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Martin Lawrence: 12 Facts Only The Biggest Bad Boys Fans Will Know

In the mid-'90s, with his long-running sitcom "Martin" a hit, a movie career beckoning and his reputation as a stand-up soaring, Martin Lawrence was on his way to becoming a top Hollywood star. When he teamed up with Will Smith and Michael Bay — both successful in other realms (TV/music and music videos, respectively) and trying to transition to movies — the result was an in-your-face, unexpected box office blast, 1995's action-comedy "Bad Boys." Now a bona fide movie star, Lawrence would spend the next couple decades starring in films like "A Thing Line Between Love and Hate" and "Black Knight," as well as multiple "Big Momma's House" and "Bad Boys" sequels.

As time went on, however, controversies and eccentric behavior began to chip away at Lawrence, and forgettable, uninspired pairings with Tim Robbins (1997's "Nothing to Lose"), Danny DeVito (2001's "What's the Worst That Could Happen?"), Stave Zahn ("National Security") and Tim Allen and John Travolta (2007's "Wild Hogs") didn't help. An attempted 2014 TV comeback was short-lived, and by 2022 he was trying to reinvent himself with a dramatic role in the little-seen, poorly-reviewed "Mindcage."

Once the king of over-the-top characters and quotable catchphrases, has Martin Lawrence been permanently relegated to the dustbin of '90s pop culture? While he prepares for a fourth "Bad Boys" outing alongside Smith (who is also in need of a career-resuscitating hit), "whatcha gonna do" but look back over his rollercoaster of a career? Below is a breakdown of little-known facts about the sitcom star turned bad boy.

He was born in Germany

Lawrence's "Martin" was a hit on American airwaves from 1992 to 1997; what many fans might not realize, however, is that he was born abroad. The funnyman was born in Frankfurt, West Germany, a so-called "military brat" who moved from the US military base there to Landover, Maryland when he was seven years old. His parents separated shortly after that, and along with his five siblings, their family struggled with poverty.

"We lived in government Section 8 housing," Lawrence would later recall in a 2020 interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "The miracle was my mom never gave up. She always found a way to put food on the table. Her mother was a big help and would bring us food when things got really bleak." 

Like many comedians, Lawrence credits humor as a coping mechanism during such struggles. When he found success, he made it a point to give back to his mother. "The first thing I did when I made some money," he recalled, "was rebuild my mom's house in North Carolina where she was living at the time. It was a real rundown place, but not anymore. I fixed it up."

He was a decent boxer

Much like Kevin Hart years later, a lot of Lawrence's humor revolved around a quasi-Napoleon complex and "short" jokes from his co-stars, often setting up comedic moments. But while Lawrence may not have been the tallest kid on the playground, he knows how to stand up for himself — before becoming a comedian, he trained at the Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing Center, and by 15 he had become an AAU Champ. 

Lawrence has talked about his history with boxing multiple times as part of his stand-up routine. The jokester says his strength came from his footwork, saying he would never get hit — though, he wouldn't hit anyone either. Boxing also came up a few times as a theme in the "Martin" television sitcom. Surprisingly, Lawrence had a decent record in the sport when he professionally competed as a teenager. Speaking on Mike Tyson's "Bite the Mic" podcast in 2018, the actor mentioned his "handful of fights," which made him a Golden Gloves contender. An eye injury ultimately kept Martin from being able to continue in the sport, but soon after he found a new passion in comedy.

Star Search was his big break

Heavily inspired by comedians like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, Lawrence began attempting stand-up after high school. With a natural talent for making people laugh, he made a name for himself at famed New York comedy club The Improv, but taking the next step would be a difficult one.

Determined to break into television, Lawrence pursued a venue that had only recently emerged: the 1983 – 1995 series "Star Search," hosted by Ed McMahon. Each show presented various "categories" of competition, from "Group Vocal" to "Spokesmodel," and Lawrence appeared in a 1987 "Comedy" showcase. Like Bruno Mars, Brad Garrett, and Billy Porter, the show gave Lawrence a boost at a pivotal career moment.

Lawrence's exuberance was evident from the jump; he defeated the reigning champion, and the "young comic from Washington, DC" advanced his career. Few realized at the time, however, he was embarking on a career that would eventually land him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

As luck would have it, Lawrence's "Star Search" work managed to catch the eye of television producers who offered him a role in the third and final season of "What's Happening Now!!" A subsequent role in the Kid 'n Play full-length feature "House Party," and scene-stealing work supporting Eddie Murphy in "Boomerang" helped put Lawrence on the map.

He was the original host of Def Comedy Jam

One prominent role Lawrence landed in those early days was hosting the then-new stand-up comedy series on HBO entitled "Def Comedy Jam." Created by legendary music executive Russell Simmons, co-creator of Def Jam Recordings, "Def Comedy Jam" put the spotlight on up-and-coming African American comedians. When it launched in 1992, Lawrence was the show's first host.

"It seemed like every place I went, the coolest thing that was happening at any club was their comedy night," Simmons explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2017, looking back on the series. "You'd get there and see all of these talented people that were underserved and belonged in the mainstream. But the gatekeepers wouldn't acknowledge them because they were too edgy."

"Martin Lawrence was a star waiting to happen," Simmons said of his early support.

"Def Comedy Jam" would run until 1997 and break out multiple stars, including Dave Chappelle, Chris Tucker, Bernie Mac, and Cedric the Entertainer. Lawrence hosted the series' first two seasons, then left for his self-titled sitcom on Fox.  

"When I look back, I was a young kid and I was fearless, so I just wanted to seize the moment every chance I got to get onstage," Lawrence would later say of his stand-up roots. "I tried to have fun and make it as big as possible."

He was banned from Saturday Night Live

By 1994, Lawrence was a well-known comedian, and "Saturday Night Live" came calling. As it would turn out, however, his first (and last) appearance on the show made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Delivering an infamous "SNL" moment to rank alongside the likes of Sinead O'Connor, Andrew "Dice" Clay, The ReplacementsElvis Costello and Charles Rocket, Lawrence began his February 19, 1994 monologue with timely jokes (ie, Lorena Bobbitt), a jab at the censors, then leaned into some distasteful jokes about feminine hygiene. 

There was a significant backlash over the "SNL" intro, as the studio received over 200 complaints, including from the show's sponsors. The aftermath saw Lawrence's monologue removed from subsequent airings (an abridged version of the "frank and lively presentation" that "nearly cost us all our jobs" is currently on the "SNL" YouTube page), and the actor was banned from NBC. He hasn't appeared on "SNL" since.

In 2020, the comedian appeared on "The Breakfast Club," where when he said he couldn't care less.

"I don't give a damn," he said. "I'm not banned from SNL. They banned me from NBC at the time for a minute. But then they realized the way it went down wasn't what they thought and then they sent me an apology letter."

His mid-'90s breakdown

At seemingly the apex of his fame, Lawrence began facing a series of arrests, lawsuits, and controversies. While coming off as a mild-mannered funnyman on television, he was gaining a reputation for being hot-tempered. 

Following rumors of on-set rages and belligerent behavior (per People), Lawrence was arrested in May 1996 after running through the streets of Los Angeles waving a gun and screaming "they're trying to kill me!" (per Washington Post). Two months later, Lawrence faced charges (and eventual probation) for attempting to take a gun on a Southwest Airlines flight (per LA Times). After being briefly engaged to "Saved by the Bell" star Lark Voorhies in 1993, he married Miss Virginia USA, Patricia Southall, in 1995; that tumultuous marriage would end in 1997 with a restraining order claiming Lawrence had verbally abused (and even threatened to kill) Southall. This also would have been around the same time that "Martin" co-star Tisha Campbell filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Lawrence.

The actor has since claimed that those mid-to-late-'90s headlines were the result of celebrity pressure mixed with drug use. 

"There's no handbook, I had to learn by trial and error," Lawrence told Entertainment Weekly in 2020. "I was in it — the glitz, the glamour — I was making the money, had the cars, the ladies. It just caught up." 

His 'Martin' co-star accused him of sexual harassment

Tisha Campbell played Martin's love interest Gina Waters-Payne in the first four seasons of the Fox sitcom "Martin," and their working relationship ended anything but amicably in the middle of Lawrence's aforementioned mid-to-late-'90s misbehavior.

Campbell made a high-profile move of quitting the show in November 1996, calling the working conditions "intolerable." Two months later, Campbell filed a lawsuit against Martin Lawrence, claiming "repeated and escalating sexual harassment, sexual battery, verbal abuse, and related threats to her physical safety."

Lawrence denied the allegations at the time, and the issue was ultimately resolved via an out-of-court settlement. Tisha Campbell reprised her role for the final two episodes of the series, and even reunited with her co-star for a "Martin" reunion in 2022. 

Around that same time, Campbell told People magazine "We've all healed," while Lawrence added: "It is nothing but love with me and her."

He nearly died of heat exhaustion

During something of a downward spiral in his career and personal life, Martin Lawrence credits one specific moment for turning things around: His near-death experience. 

In 1999, the actor went for a noontime jog in 100-degree weather near his California home, wearing multiple layers of clothing and reportedly trying to lose weight for a film role. He collapsed and slipped into a 3-day coma, was placed on a ventilator, and was at serious risk of permanent brain, kidney and heart damage.

"I felt like, in the coma, God laid me down and woke me up to be able to see a lot more clearer, and it's humbled me a great deal," said Lawrence in a 2002  interview with ABC News. "One thing I truly learned. We fall down, but we get back up again." 

By 2002, Lawrence was claiming that he had stopped smoked marijuana and was determined to take better care of himself. "I just think I've grown a lot more and matured," he explained. "I know a lot more about what I'm talking about, as opposed to just being a young comic with a mic in his hand."

He was temporary Partners with Kelsey Grammer

Despite his successes, not every project that Lawrence has taken on has soared. In 2013, he joined forces with another iconic sitcom actor, Kelsey Grammer, in building a new show for Lionsgate Television. Although they might seem at first to be very different in their comedic stylings, both had portrayed radio hosts on their hit sitcoms from the '90s ("Martin" and "Frasier,"), and "Partners" centered around them being Chicago lawyers with contrasting ideologies, so it seemed to lean into their contrasts.

But the pairing of Grammer and Lawrence was no Matthau/Lemmon or Wilder/Pryor. "Partners" debuted in August 2014 on FX to decent viewership numbers, but was torn apart by critics. 

"It is old hat in the most glaringly obvious way," read one review from The Guardian. "The jokes are stale, the laughs seem canned and the setups are just a little too familiar to be camp."

Reliant on laugh tracks, lazy cliches and predictable jokes, "Partners" was canceled after just ten episodes. 

His daughter is dating Eddie Murphy's son

Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy have a long history together. The latter inspired the former, gave him a major role with "Boomerang," re-teamed on more equal footing with Ted Demme's "Life," and share a rare on-screen chemistry. So, perhaps it makes sense that the offspring of the two stars would have some chemistry of their own.

In 2021, Lawrence's eldest daughter Jasmin and Murphy's son Eric revealed their partnership, swapping a pair of Instagram posts.

"Happy birthday, my love! I'm so incredibly blessed to know you, to love you, and to have you by my side," Jasmin Lawrence said, wishing Murphy's son a happy one. "Cheers to many more blessings, laughs, and beautiful memories! I love you so much!!

This came a few weeks after Murphy had made the couple Instagram-official, writing, "Head over heels in LOVE with YOU" and many heart emojis. 

Discussing their blossoming relationship on "Jimmy Kimmel" in mid-2022, Martin Lawrence admitted that he and Eddie Murphy "stay out of their business and let them do their own thing." 

Fans of comedy might want to prepare themselves for the next generation's great comedy genius. Jasmin Lawrence caught the bouquet at Eddie Murphy's eldest daughter's 2022 wedding, and Eric gave her a shout-out about it, so perhaps a very funny grandchild could be somewhere down the line.

He was a mentor to other famous comedians

Despite the criticisms, it's hard to deny that Martin Lawrence made a big impact on comedy, pop culture and America's youth in his prime. Which is why it isn't surprising that he has had a profound influence on the careers and comedic work of others.

"Saturday Night Live" alum Tracy Morgan is one of the most vocal about Lawrence's mentorship. "Martin, he let me eat at his table," Morgan said in a 2015 interview with SiriusXM. "I'll never forget it. And I will always be thankful to Martin Lawrence for that. He gave me an opportunity." 

"Martin Lawrence is the guy that showed everybody that you can make it from DC to Hollywood," Dave Chappelle, another fan, said when he appeared on "Inside the Actors Studio." "Every time he did something, it would make me feel inspired and he was always real nice to me." 

Lawrence is also credited for giving Snoop Dogg his first television appearance back when the rapper was still "shy," and Kevin Hart has cited him as an influence, saying "If you don't know @MartinLawrence then you don't know funny."

He would not let Will Smith's slap end the Bad Boys franchise

One of Hollywood's longest-standing onscreen friendships will soon be renewed once again between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Both became television stars in the '90s, broke through cinematically with Bay's debut film, and have since gone on to have high profile successes, failures, controversies and comebacks. Meanwhile, "Bad Boys" has become a franchise unto itself, frequently in the background, ready to unveil a new sequel whenever needed.

Now, following 2003's "Bad Boys II" and 2020's "Bad Boys for Life," the franchise stars both seem in dire need of a box office smash. In early 2023, they seemed to indicate one was on the way.

"IT'S ABOUT THAT TIME!" posted Smith on Instagram, alongside a video of him knocking on Lawrence's door, hugging him and saying "It's official, y'all!" Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, directors of "Bad Boys for Life," are expected to return.

All this comes, of course, following not only Lawrence's long streak of diminishing box office but also Smith's infamous Oscar slap of Chris Rock.

Asked by Ebony Magazine in the aftermath of the slap heard 'round the world whether backlash would kill the "Bad Boys" franchise, Lawrence definitively said "We got one more at least." Now, it seems, Lawrence is determined to make certain these old friends get the last word.