While most kids graduating from high school are pondering college, enlisting, or settling into a job at the post office, Chris Tucker immediately set his sights on Hollywood and making it in show business.
Boy, did his dream come true…and with the quickness. And now the star of the Rush Hour movies brings his funny to The Venue at the Horseshoe Casino in two shows on November 22 and 23.
Born in Decatur, Georgia on August 31, 1971 as the youngest of six children, Tucker was the class clown challenged by a high school teacher to share his gifts in the school talent show. It was a rousing success and led to his classmates voting him the “Most Humorous” graduating senior.
In a press interview to support his Venue tour, Tucker recently told N’DIGO that his proclivity for comedy came early on, partially as a result of watching the trials and tribulations of his older siblings. “It was like, dag, what did you do? Mama just tore you up!” he said, citing his upbringing as an unending supply of source material.
Tucker added that he didn’t have an ice-cold plan to go to Hollywood and make it; it was more serendipity, actually.
Tucker’s father ran a janitorial enterprise and Chris helped him out by working as a janitor at a local Burger King. At the same time, as soon as he graduated, the Comedy Act Theater opened in downtown Atlanta. Its original counterpart was in Los Angeles, where Tucker said all the comics of the day – Robin Harris, et al – passed through.
He was able to start off at the club as an amateur and eventually became a regular. “A lot of the comedians would come down to the club from Los Angeles and after seeing me perform, they’d say, ‘Hey man, you need to move up to L.A. because you’re pretty good,’” Tucker recalled.
He decided to go for it, rationalizing that he had nothing to lose – if he was serious about doing standup and entertaining, L.A. was the place for it and if it didn’t work out, he could always come back home.
Before he left though, there was an amusing and prophetic incident. Tucker related that one time his family came to the comedy club to see him perform, but he didn’t happen to get on that night.
On the way home in the truck, they razzed him good-naturedly about it, and Tucker says he jokingly responded, “Uh huh, y’all just wait. One day I’m going be famous and have millions and you all are going to be asking me for it and I’m going to remind you of this night.” He said that now when he kids his family about it, they don’t remember the incident at all!
Tucker was playing the Atlanta comedy club in 1991, then moved to the West Coast in 1992 and almost immediately got cast in Hanging With Mr. Cooper. “I had like a one-word line on Mr. Cooper, Mark Curry’s show,” Tucker remembers. “That was fun; that was my first TV appearance.”
The next year, 1993, he became a regular on Def Comedy Jam and in 1994 made his film debut in House Party 3, along with Bernie Mac. The young comedian broke out in 1995 co-starring with Ice Cube in Friday, where he played Smokey, a talkative pot drug dealer who couldn’t make any money because he kept smoking up his product.
“That movie just took on a life of its own and it solidified me as an actor and a movie star,” Tucker says. In the same year, he also showed his acting chops with a dramatic turn in the Hughes Brothers’ flick Dead Presidents.
Some of Tucker’s most well-regarded, reputation-cementing work came in 1997, when he co-executive produced Money Talks with Charley Sheen, got offed by the nefarious Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown, and amazed everyone as Ruby Rhod, an intergalactic deejay in Bruce Willis’s sci-fi thriller The Fifth Element.
After being in Hollywood for only five years and getting $15,000 for Friday and $25,000 for Dead Presidents, Tucker had three hit movies in that one year and received $2 million for Money Talks.
The comedian says that he wasn’t surprised by his relatively instant success. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“I wasn’t surprised because I was just in the moment, man, and just doing it and enjoying every minute of it. I was just on and working a lot; I was there at the right time and God blessed me. I think it was just the fact that I was so new and hungry and just following my dream.”
That success got even bigger the next year with the mutual fish-out-of-water buddy pic Rush Hour, which teams Tucker’s American detective with Jackie Chan’s Asian law enforcer in an original, rollicking comedy action flick.
Tucker signed on for the 1998 movie for $3 million and it grossed $200 million worldwide, which is called sequel money. For the two sequels, Tucker negotiated a $45 million contract – $20 million for 2001’s Rush Hour 2 and $25 million for 2007’s Rush Hour 3 – which made him the highest paid actor in Hollywood at the time.
“Out of the success of those movies I’d made, definitely the pay went up!” Tucker confirms, but adds that that didn’t shock him either.
“Not with the Rush Hour movies,” he said. “I knew what the first one did and I was like, if Tom Cruise was getting $20 million, I should get $20 million if the movie grossed as much as it did. So I was just bold enough to ask for the salary that I asked for and I got it.
“But you know, I had expected the movie to do well and you know when you just be expecting stuff, sometimes you can get real bold.”
In his rise to become an A-list Hollywood star, Tucker says that the situation or the actors that he worked with never intimidated him.
“I was blessed to get into some cool movies in my career,” he assessed. “Ice Cube was fun. Bruce Willis was cool – he just let me do my thing. Jackie Chan was the same way. I was a big fan of Jackie’s and I knew I could do something special with him with his martial arts and mixing that with comedy. I just felt it would be great.”
But funny things often happen on the way to the top. After working so hard and steadily at his career following high school, Tucker found himself becoming a student of life.
Until taking the unusual role as a recovering mental patient in last year’s Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook, he had done only three movies since 1998 – the Rush Hour series. There were three years between RH and RH2; six more before he shot RH3; and then five years until he made Silver Linings.
There were some eventful times during that period, such as the close friendship he developed with Michael Jackson. Tucker says they happened to meet at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York and were fans of each others work.
“We met and we just hit it off as friends,” Tucker says. “After that we hung out at different places when we were in the same town. I visited Neverland. Michael was nice, just a special person. To be as big as he was – a mega, mega star – he was just a nice, kind person.”
Tucker appeared in Jackson’s 2001 music video You Rock My World, testified on Jackson’s behalf in his 2005 child molestation trial, and attended the icon’s memorial service.
During his time away from the silver screen, Tucker became a born-again Christian, but mostly, he traveled, and learned.
“There were a lot of great opportunities that came my way and I took advantage of them,” he said. “There’s nothing better than traveling to a place to learn about it. In the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of educating myself about what’s been going on in the world.
“I took some great trips to Africa with Bono, Colin Powell and Bill Clinton. We’ve got so much here in America, and in Africa there are places with no clean water, places with no schools, no hospitals. That really took me by surprise – well, educated me a lot. I feel so blessed that I’m able to travel the world and get such a broad perspective.”
He’s felt the humanitarian pull so much that he’s a regular at charity concerts and functions and has started a foundation dedicated to bringing attention to African poverty and hunger issues in America.
Tucker also took time away from acting because he felt the scripts he was getting weren’t challenging enough and he was ready to stretch to a different level beyond Rush Hour. And while he’s talking with Jackie Chan and producers about Rush Hour 4 – even though RH3 came nowhere close to the $600 million the first two grossed – Tucker is also trying to get a project green-lighted where he plays Frank Sinatra’s valet George Jacobs, who wrote an acclaimed autobiography based on the experience.
But Tucker also needs to work, as he’s been having some major headaches with Uncle Sam via the IRS for the past couple of years. It’s one of the reasons he’s back doing stand-up, though the comedian says it’s something he never really left.
“I’m focusing more on it now though,” he explained. “I just filmed my stand-up comedy concert movie last year in Atlanta and that should be released in theaters early in 2014. But no, I never stopped. I’m continually working – doing it all over the country and now the world. We went to the Middle East this year and Australia. Last year we went to London, so we’re all over the place.”
And what does all this portend for his appearance at The Venue at the Horseshoe Casino on November 22 and 23?
“It’s going to be great,” the high school class clown, now 42 years old, promises. “I’m talking about my life, my family, a lot of stuff…and there will be a lot of surprises!”
Tucker asked for N’DIGO readers to tweet him @realctucker, and visit his website www.christucker.com. That website is great, as personalized and real as an amateur Facebook page, where Tucker posts instagrams, tweets, and comments. There’s a picture of him with Bill Gates he took just before Halloween in which Tucker notes that Gates asked him for $5. There’s another picture of Chris in front of a slave shack talking about the movie 12 Years A Slave, which he had just seen. It’s great stuff.