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Interview with Cedric the Entertainer

Channeling Jackie

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like most people in his general age group, Cedric the Entertainer first became familiar with "The Honeymooners" through Eddie Murphy's rude and crude depiction on his early 1980s comedy albums.

Not surprisingly, Cedric still knows all the lines and can do a decent impersonation of Murphy's impersonations of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. And mimicry is where most of Cedric's humor comes from. "That was one of my tools for comedy: observations. I see people, and I just kind of go in and help the audience visualize this person with voices and body language."

"It was one of the things that I was able to use when I started doing movies and just trust the fact that that's where my comedy comes from. If I can make you believe that this character's real, then that's all that's necessary to get you to buy into him onscreen."

But when it came time for Cedric to embody Ralph Kramden in the big screen version of the legendary television sitcom (1949-54), he opted to avoid the easy imitation and go with something more personal.

"I thought, to do a 90 minute film version, that you really have to buy into the concept that these are regular folks," Cedric says during a recent visit to San Francisco. "This guy believes that his ship is going to come in at any moment."

For the big screen updating of the show, Cedric now leads an all African-American cast, including Mike Epps as Ed Norton, Gabrielle Union as Ralph's wife Alice and Regina Hall as Ed's wife Trixie. "I thought it was brilliant for the studio to take a chance to flip it and make it an all-African American cast," Cedric says, "but it's important to say that it's still an American story, not just an African-American story."

As a performer, Cedric was heavily inspired by Gleason, and says that he partially modeled his TV show "Cedric the Entertainer Presents" after "The Jackie Gleason Show" (1964-1970).

Cedric also understands the working class aspects of the "Honeymooners" story. After growing up in a small town, he graduated college and began a career as a claims adjuster at State Farm Insurance. "Not a very good one," he says. "But I had an expense account and a car."

In the late 80s, he took to the stage for the first time and won $500 in a comedy competition. "My friends were all there helping me," he says. "They would tell me what was funny. I had this joke about a good ol' boy who would say all these things but claim he wasn't prejudiced or racist, but he'd be like, 'you know I like black people! I got a color TV!' That was one of my first jokes."

When he's not on stage or in front of the cameras, Cedric says he never feels pressure to make people laugh. He is always comfortable being himself. "Once the energy is going, I just turn it on automatically," he says. "I'm never really pressurized unless somebody goes, 'tell me a joke.' Because I'm not really a joke teller. I'm more of an in-the-moment guy, an entertainer."

May 24, 2005

Cedric the Entertainer
Partial Filmography:
  • Big Momma's House (2000)
  • Original Kings of Comedy, The (2000)
  • Barbershop (2002)
  • Serving Sara (2002)
  • Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
  • Barbershop 2 (2004)
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
  • Be Cool (2005)
  • Madagascar (2005)
  • Code Name: The Cleaner (2007)
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