You can’t blame Cedric if he flossed his credentials and industry contacts just a little bit. The multifaceted comedian, actor, producer, director and game-show host … well, you get the point … has assembled quite the industry portfolio that affords him the opportunity to bask in his successes for a while. But, as we say in the urban community, it is a serious “come up” when you are hand-picked for any movie project by two-time Academy Award-winner and Hollywood heavyweight Tom Hanks, as Cedric was for the star-laden film Larry Crowne.
But you get the feeling that Cedric could have actually played the lead role in Larry Crowne, a movie that Hanks co-wrote, directed and starred in. The Recession-era romantic comedy, which opened in theaters July 1, is about a man (Hanks as Crowne) who has to reinvent himself after his carefully cultivated middle-class life shatters into a thousand pieces following an unexpected layoff from his comfortable job.
When you think about it, Cedric the Entertainer is a perfect case-study in personal reinvention and professional evolution. The man born to humble circumstances in St. Louis as Cedric Antonio Kyles, invented his own stage moniker and embarked on the long road that lead him from the Show Me State through the chitlin circuit and all the way to the White House.
“I understand that new-guy feeling,” Cedric said when asked how he felt delving into new territories as Hanks’ character was forced to do when he pursued higher education and loftier goals for the first time as a middle-aged man. Cedric experienced similar pangs when he expanded his entertainment portfolio to include directing.
“It gets you inspired and gets you motivated, and you don’t have the pressure of being the ‘Cedric the Entertainer Great.’ And I can just be new at my job, and everybody knows this is my first time,” he explains. “They say, ‘Just give him a minute. He’s new at this,’ and it gives you the inspiration to be more creative. It was inspirational, and I encourage [people to see that] when they see this movie.”
Furthermore, Cedric implores people to understand that it is “OK to try something new and start over, to be a freshman again,” he says. “This guy [Tom Hanks’ character] went back to college and was a freshman at 40 years old plus.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have golden goddess Taraji P. Henson as your co-star in Larry Crowne, in addition to hanging out with Julia Roberts.
“When they told me Taraji was my wife in the movie, I said ‘That’s a go. You know, count that as a go,” he said, as his packed Four Seasons hotel suite in Beverly Hills erupts in laughter. “And then when Tom Hanks calls and says he wants you in anything … He [is] one of the great actors of our time. Great person, great human being. And then there’s Julia Roberts. She’s one of America’s beloved stars. And just to be able to pass that out as a credit when you are out somewhere, like ‘Me and Julia Roberts … Yeah, did some stuff with Julia … Me and J, a little situation. I call her ‘J.’ ”
Cedric, best known for being part of that classic blockbuster Original Kings of Comedy with Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac, and the co-star of “The Steve Harvey Show,” has been to the mountaintop in the comedic domain. Not many folk can say they’ve been invited to the White House to perform for three different administrations — Clinton, Bush and Obama — and they certainly can’t say they got a phone call from the incomparable Tom Hanks. And even fewer can say they starred in the fantastic Anheuser Busch-Bud Light commercial during the Super Bowl several years ago — the one where he accidentally splashed beer on his romantic date — that secured the No. 1 commercial slot. So, his credentials are good in that arena.
But it was when Cedric really pushed himself to evolve that he was able to harness a more lasting and fulling career. At this point, Ced began to enumerate the ways in which he has reinvented himself over the years.
There came a time when Cedric wanted to stretch his artistic boundaries to include dramatic acting:
“You evolve as an actor. You, definitely, want to evolve beyond comedic roles. And, actually, comedy comes from a lot of drama in many cases. My comedy was one where I would kind of mimic and play characters from my childhood. You, eventually, evolve to where you want to do more dramatic roles. I had an opportunity to do that in Street Kings and on Broadway.”
And then there is the venture out of the comfortable, comedic territories on stage and TV, and into the frightening landscape of Broadway:
“I was going through a period of knowing that I had to be and do something different,” he told the New York Times. “Reading the script when they sent it was difficult. The whole business of [producer David] Mamet saying things without saying them, but I prayed on it.”
Next came the transition from shining in front of the cameras, to taking over the set in his directorial debut:
“When I talked about directing, I talked to Ice Cube about it. He directed The Players Club, which is a classic, but he ain’t really done [a whole lot] since. And the thing about it is, when you direct, you are never off. When you are hired to do a movie, if you’re there for three months, when you [are an actor], you can say, ‘Peace out!’ When you are the director, your job is just beginning. It’s straight to the editing room! OK, let me hear the music. Alright, let me see the posters. What a minute, the studio is trying to sell the movie on Telemundo. Day-in and day-out, you are with the movie. That’s part of being the director. I liked the experience.”
Let’s not forget how the man also known as Ceddy Bear, thanks to actress Terri Vaughn, has gone from one who merely showed up and collected checks to a person who is now writing checks. At the helm of his own production company, A Bird and a Bear Entertainment, Cedric is steadily developing and producing feature films. Johnson Family Vacation was the first film under the banner, and he was rewarded richly. It was the No. 1 comedy in America for two consecutive weeks.
Wearing his business hat now, and feeling comfortable with it, Cedric is also starting his own apparel line. Speaking of hats, he’s already launched a new line of his trademark head wear, replete with the reflective logo “Who Ced?” His apparel line will available in late July and is expected to have retail partners by next year. And just as he consulted Ice Cube prior to directing his film, Ced felt it wise to get the ear of Sean “Diddy” Combs for a spell to find out how the music mogul created the fashion phenomenon, Sean Jean.
“I’ve been wearing hats since early in my career. That’s part of my thing coming from the Midwest. It just made sense. I’m trying to get into the apparel business, and I had a conversation with Diddy. He said, ‘Pick one thing that you like,’ “ Cedric recalled. “He said [that] when he started Sean Jean, it was sweatsuits. That was it. And you don’t see that nowadays when you see the whole clothing line. For two years, all he sold was sweatsuits. He told me, ‘People know you for your hats. Then, knock them down and grow from there.’ We’ve gotten great response for the hats. The industry is hot about them.”
Cedric also has evolved into a prime time game-show host. “It’s Worth What?” is a game show he executive-produced that debuts this summer on NBC. “This is a big prime time game show where people are comparing the costs of really expensive items, like Picasso paintings, and how much it costs to feed a live elephant for a year, and the elephant really comes on the stage. We wild out.”
And because the beloved comedian is so revered in his hometown, Cedric has evolved enough to understand the importance of giving back to the community that birthed his dreams. “It’s something about having the ability [to] use your influence, your finance, your personality to help other people and to encourage them to be great. To actually cause that energy of goodwill to circulate, hopefully, to inspire other individuals, and they will help other people down the line.”