Everybody loves Cedric the Entertainer.
The funnyman from Missouri has that kind of demeanor that makes everyone feel like they’ve known him for years. He’s joking around with his publicist as we chat at the Ritz Carlton New York at Central Park South in Manhattan. “Why are these lights so low?” he asks playfully, noting that our room does have a very ’90s R&B video sort of vibe. “They wanted to keep it intimate,” she says.
He gives me a smirk and laughs: “It’s a lil too intimate, man!”
Ced is one of the most visible Black comedians in mainstream Hollywood. Since rising to prominence as a fixture on the Black comedy circuit and hosting BET’s popular ’90s series “Comic View,” he’s starred in a wide range of films. While carrying comedies like Johnson Family Vacation and The Honeymooners, the man born Cedric Kyles has also been featured in projects by the Coen Brothers (Intolerable Cruelty), Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne) and in animated family films like Cars and Madagascar.
Cedric is one of the stars of Chris Rock’s new comedy, Top Five, and he believes the film — and others like it — are indicative of a shift in Hollywood’s perspective regarding Black films.
“You recognize these lulls in the movie business,” he says. “You notice, when it comes to African American film, only one or two people can actually green-light a film. We’ll take it out of the Denzel [Washingtons] and the Will Smiths of the game — these guys are just big boss players. But it was [only] Tyler Perry who could do his own thing and then Kevin Hart got hot, but for a good solid two years, if those two people weren’t in the movie, you weren’t green-lighting that movie,” Ced explains.
Cedric feels that the success of films like Best Man Holiday and Hart’s Ride Along have opened some eyes in regards to the possibilities of expanding what we typically see among mainstream Black Hollywood films. “With the resurgence — Best Man 2 doing well at the box office, and Ride Along busting 100 million, these [studios green lighting black] movies started to make some sense,” he says. “Haunted House did some money with Marlon [Wayans] — we did numbers for a small film. Now, you’re seeing Hollywood open up and ideas starting to flow. You’re seeing people take chances on dramatic roles and some interesting films come to light, like Fruitvale Station last year making a little splash out there. I think it opens up the business. For us, that’s a good thing. We do need the industry to understand that we have more stories to tell and that we have interesting, diverse characters.”
Cedric even took a slight dig at one of his own films and the legions of imitators it spawned. “Not all of our characters have to be at a family reunion,” he says, shaking his head. “Not everything happens to Black people at a family reunion. We do have other things going on.”
And Cedric is fighting to help make sure that the world sees how much Black people have “going on.” In working with Rock on Top Five, a film that Rock wrote and directed himself, Cedric wants major studios to begin to realize that Black funnymen can make the leap to both directing and to drama. Only a handful of actors ever really get the chance to direct a mainstream Hollywood film, and it’s extraordinarily rare for a Black actor — especially one known for comedy. Ced is quick to point out that he’s made some headway in that arena; but acknowledges that studios still see him in a very limited light.
“I have been able to prove myself as a producer,” he shares. “I wrote and created my TV series, ‘Soul Man.’ It’s going into the fourth season. Johnson Family Vacation was a movie that I produced and was able to show what I do, as far as putting an image out there and trying to tell a story and paint the picture. I definitely want to do that,” Ced explains.
“There are ideas that I have that are a little more serious and you do find resistance,” he continues. “The natural inclination from studios, when they hear my name, they want it to be a funny movie. No matter how much I’m saying ‘Yo, I want to cross over and do something serious.’”
He’s resigned himself to the belief that if Cedric the Entertainer’s full range is going to be showcased, then Cedric the Entertainer has to take it upon himself to showcase it. “I think I’m going to have to find a way to do something on a smaller scale, educate the audience and educate the studios,” Ced explains. “Then, [I’ll] be able to find myself taken more seriously when it comes down to other roles and roles that people wouldn’t necessarily consider me for.
“I had an opportunity to do some splashes. Be Cool was a serious role, but it was directed by F. Gary Gray; who was the kind of director — a Black guy — who could see me do comedy and [recognize that] I could do drama and know that. But mainstream Hollywood — when they see any Black comedian, they want you to come in and be the comic relief. They don’t want to believe that you can give them a serious side. “
While Cedric is focusing on getting Hollywood to see all of his talents, he gets to play up that gift for comedy in Top Five; in which he plays a sleazy promoter named Jazzy Dee.
“Jazzy Dee is the quintessential cat from the late ’90s — ex-drug dealer, hustler that now wants to be a businessman,” Ced says, laughing. “He wants to promote shows and brings Chris Rock’s character to town to do a show. [He’s] The kind of promoter who’s always telling you he’s got the most money in the world, but he’s doing [everything] the cheapest way that he can.”
Cedric explains that he tapped into his own history as a comic on the road. The “King of Comedy” says he had numerous experiences with shady promoters in every city.
“It just really resonated with me as a comedian. I knew this guy. We all do. It was just easy for me to identify this guy and bring him to life,” Ced shares, before recalling one story in particular. “I had a promoter who … brought me to town and he’s like ‘Yo, Ced I gotta come get you, I got a limo!’ But he was driving the limo! And then, I think we’re heading to the hotel, but he stops and puts a car seat in and puts his 6-months-old son in the backseat with me! It’s that kinda stuff that’s always going on — and you’re just trying to get to the hotel, like ‘No, I don’t want nothing to eat — I just wanna get to the hotel and not have to babysit your son.’ ”
With all of his ups and downs dealing with a mainstream Hollywood that doesn’t always understand Black voices, Black comedy and Black filmmaking, Cedric says that he was excited to be a part of a film that’s about a Black comedian that’s directed by a Black comedian and showcases the talents of Black comedy stars like himself, Hart, Tracy Morgan and more. He was happy to share screen time with such a high wattage cast.
“You do think of this as like a starting five in some ways — Chris, as sort of the leader of the team, and coming in and putting this ensemble together. J.B. Smoove is in the movie. Kevin Hart is in the movie. Seinfeld is in the movie — that’s gonna be crazy! You know that everybody is going to do their jobs and do it at a high level so you automatically want to be a part of it,” Ced shares.
And for a comedy veteran who is committed to expanding the narrative for Black comedians in Hollywood, Cedric the Entertainer is extremely happy to see Top Five generate the kind of buzz it has gotten from critics and at festivals. This movie being successful could pave the way for more like it, and that’s a win for everyone.
“To see the finished product — because we all shot individually — to see how it came together and feel the buzz on it, I’m excited,” Cedric says. “It felt like it was going to be a really hot film and to see the buzz now, I’m just happy for Chris and everybody involved with it.”
Story by Stereo Williams
Images by Ashley (Sky) Walker