Martin turns 25: Martin Lawrence reflects on his 'legendary' sitcom
There’s something special about having a show named after you. You’re not just in the show — you are the show. In 1992, during a much-less diverse era of television than the present, Martin Lawrence joined fellow comedians Roseanne Barr and Jerry Seinfeld in earning the distinct honor.
“It was the biggest thing in the world for me,” Lawrence tells EW of scoring Martin. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Now, 25 years after the memorable sitcom premiered, the comedian is reflecting on the series that launched him from stand-up comedian on the rise to headliner of blockbusters like Bad Boys (“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he says of a third installment) and Big Momma’s House. “When I started stand-up, I always wanted to get into acting,” he shares. “And Richard Pryor was someone I idolized in a sense of wanting to follow in his footsteps, so that’s what I did.”
After small supporting roles in Do the Right Thing and House Party, Lawrence landed his biggest opportunity yet: co-creating and starring in his own series for Fox, a young network that was trying to compete with the likes of the established powers at ABC, CBS, and NBC.
Martin was built as such a showcase for the rising star that not only would Lawrence be playing the lead role, but he would be bringing to life his own cast of hilariously outrageous recurring characters based on family members and people from his youth. When he wasn’t portraying radio disc jockey Martin Payne, the actor was donning braids as the feisty Sheneneh or sporting a black belt around his waist as Dragonfly Jones, a martial arts expert who couldn’t seem to ever win a fight.
Thanks to Lawrence’s crowd-pleasing array of characters, the relatable relationship between Martin and Gina (Tisha Campbell-Martin), and the never-ending string of insults hurled back and forth by Martin and Pam (Tichina Arnold), Martin became a hit and an important cog in Fox’s attempts to rival NBC’s ‘Must See TV’ Thursdays.
“You felt the energy, realness, and fun,” says Lawrence of why viewers responded so positively. “The audience didn’t just laugh, but it’s how they laughed. They weren’t only laughing, they were stomping and roaring. Just to feel all of that energy we were getting was beautiful.”
The great feeling lasted for five seasons and 132 episodes, before the series wrapped in unfortunate fashion with Campbell-Martin sitting out almost the entirety of the final season due to a sexual harassment lawsuit she filed against Lawrence and his fellow producers. The actress returned for the series finale, but with the condition that the show’s star and co-creator couldn’t be present when she was on set.
Despite that rocky ending, comedies such as Roseanne and Will & Grace are being revived and Lawrence himself believes his “legendary” series “would still hold its own” if it aired today. It’s easy to wonder if a possible comeback could in fact be in the cards for Martin, but the actor, who returned to TV for 2014’s short-lived FX comedy Partners, is definitively ruling it out. “No, I think we’ve done everything we had to do,” he admits. “We had a loss with Tommy Ford. And it wouldn’t be the same, so that would never happen.”