Thursday, October 19, 2017

In Las Vegas, Chris Tucker finds his silver lining

BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD

Chris Tucker

The success of “Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam” helped launch the careers of many comics in the early 1990s, but only a select few were destined for superstardom. Among that “talented tenth”: box office sensation Chris Tucker, who will perform live May 26 at Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Casino Resort.

After becoming a popular standup comic, Tucker set his sights on Hollywood and seemed to never look back. His most recent turn: the Oscar-winning drama “Silver Linings Playbook,” in which he starred opposite Bradley Cooper as a funnyman wracked by mental illness. The role signaled his return after a decade away from the big screen.

“I just wanted to go live a little bit,” Tucker said, when asked to explain his extended absence from the public eye and return to his roots as a stand-up comic. “As an artist I pull from real life, and when you are making movie after movie you isolate yourself because you are so busy. So, I took some time off and wanted to live and grow up a little bit because I started so young in this business. I traveled around the world and did things I always wanted to do. I wanted to live life. With time, I got inspired again to go back to the stage, do stand-up and sharpen my comedic skills. Also, it gave me time to reconnect with my audience and to let the movie roles start coming in again.”

Originally from Decatur, Ga., Tucker received an epiphany as a young man that inspired him to follow his dream of being an entertainer. “When I was in high school, I always participated in the talent shows, and one time I told a joke on stage and that is when I recognized that I wanted to do stand-up comedy and eventually get into movies,” he recalled. “Once I got into the business, I knew at a certain point that I had to go to the next level — which included movies. My first major roles were in ‘Friday’ and ‘Money Talks.’ That was the biggest game-changer in my career, when I found something I was really passionate about.”

The early part of his stand-up career brought Tucker to Las Vegas, where he performed at Huntridge Theater in comedy showcases put on by local promoter Terry Wade. “Yes, I remember that show,” said Tucker. “It was so much fun. I was just a kid then, and I remember Vegas being so hot. I had never experienced that kind of Vegas heat before in my life. Now, I have traveled to Africa, India, Europe. I have changed as a person, and I think we all change as we go along in life. Now, I am a man; back then, I was a teenager.”

His starring roles in the smash hit “Rush Hour” movies and “Dead Presidents” made Tucker a box office titan, but many will agree that his role as Smokey — the motormouth pothead in the original 1995 comedy “Friday” — was his breakout performance. With his on screen performances still rare, rumors have swirled in recent years that Tucker was considering reprising the role in an upcoming sequel.

“I don’t think I will be in another ‘Friday’ movie, but I hope they do another one, because people have love for the series,” Tucker said. “The ‘Friday’ movies helped a lot of comedians, and I take that is a compliment. I don’t know about being in another one, but I hope the ‘Friday’ movies continue.”

As the rare comedian who can effortlessly inhabit a dramatic role, Tucker sees himself taking his acting skills to the next level. “Many people are unaware that I feel very comfortable portraying serious characters in movies,” he explained. “It is very natural for me to be serious. I think I am more of a serious person who can be funny when I want to. My foundation is being a serious person — and when I was a child, growing up, I was a quiet kid. When I got to a certain age, I wanted some attention. Nonetheless, I know how to be serious. I did it in the movie ‘Dead Presidents,’ and it comes naturally.”

One person who knows the star best in his natural state: his mother, Mary Louise Tucker. With Mother’s Day approaching, Tucker paid tribute to the woman who raised him.

My mom is everything to me,” he said. “She is just a beautiful, beautiful lady. She raised me in the church and gave me a good spiritual background. She is an honorable lady.”

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