By Kam Williams, Sentinel Contributing Entertainment Writer
He’s truly the King of Urban Comedy, but this year comedian Mike Epps may just become a household name in mainstream America. These days, Epps is everywhere.
He has a new DVD, “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” arriving next week, a new TV show coming this fall and a few weeks from now he appears in Will Smith’s new summer blockbuster, “Hancock.”
When Epps arrives on a movie set, everyone knows it. A once calm cast suddenly has random outbursts of laughter. It’s a tell-tale sign that Epps is in the house.
“Everyone wants him around,” says director Malcolm Lee. “He makes funny scenes funnier. He always has that extra one-liner that takes things over the top.”
“Mike is one of those people who reminds you of someone in your family,” says co-star Mo’Nique. “He’s that crazy cousin or uncle you run from every time you go home and ya’ll know we all got one like him.”
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana on November 18, 1970, but raised in Crenshaw, Epps was raised by his single mom with nine other brothers and sisters. Every summer, she would send the kids back to Gary to live with their grandparents. Mike was the class clown in school which is where, at an early age, he developed the ability to make people laugh.
As a teenager, he entered an amateur standup contest in Indiana and immediately caught the showbiz bug. Honing his craft on the nightclub circuit, he ended up in New York City by the age of 21. In 1995, he first found fame when he was invited to appear on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam.
He made his big screen debut a couple of years later in “Strays” with Vin Diesel, although Mike’s breakout performance would come in his second film, “Next Friday,” where he co-starred opposite Ice Cube. The colorful comic has been a staple in urban-oriented features ever since, making such movies as “The Honeymooners,” “All About the Benjamins,” “Bait,” “Dr. Dolittle 2,” “Roll Bounce,” “Something New,” “Talk to Me,” “The Fighting Temptations,” “Malibu’s Most Wanted” and “Resident Evil 1 and 2”.
As for his private life, Mike married Michelle McCain in 2006, though he has recently become the subject of tabloid speculation after being slapped with a paternity by an unnamed woman who claims he fathered the child she gave birth to last December. Fortunately, in these days of DNA, it won’t belong before the truth comes out and establishes that either she’s a liar or he’s a daddy.
Here, he talks about his latest flick, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, which will be released next Tuesday, an ensemble comedy in which he plays Martin Lawrence’s conniving cousin, Reggie.
Sentinel: KW: What interested you in playing Reggie?
Epps: It was a familiar character. I thought it was a character I really, really could do something with. Sometimes, you read a script and you don’t know what you can do with it. You read it, and you be like… You know what I mean?
Sentinel: Yep. So, what was it like working with Martin Lawrence?
Epps: It was great. Martin is always professional and fun to work with, and understanding when it comes to making a film. So, it was cool.
Sentinel: Besides Martin, the cast incuded Mo’Nique and Cedric the Entertainer. Was it hard to carve out your own space to be funny, given that there were so many comedians on the set?
Epps: Not really. Everybody was experienced, knew what they were doing and knew what they wanted. That’s all that really mattered. We’d all been there before, so everybody was professional. We all knew what it was.
Sentinel: How did you like being directed by Malcolm Lee? Were you familiar with his work?
Epps: I already did a movie with Malcolm, Roll Bounce. That’s what kinda helped me get this role.
Sentinel: How was it filming on location in rural Louisiana?
Epps: It was cool. You know when you film in an area like that and you don’t know anybody, there’s really not a lot to do, but we made the best of it. You become like a close-knit family.
Sentinel: What message should people expect to get from Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins?
Epps: Family values. It’s about having fun, not forgetting where you come from, and all that stuff.
Sentinel: What do you have coming up on the horizon?
Epps: I have a small role in this new movie Hancock, with Will Smith. And I did a TV show that’s coming out on Comedy Central.
Sentinel: What is it going to be called?
Epps: The Mike Epps Show, it’s a variety comedy show.
Sentinel: Wow, that’s great. When’s that premiering?
Sentinel: What was the last book you read?
Epps: The 48 Laws of Power.
Sentinel: Are you happy?
Sentinel: How do you want to be remembered?
Epps: I want to be remembered as a funny, loving guy.
Epps appears in “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” which arrives on DVD June 17. His new film, “Hancock” featuring Will Smith premieres in theatres July 2.