laughs).

We saw you speaking at Bernie Mac’s funeral, and what you had to say was light and made people smile. Do you ever let your emotions show? When does Cedric the Entertainer stop entertaining?

I do have a serious side, and I get a little emotional at times. Especially when it comes to anything that involves my family, children or good friends like Bernie Mac. His death was very tough for me. Before I got up to speak at his funeral, so many people before me spoke and created a very solemn and sad space. I knew that as a comedian, Bernie was always a funny guy. I just thought it was important to represent who he was, and what we all did together, while being respectful and adding some energy to the room. That was my main goal. But I cry every now and then.

When your fans meet you, do they feel an immediate connection — like you’re an old friend?
Yes, definitely. I think it is purposeful on my part. Early in my career, one of my great comedic inspirations was the late Robin Harris. I recognized his approach on stage resembled an uncle or cousin — like somebody you already knew, even though he was a rising star and one of the funniest dudes in the business. I knew his comedic style was something I wanted to emulate. So I perform like someone you know already, and that attitude makes it comfortable for me and my audience when I perform on stage. If it trickles over into life, that is great. It takes a little longer to walk through the mall because everyone wants to have a conversation. But it is genuine love, and that part I respect and appreciate.

Is there much laughter to be found for people with all the ills that are going on in the world — with our economy, war and politics?

Yes, I think laughter can always be found. There are a lot of serious issues going on, but it is the kind of thing that society can flip. That is the best thing to do when things are in turmoil or off-kilter. It is called observational comedy. I just did a show in the South, and it was so much talk about the Tea Party. I said, “We drink tea. Let’s have a ‘Sweet Tea Party’ and set it off (laughs). You are not the only ones drinking tea around here.”

Do you ever see yourself playing a serious role?
Actually, the next movie I have lined up is “Selma,” directed by Lee Daniels, who did the Academy Award-winning film “Precious.” I am cast to play Ralph Abernathy. My character is very serious and fights for civil rights. It is a great opportunity, and I look forward to growing with my audience and (having) my audience grow with me.

How are race relations in Hollywood?
It is great among the actors. But I do think that from the studio’s point of view — the big buyers and producers who make the movies — there is a racial divide in Hollywood. I can say that, because there is a gap between the releases of black films. For example, when “Death at a Funeral” came out, we won’t see another black film coming out too soon after it. You have a lot of great and talented black actors, performers, comedians, writers, hair-and-makeup people who will go long periods without working until another black film is in the pipeline. I think that is how Hollywood powerbrokers keep them hungry and keep you begging. The result is that you can’t really gain any real power and opportunity to turn down a film, because you are always pressed to make money when the opportunity comes your way. It is unfortunate, because new movies come out every weekend. On average, it will be four to five new movies that come out every weekend; maybe every three months there will be a black movie in that group. That is the big gap. Tom Hanks is a great guy, but out of 300 people working on the set, there were only four black people.

What would you say to young black boys about confidence?
Confidence is a very interesting thing. It is the first step from not knowing to knowing. What I try to teach my son is that it is OK to not know something and still maintain a sense of confidence in the “not knowing” state. Stay confident and say, “I don’t know the answer, but I am interested in knowing what the correct answer is.” So take a step to the back — and if you do this first, you don’t have to have false confidence. False confidence is when people have inflated egos, which lead to a degree of ignorance. You don’t have to spell something you don’t know how to spell. If you don’t know something, be confident enough to say so, so no one can sell you a broken Brooklyn Bridge when you get older. Knowing this will give you a strong foundation for all things in life. If you have this first, you can make small steps. And that will take you to bigger leaps.

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