What Happened to Martin Lawrence?

Last Updated on June 26, 2024

Comedy is what takes us away from all the pain and all the hurt and all the turmoil that goes on in life. It takes us away from that, even if only for a brief second, a brief moment.” Maybe you wouldn’t expect this level of depth from a man who’s made a career of being silly. Something else you might not expect? Even 30 years into his comedy career, he was still possessed by a nervous energy before getting on the stage for his 2016 special. So much of what has made Martin Lawrence successful is his ability to channel that nervous energy into something great and, more importantly, something funny.

But what drives that energy? For Martin, it may be the very pain, hurt, and turmoil he’s trying to help us escape. Despite his success, Martin’s life has been marked by challenges, from a difficult childhood to high-profile controversies. Yet, it’s precisely this tumultuous journey that has fueled his creativity and informed his unique perspective. Let’s sympathize with that perspective by, as we always do, going back to the beginning where the beginning began.

He was born Martin Fitzgerald Lawrence on April 16, 1965, in Frankfurt, Germany, to a military family. The ‘Martin’ is in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and the ‘Fitzgerald’ is for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. Though he’s been controversial at times, at least he hasn’t ruffled enough feathers to meet the shared fate of his namesakes.

Lawrence began his standup career, first in Washington D.C. and then in New York City, in the early 80s. Like all stand-ups, he bombed his first time up and was discouraged, but luckily for us returned to the stage, where he began to form his signature raw, edgy, and unapologetic style, which often focused on his experiences growing up in the inner city. He embraced the Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy comparisons and considered it an honor to work with the latter, years later.

He got the right eyes on him when he appeared on Star Search in 1987. His performance scored him the part of Maurice Warfield on 22 episodes of What’s Happening Now! from 1987 to 1988. He took center stage in the episode “The New Employee,” where his character transformed the show’s diner into a nighttime teen club to impress a girl. After impressing in his first TV gig, he landed his feature film debut in the 1989 Spike Lee Joint Do the Right Thing. Martin Lawrence’s role as Cee is a memorable one. Cee is known for his distinctive lisp and outspoken personality, often providing comic relief with his witty one-liners and humorous interactions with other characters.

In 1990’s House Party, Martin Lawrence’s Bilal is part of the group of friends who throw a wild party while Kid’s parents are away, leading to chaos and hilarity. In 1991’s House Party 2, Bilal returns as the crew plans a party in a college dorm, causing more mayhem and laughter. In 1991’s Talkin’ Dirty After Dark, Martin Lawrence co-starred as Terry, a comedian performing at a nightclub. The film explores the comedy club scene and the lives of the performers, showcasing Lawrence’s raw talent and ability to tackle mature themes.

Martin Lawrence brought his stand-up comedy to HBO’s One Night Stand in 1991. He then made history as the first host of Def Comedy Jam in 1992, setting the tone for a show that would become a launching pad for numerous black comedians, including Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan, Tiffany Haddish, and Leslie Jones. Lawrence’s first time working with Eddie Murphy was on 1992’s Boomerang, which also helped launch the acting careers of Chris Rock and Halle Berry. Martin Lawrence played the role of Tyler, the outspoken and charismatic best friend to Eddie Murphy’s character, Marcus Graham. He’s convinced that everything is racist, and by the end of the movie, may have you convinced that at least Billiards is.

Solidifying 1992 as one of the most pivotal in Martin Lawrence’s career was the debut of his sitcom Martin, which aired from 1992 to 1997. It starred Martin Lawrence as the titular character, a wisecracking and eccentric DJ living in Detroit. Martin was a critical and commercial success, running for five seasons and establishing Martin Lawrence as a household name. The show’s impact on 1990s pop culture was significant, and it remains a beloved classic among fans of comedy and nostalgia.

1994’s You So Crazy is a stand-up comedy special that showcases Martin Lawrence’s unapologetic and uncompromising style. The special features Lawrence tackling tough subjects head-on, including the L.A. riots sparked by police brutality against Rodney King just a year before filming. His raw and unfiltered commentary on race, politics, and social issues was ahead of its time, and the special received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Martin Lawrence was allegedly banned from Saturday Night Live after hosting in 1994. His off-script opening monologue included a controversial rant about women’s hygiene, sparking audience backlash. Martin Lawrence disputes the ban, claiming he simply hasn’t received an invitation to return – and likely wouldn’t accept one anyway.

Bad Boys

1995’s Bad Boys, spectacle specialist Michael Bay’s directorial debut, marked a significant milestone in Martin Lawrence’s career, as he starred as Detective Marcus Burnett in this high-octane action comedy. Despite studio reservations about the first-time director and lead actors, the film’s success was immense, as it grossed over $140 million worldwide and cemented Lawrence’s status as a leading man in Hollywood. Michael Bay called Lawrence a “comedic genius,” but Lawrence relished the opportunity to not just be funny but, in his words, “whoop some ass.”

Martin Lawrence, fresh from his successes in stand-up, sitcoms, and movies, was on top of the world, with his unique blend of humor and charisma making him a beloved figure in American entertainment. But, as he reached the highest of highs, his personal life began to unravel, and a series of legal troubles and controversies threatened to bring it all crashing down.

A 1996 arrest came when Lawrence ran into Los Angeles traffic toting a gun and shouting “fight the establishment!” which, despite Martin Lawrence basically being a part of the establishment, by this point, is still gangsta. That same year, he faced a misdemeanour charge for carrying a loaded gun in a suitcase at Burbank Airport.

1996 also marked a messy divorce for Martin Lawrence, with his then-wife alleging he had become unhinged and had made severe violent threats against her and their child. Amid this difficulty, Lawrence wrote, directed, and starred in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate in 1996. Though not a commercial or critical success, it represented a bold creative risk for Lawrence, showcasing his unique voice and perspective. Lawrence may have been leaning more toward the “hate” side of the thin line when he was charged with misdemeanour battery for punching someone in the face in a nightclub. He was accused of sexual harassment by Tisha Campbell, his Martin co-star in 1997, and the issue was settled out of court. Martin has since called it “bullsh*t” and is adamant it “didn’t happen,” though Campbell has implicitly doubled down on her claims. They since seem to have made up.

Despite his difficult late-90s from a legal perspective, Martin Lawrence’s star continued to rise both creatively and commercially. He reportedly went from being grossly underpaid $100,000/year for Martin to $6,000,000 for 1997’s Nothing to Lose, which further established his brand as the premier buddy action-comedy guy. He plays Terrance, the perfect kinetic foil to Tim Robbin’s despondent Nick Beam.

Lawrence spent three days in a coma in 1999 after collapsing from heat exhaustion while jogging in 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He was trying to lose weight for an upcoming movie role and wore heavy clothing and a plastic suit while jogging. He awoke with a new appreciation for life, life itself, not the 1999 movie Life where he was back with Eddie Murphy. I think the movie Martin Lawrence was trying to lose weight for was 1999’s Blue Streak, a forgettable buddy action comedy where he plays a thief posing as a cop because it certainly wasn’t for 2000’s Big Momma’s House, where he plays the role of FBI agent Malcolm Turner, who goes undercover as a plus-sized grandmother to solve a case. The movie resonated with audiences, grossing $174 million on a $30 million budget.

In 2001’s Black Knight, Lawrence, as theme park employee Jamal Walker, is transported back in time to medieval England. You’re watching the movie, or not watching it, because of Lawrence. If you like him and his brand of humor, you’ll like this. Martin Lawrence’s 2002 comedy special Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat was ahead of his time, but maybe not in a good way. Lawrence was in a reflective mood for the show and leaned on his recent experiences to primarily proselytize on religion, forgiveness, and equality. The ratio of laughs to social commentary is by many accounts unfavourable, comparable to many more recent stand-up specials.

2003’s National Security features Martin Lawrence’s signature energy and physical comedy as well as a title that reflects a subject that was still top-of-mind for American audiences.

Bad Boys II

Lawrence reprised his role as Detective Marcus Burnett in 2003’s Bad Boys II. Film portrayals of drug trips are a dimebag a dozen but rarely are they performed with the excellence of Martin Lawrence as Detective Marcus Burnett after he unwittingly takes Molly. Martin Lawrence was ranked #34 on Comedy Central’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time in 2004, though maybe he’d rank higher today, by default [Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis CK]. 2005’s Rebound is a tamer, more family-friendly Bad News Bears, but if you’re a fan of the formula or of Martin genuinely showcasing character growth, there’s something for you here.

2006’s Big Momma’s House 2 takes a bit more family-friendly bent than the first, to appeal to a wider audience. Lawrence went from leaning family-friendly to full-on embracing it in the 2006 animated feature Open Season opposite Ashton Kutcher. It wasn’t a huge departure for Martin Lawrence, as it’s still a buddy comedy, just one for kids, where the buddies are a grizzly bear and a deer with one antler. Also in 2006, Lawrence made a memorable appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, wherein he embodied some of his iconic characters from the Martin sitcom.

In 2007, Martin Lawrence joined the ensemble cast of Wild Hogs, a comedy that rode the star power of its seasoned leads to an impressive $250 million box office haul. Lawrence brought his signature humor to the film’s tale of middle-aged bikers, capitalizing on the chemistry and charm of its self-aware “over-the-hill but still thrill-seeking” cast.

In 2008’s Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Lawrence plays a talk show host who returns to a hometown that spurned him. His performance is arguably the lone bright spot in a film that relies too much on slapstick comedy. His lone performance in a G-rated movie was in the 2008 Disney feature College Road Trip opposite Raven-Symoné. Even an overeager Donny Osmond can’t keep this movie afloat, but it does mark a point in the transition of Lawrence into more fatherly, protective roles. His mother’s 2008 passing around this time served to slow his previously prolific pace.

His comeback, for what it was, came with 2010’s Death at a Funeral, an appropriated remake of a far-superior 2007 film. His next offering, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son in 2011, didn’t resonate with audiences as much as the first two films in the series did. FX invested one season into Partners in 2014. The legal sitcom featuring Martin Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer was criticized for its production values and sloppy writing. Another consistent criticism was that Lawrence was underutilized, deferring to Grammer’s character too much and too often.

Martin Lawrence’s 2016 stand-up comedy special, Doin’ Time: Uncut, showcases his return to the stage following a sold-out national tour. The special features Lawrence’s signature humor, impressions and insights. Lawrence served as a host for the Netflix feature Def Comedy Jam 25, a heartwarming look back at the history of Def Comedy Jam, showcasing some of the greatest comedians to ever grace the stage and the impact they’ve had on the world of comedy.

2019’s The Beach Bum is more style than substance. If you want to see Matthew McConaughey play the guy we all already think he is and Martin Lawrence as a man who claims to be a Vietnam vet while barely looking old enough to have been born then, then take a chance on it. The 2020 threequel Bad Boys for Life was the first of the series not directed by Michael Bay. It was well-received, earning $426.5 million on a $90 million budget.

Martin Lawrence was deeply committed to his role in the 2022 crime thriller Mindcage, gaining significant weight and undergoing additional acting training for the rare departure from comedic roles. In April 2023, he received his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was long overdue. They give those things out like $75,000 candy.

Fans of Martin Lawrence eagerly anticipate what’s next. Bad Boys: Ride or Die, the fourth installment in the beloved franchise, will serve as a litmus test for perceptions of Will Smith post-slap. In Sneaks, Martin lends his voice to the feature film directorial debut of storied Disney writer Rob Edwards. The upcoming television series Nehama holds a deeply personal significance for Martin, exploring the challenges of balancing a comedy career with family obligations. With his continued dedication to his work, Martin Lawrence ensures that we’ll always have a reason to smile, even in the toughest of times. His legacy is cemented, but he’s determined to “keep riding this life till the wheels fall off!”

About the Author

18 Articles Published