One secret of good stand-up comedy is that it’s often good stand-up drama. In Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat, Lawrence, on stage in a beige leather dashiki, does a routine about a man who has to get drunk to face going home to his wife, and then get drunker still. As he swigs from a glass of cognac, his sozzled honesty starts to pour out, and though a few of the things he says are spot-on funny (his wife got the Halle Berry haircut, but she still doesn’t look like Halle Berry), that’s mostly because Lawrence makes you believe in the character you’re watching. He does an amazing little piece of acting.
The Martin Lawrence we see in ”Runteldat” struts his stuff with the same get-a-load-of-me bluster he flaunted on ”Def Comedy Jam” and in his 1994 concert film, ”You So Crazy,” but beneath the braggadocio he comes off as a warmer, more self-savvy, and altogether funnier person. At 36, with two daughters, Lawrence no longer talks about women as if he were some hip-hop pasha; there’s a new empathy to his raunch. He does an outrageous routine about what it’s like for a man to be in the delivery room, and when it comes to discussing the cliché celebrity obsession of prenuptial agreements, his darts are aimed squarely at himself.
Lawrence is still a hit-or-miss performer. For every routine that’s fresh, like the one in which he enacts what it would look like if Martin Luther King Jr. had decided, just once, to get some payback, there’s another that’s facile and rote. When Lawrence admits that he was strung out on bad marijuana during his 1996 breakdown in the middle of Los Angeles traffic, he’s aiming for his version of Richard Pryor’s tale of freebase-coke addiction, but Lawrence, unlike Pryor, never tells us what drugs really meant to him. It’s confessional comedy lite from a performer who should realize, by now, that he only gets funnier the more he reveals.