Chris Tucker makes quite an impression. He has been in far fewer movies than you would think, no more than a dozen, but it feels like more, because each of his roles is so distinctive.
The biggest of these roles was as the fast-talking Detective Carter in the ‘Rush Hour’ trilogy, where he made his name, not to mention his fortune – the third instalment made him the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Thanks to this success, Tucker now works only when he wants to, as in David O. Russell’s eccentric indie flick ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. All of this spare time has given him the opportunity to pursue his first love – stand-up comedy.
“School was a scary place for me,” he says. “Trying to get my homework done was hard, and I would daydream a lot and get into trouble. I used to host talent shows, and I guess you’d say I had an epiphany when I got my first laugh. I was the last person to figure out that I was funny, but once I knew I could make my friends and teachers laugh, I knew I was in a good place, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
At that young age, Tucker idolised comedians like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.
“Those guys took the path from stand-up to acting in movies,” he says, “and I decided I wanted to do that as well, but the path eventually led back to stand-up, back where I started out.”
Tucker’s earliest comedy memories involve watching scratchy bootleg recordings of Murphy stand-up specials.
“When we first got cable down on my street, we didn’t have it, but my good friend up the street did,” he says. “They had to lay down the cables for you to get it in your house, and they hadn’t got to us yet, but my good friend had it and recorded Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ from HBO. He brought it down on a VHS tape and let us watch it, which we did, over and over again. When we finally got cable, I used to watch ‘Delirious’ and ‘Rocky 3’ over and over again. I got into Richard Pryor a bit later in life, but Eddie Murphy was my first comedy love.”
In the early stages of his career, Tucker was something of a loose cannon, making his name with profane and hilarious performances on shows like HBO’s ‘Def Comedy Jam’. While time hasn’t exactly mellowed him, he’s definitely older and wiser these days.
“My goal is for everybody at the show to have a good time. If I do cross any lines, well, I don’t think it’s going to be too much. I mean, I talk about my own experiences in the show, and I get a bit of stuff off my chest, but it’s not really about that so much. I tell a lot of stories in the show, I do a lot of characters, and I talk about the state of the world. It’s just about jokes and being funny.”
Many stand-up comedians say they’re constantly switched on, always looking for new jokes, but Tucker doesn’t concern himself too much with this.
“If I’m not on stage, I’m living my life. Something might cross my mind and I’ll try to remember it in some kind of way, and when I get to the comedy club that night, I’ll try and bring it up. I’m not on all day long. I mean, I’m observant and quiet most of the time, and I only turn it on when I get on stage.”
It’s important, however, to insert as many new jokes as possible in each night’s show.
“If it’s fresh to me, I deliver it better,” he says. “I don’t like to do the same routine over and over – I want to feel what I’m saying and believe what I’m saying, because if I feel that way, the audience will believe it too.”
One of Tucker’s earliest and funniest ‘Def Comedy Jam’ skits was based around the idea that America would never have a black president. Now living during the Obama Administration, does he like to reflect on that joke?
“Yeah, I do!” he says. “I have a whole bit about President Obama – it’s really good stuff. Back then, the idea of a black president was really farfetched, but now we have one. My comedy has evolved in that time, and so have I, and so has the world. It’s cool that I can talk and joke about that now, about how much things have changed.”
A few years ago, Tucker travelled to Africa on a humanitarian mission, along with former US President Bill Clinton. It was an eye-opening trip, as the pair took in the scope and beauty of the country and its people. All in all, the mission was a wild success… except for the time that Tucker started a riot in Ghana.
“We were in a shopping mall, and a guy there gave me a drum,” he says, with a nervous laugh. “I didn’t have anything to give him, except for a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket, so I gave him a hundred dollars, and when people saw, it turned ugly. I walked away with the drum, and as I did that, other people started to surround him and a big fight broke out.”
At that point, it was clear that everyone had to leave – the secret service stepped in and hustled Tucker to the car, where Clinton was waiting. Needless to say, it was awkward.
“The secret service told him what I’d done, and he turned to me and said: ‘Tucker, why’d you do that? You could’ve asked me for change! You almost started a riot here – I wasn’t done shopping!’”
If comedy is pain, then on the basis of experiences like this, Tucker has no shortage of A-grade material for his show.
Chris Tucker performs at The Brisbane Convention Centre June 13 and Jupiters Theatre June 14.