Martin Lawrence’s career may have slowed in recent years, but back in the 80s and 90s, he was a force to be reckoned with. A talented comedian and actor, Lawrence shot to fame after starring as the eponymous Martin Payne in Fox’s sitcom Martin between 1992 and 1997. After the show stopped running, Lawrence continued to make a name for himself in many blockbuster films including Nothing to Lose and Big Momma’s House.
Since then, Lawrence has continued to work on a fair few TV shows and films. Most recently, in 2020 he reprised his role as Marcus Burnett in Bad Boys for Life (the third instalment of the Bad Boys franchise) alongside Will Smith.
Here are 20 things you never knew about him.
20. He still gets nervous performing stand-up
Stage fright might get more manageable the longer you spend in the spotlight, but it never goes away entirely, as evidenced by Martin Lawrence. Although Lawrence has been working in the entertainment business since the 80s, to this day he still gets nervous before going on stage to perform a stand-up routine.
Lawrence revealed this surprising fact while speaking to Esquire in 2016, when he said: “Before every show I’m nervous. But that’s alright because they’re good nerves.”
“They keep me focused and they keep me in line to do what I gotta do,” he continued. “I take my nerves and I bottle it up and I channel that energy and I go up there and do what I’m supposed to do.”
Lawrence has seen consistent success when it comes to his stand-up routines, with his show You So Crazy ranking #27 on IMDb’s list of the best comedy stand-up shows of all time.
You So Crazy was released in 1994 and was followed by two more Lawrence specials, Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat in 2002, and Martin Lawrence: Doin’ Time in 2016.
So, despite Martin Lawrence still experiencing the same stagefright that he faced at the beginning of his career, it clearly hasn’t prevented him from developing a comedic filmography that spans decades.
19. He initially wanted to be a boxer
Before he was a successful comedian and actor, Martin Lawrence gravitated to another hobby to get his energy out. While he was a teenager Lawrence proved to have a natural gift for boxing.
Since both boxing and comedy require a certain level of fearlessness, determination and ability to improvise, it is unsurprising that Lawrence’s building aptitude for one pastime only made him better at the other.
Martin Lawrence rose quickly through the ranks of the amateur boxing world, even becoming a Mid-Atlantic Golden Gloves contender at the tender age of just 15.
It seemed obvious at the time that Lawrence could easily have gone all the way and pursued a life of professional boxing, so what was it that prompted him to change career paths? His mother, apparently.
Speaking to Jimmy Fallon in 2020, Lawrence said he stopped participating in the sport because he once “got [his] eye swollen… I came home and I had a big eye.”
Lawrence went on to explain: “And my mother said that’s it, no more for you, and I’ve been doing comedy ever since.” It’s fair to say that Fallon spoke for us all when he responded “thank goodness!”
18. He used to ‘bomb’ in his early days of stand-up
Starting his career in entertainment as a boxer meant that Martin Lawrence cultivated resilience from the beginning. He was used to getting knocked down and having to find the strength to get back up, which no doubt helped him in his comedy journey too.
That was necessary because, as surprising as it sounds, Lawrence was not an overnight success. Despite going on to become a huge name in both stand-up and cinema, Martin Lawrence had his fair share of terrible gigs as a young comic.
Martin Lawrence has always been very open about how he reached his present level of success. Speaking to Esquire in 2016, he spoke candidly about his struggle to make audiences laugh in his career’s early days:
“I didn’t get [big laughs] when I first went on stage. I didn’t get gut-busting laughs when I first went on stage. I actually bombed when I first went on stage,” he said.
Martin Lawrence went on to say: “I couldn’t believe it. I knew in my heart I was funny. I was like, “I’m better than that.” So what I did was I paid my money to see the headliners on the weekends.”
He continued. “I just studied the headliners and then I came back and I tried it again and I was funny.” Obviously, the strategy of learning from the giants in his field paid off, as he soon found himself getting similar levels of enthusiasm from his audiences.
17. He used to work as a telephone salesman alongside Salt-N-Pepa
Almost every celebrity has at least one wild story about the normal jobs they worked at before their big break. Martin Lawrence is no different.
Before he found major success, Lawrence worked as a telephone sales representative for Sears, Roebuck and Co, which wasn’t a particularly glamorous or exciting job.
Speaking about his time in the role, Martin Lawrence said: “We used to sell maintenance agreements. So when you buy new appliances, we would sell warranties and stuff over the phone. And I never sold none.”
However, the fact that the future comedian wasn’t very good at his customer service job isn’t the most interesting part of the story, as the biggest surprise comes in the form of his old coworkers.
The craziest part of it all is that Salt-N-Pepa (aka Cheryl James and Sandra Denton) were actually Lawrence’s co-workers at Sears. The only difference between the two musicians and the aspiring comedian was that the girls were far more motivated and competent while at work.
Speaking about the days he spent working alongside James and Denton, Martin Lawrence said: “I used to mess with them every day, wouldn’t let them get their work done, flirting with them and everything.” Sounds like the pair were probably glad to stop having to shoo him away so they could concentrate, even if all three remained friends.
16. LeBron James teamed up with Nike to make Martin Lawrence-themed sneakers
— Complex Sneakers (@ComplexSneakers) April 6, 2019
From 1992 to 1997, Martin Lawrence starred in his own television sitcom, called Martin. The show was an instant success and played a large part in helping Fox to become a competitive network in terms of ratings.
Martin won a People’s Choice Award in 1994 for Best New Comedy, and the show remained much beloved long after it had finished airing. So it’s no surprise that a brand would choose to cash in on Martin nostalgia with a product that pays tribute to the show.
Back in April 2019, basketball star LeBron James and Nike released a pair of sneakers that were inspired by Martin. James debuted the sneakers on April 5 2019 in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The pair of LeBron 16s are coloured with purple, orange and yellow to reflect the Martin logo. Lawrence’s catchphrases are also featured on the heel section of the shoe.
Lawrence was pleased with the design and expressed his thanks to James in a video posted on Twitter, saying: “Thank you LeBron, I appreciate it brother – this means a lot to me, much love.”
Martin is not the only show that Nike has immortalised in shoe-form over the years though. In 2019, Nike also released a Stranger Things inspired collection, as well as a colorway inspired by the classic TV show Friends.
15. He fell into a three-day coma after jogging in a fat suit for Big Momma’s House
Many actors have pushed their bodies and minds to the limit in order to prepare for a role, whether that means losing dangerous amounts of weight in a short period of time, or just living in self-imposed isolation for months to get into a character’s head.
With that said, we don’t often associate those kinds of method acting risks with comedy actors, since the light-hearted plots of funny movies usually don’t require serious sacrifices from their cast.
However, back in August 1999, Lawrence slipped into a three-day coma. He collapsed from heat exhaustion after jogging in a fat suit while preparing for Big Momma’s House in 38 °C heat.
Lawrence was taken to a hospital where he was put on a ventilator and only narrowly escaped death. He recovered after emerging from a near-fatal coma which was triggered by his dangerously high body temperature of 42 °C.
Naturally, production on Big Momma’s House was delayed while he convalesced. This brush with death didn’t prove to be a bad omen for the film though, as when it eventually came out in 2000, it brought in an impressive $200 million at the box office.
Not only that, but Lawrence’s terrifying experience did not stop him from returning to the character multiple times, as he returned to play Big Momma in both 2006’s Big Momma’s House 2 and 2011’s Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.
14. He’s banned from ever appearing on SNL again
In 1994, Martin Lawrence was at the top of his game. His sitcom was at the peak of its popularity, he had just released his first stand-up special, and he was taking his comedy career to new heights by hosting Def Comedy Jam.
Hosting Saturday Night Live seemed like the next logical step, so when he was asked in February 1994, no one was surprised. With that said, after audiences eagerly tuned in to hear his opening monologue, they were certainly shocked.
To put it bluntly: after Martin Lawrence finished his stint on Saturday Night Live, he was banned not just from ever returning to the show again, but also from appearing on the network as a whole.
Not only was his entire monologue edited out of all reruns of the show, but it was also removed before the episode was even syndicated, making it not only infamous but also difficult to find for a period of time.
The ban was prompted after Lawrence made several controversial jokes, which most of the watching audience believed to be deeply sexist and disgusting. Lawrence’s comments were described as “grotesque” by critics, as he spoke at length about feminine hygiene and genitalia.
The network received over 200 complaints as a result of Lawrence’s outburst. However, the level of taboo associated with the clips has obviously decreased over the years, since SNL were able to release videos and a transcript of Lawrence’s brief appearance on the show.
13. Kendrick Lamar once walked out of an interview because the host wasn’t familiar with Martin Lawrence
Martin Lawrence has many, many fans both inside and outside of the comedy world, so it’s no real surprise that rapper Kendrick Lamar counts himself as one of them.
Lamar is such a staunch fan of Lawrence that he even once walked out of an interview in protest, after the host didn’t know much about Martin Lawrence’s early career.
In a clip aired on the Jimmy Fallon show in 2020, Lamar was asked by an interviewer what he does after live shows. “I go back and watch Martin,” he replied.
When the host asked: “What’s Martin?”, Lamar was incredulous, saying: “Martin! Martin! Martin Lawrence, Martin.” When the confused host confessed to not being familiar with the show, Lamar simply got up and walked away, speechless.
Martin Lawrence later appeared on Jimmy Fallon himself, and Kendrick Lamar’s display of loyalty was one of the first things he talked about.
Lawrence couldn’t help but laugh at the poor baffled interviewer when the clip was played, but he tied things up in a really sweet way, talking about how much of an honour it is to have a whole new generation grow up loving his work and quoting his iconic catchphrases.
12. He popularised the phrase ‘you go girl!’
Lots of comedians have come up with popular catchphrases over the years, from George Burns’ “say goodnight Gracie!” to Sid Stone’s “tell ya what I’m gonna do!”
Martin Lawrence is no different, as throughout his time writing and starring in Martin, he managed to create a few iconic catchphrases of his own, some of which we still say now!
For example, “you go girl!’ is a phrase that’s become embedded in pop culture – but did you know that Martin Lawrence was the first person to popularise it?
Lawrence actually coined the term and had used it in several of his stand-up routines before he began using it on the TV. When he started producing Martin, he even named his production company You Go Boy! Productions, as a nod to the now ubiquitous phrase.
Lawrence created many other popular catchphrases while working on Martin, including “wazzup” and “get ta steppin'”. It’s fair to say that the show was a huge influence on 90s pop culture.
If you need a clue as to what degree Lawrence shaped the collective lexicon of the 90s, think about how many of these words we still jokingly use today, without any connection to the original show or Martin Lawrence himself!
11. He’s got a history of being arrested and hospitalised for emotional problems
Fame is a difficult thing to manage. As well as being under constant scrutiny, the pressure of having to work consistently to maintain your relevance and reputation can lead to burnout and depression, if not even worse physical side-effects.
Over the years, Martin Lawrence has had his fair share of brushes with exhaustion. His hectic work schedule, and his tendency to juggle multiple roles at once, has put him frequently at risk of overworking himself.
The first incident occurred back in July 1995, when Lawrence was on set filming A Thin Line Between Love and Hate and suddenly lashed out in an unprovoked rage.
He was subsequently hospitalised at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where doctors stated that the incident had been triggered by high levels of stress and anxiety.
This wasn’t to be the last time Lawrence was hospitalised after a violent outburst, however. In 1996, police were called after Lawrence was spotted walking in traffic and yelling at passing cars.
When officers stopped him, they discovered a gun in his pocket. He was then taken to Sherman Oaks Hospital and Health Center. Hospital officials later claimed that Lawrence had behaved erratically because he had failed to take prescribed medication.
10. His wife filed a restraining order against him
Unfortunately, Martin Lawrence’s occasional outbursts haven’t only affected his health. They also contributed to the breakdown of his first marriage, to former Miss Virginia Patricia Southall.
Martin Lawrence married Southall in 1995, just two years after she won the Miss Virginia crown in 1993, and the year after she represented Virginia in the 1994 Miss USA pageant, placing first runner-up to Miss South Carolina.
Martin Lawrence and Patricia Southall were married for just two years, and had one daughter together, named Jasmine Page, who was born in 1996.
Lawrence and Southall had originally met in 1992, while she was working in the media office of Virginia Governor Lawrence Douglas Wilder. Lawrence came through the town to film a Def Comedy Jam concert, and the two hit it off immediately and decided to keep in touch.
Their marriage came to an abrupt end in 1997 though, with Southall filing for divorce and also requesting a restraining order be put on Martin Lawrence, in order to stop them from having any further contact.
The restraining order was granted after Southall alleged that Lawrence had verbally harassed her on numerous occasions, and had even threatened to kill her.
9. He started doing stand-up for his mother
Many people have interests and hobbies that they have loved ever since childhood, but not everyone manages to make a career out of the thing they have been playing at doing since they were kids.
Martin Lawrence began polishing up his stand-up skills when his material was significantly less grown-up than it is now, and when his only audience consisted of his mother and siblings.
Martin Lawrence was the fourth one born in a family of six, so he might have had to work hard to get any attention and stand out from his siblings.
However, his early attraction to comedy had nothing to do with him being a middle child who needed to perform in order to be paid attention to, as his motivation to make people laugh came from a much more wholesome place.
In actual fact, Martin Lawrence came to comedy because he loved making his mother laugh, since she spent so much time working hard and trying to keep the family afloat.
As a single mother, she sometimes had to work three jobs at once to support her six children, and so Lawrence would make up little jokes and routines in order to cheer her up and make her feel better when she came home from work. How sweet!
8. He was born in Germany as a military brat
Throughout the 90s, Martin Lawrence dominated the comedy landscape of America, and he’s still one of the most beloved American comics working today.
So it may surprise you to learn that, despite spending much of his upbringing in Washington DC’s Maryland, Lawrence was actually born in Frankfurt, Germany.
Martin Lawrence was born in 1965, when both his parents were living overseas at a military base in Germany. He grew up there with his siblings, thanks to his father’s position in the army.
Lawrence spent many of his formative early years in Frankfurt, although he mostly socialised within the military base with other children of American army officers.
It was only when Martin Lawrence was seven that his father made the decision to leave his post, and move the whole family back to America to settle for good.
Thankfully, Lawrence was still young enough that being uprooted and moving across the world didn’t really have an impact on his personality or later comedy, and now most people aren’t even aware of the details about his early life.
7. His idol is Richard Pryor
No matter how influential and famous an entertainer becomes over the course of their career, most have an idol in their field that they constantly compare themselves to, and hope to come close to in terms of success in their lifetime.
Whether it’s the droves of musicians who idolise David Bowie, or the many contemporary comics who spent their childhood studying everything Robin Williams did, every performer has at least one celebrity who they love and strive to equal in their work.
For Martin Lawrence, that celebrity is Richard Pryor. Like Lawrence would grow up to do, Pryor balanced stand-up comedy with a lucrative acting career, and Lawrence was enchanted by him from a young age.
As a kid, Lawrence watched both his stand-up specials and his movies, and he has consistently called Pryor his main comedic influence throughout his life, even today.
That said, when it comes to Martin Lawrence’s fashion specifically, he has claimed that Eddie Murphy is actually his chief influence. Lawrence wore baggy leather jackets and trousers for his first few live comedy specials in direct homage to Murphy’s tendency to wear leather suits in his early performances.
Speaking about his influences in an interview, Lawrence said: “Those are the two that made me do what I wanted to do as far as stand up, Richard Pryor… and then Eddie Murphy came along with the leather suits … and with the swag and the cool and all that. That sure is the reason I wore it, because Eddie wore his leather suit, so I said, ‘Let me wear leather suits.'”
6. He was named after Martin Luther King and President Kennedy
It’s a pretty common sentiment that if you want your child to go far in life, you have to give them the kind of strong and recognisable name that will instantly set them up for success.
So it’s no surprise that Martin Lawrence managed to work his way up the ranks in Hollywood and become one of comedy’s most formidable figures, since he takes his names from two incredibly powerful figures.
The Martin in Martin Lawrence’s name comes from Martin Luther King Jr, the famous Baptist minister, activist and voice of the American Civil Rights movement.
That part of his name is pretty obvious, but what you might not know is that Martin Lawrence’s middle name is actually Fitzgerald, which is a name taken from another famous figure.
The Fitzgerald in Lawrence’s name comes from former-President John F. Kennedy, whose middle name was also Fitzgerald. Lawrence’s mother chose both names in the hopes that their important connotations would help him to stand out from the crowd.
There’s no doubt that growing up with the names of two influential and powerful figures would be inspiring, but since Martin Lawrence has always excluded the Fitzgerald from his stage name, it might also be also fair to say that one of the names is far more contemporary and cool than the other.
5. His parents got divorced when he was very young
If there was any other reason that Martin Lawrence’s mother picked Luther King Kr and JFK to name her son after, it was probably in the hope that it would instil in him some of the resilience that both figures had to show throughout their lives.
Like both the activist and President, Martin Lawrence also had to defy the odds in order to find success, as his home life was tumultuous and difficult for much of his childhood.
Once Lawrence landed in the states with his parents and five siblings, it wasn’t long before his father exited the picture, leaving his mother to make the best of the situation.
Martin Lawrence was just eight years old when his parents got divorced and his father left, and from that point onwards he did not see much of him.
Instead, he watched as his mother worked three jobs at a time to support him and his siblings, and internalised the need to work tirelessly in order to make his goals a reality.
Later, when talking about his attitude once his show Martin was confirmed to be greenlit, Lawrence said: “I did everything I could. I knew I only had one shot at making it work.”
4. He appeared on Star Search early in his career
By the time the mid-2000s rolled around, Martin Lawrence had worked his way up to household name status, having starred in several movies, released several specials, and even appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio.
However, he was also gracing people’s screens far earlier than future fans of his may have realised, since he was one of many young entertainers to begin his career on Star Search.
All the way back in 1983, when Martin Lawrence was just 18, he appeared on an episode of Star Search and did some of his first-ever comedy in front of a live audience.
Though appearing on the show did not skyrocket his career the way it did for some other contestants at the time, his decision to compete did put him in the path of his first professional agent.
After his appearance on Star Search, it took another five years for his career to begin properly, but the show no doubt helped him to get a feel for what performing comedy in front of an audience is actually like.
Thankfully, he left the Hawaiian shirt that he wore on the show in the past when he found success and transitioned to wearing baggy leather suits while on stage for the rest of his early comedy career.
3. He helped kickstart the careers of other comedians
Martin Lawrence’s early career was pretty cyclical. After having his own chances at success boosted by being on Star Search early on, he spent the early 90s helping to boost the profiles of other up-and-coming comedians.
From 1992 to 1993, Lawrence hosted the Def Comedy Jam, which played host to a number of comics at the beginnings of their own rise to fame.
Hosted at the Uptown Comedy Club in Harlem, New York, Martin Lawrence showcased a bunch of live stand-up comedy sets from local comedians hoping to make it big.
The show featured numerous names that are instantly recognisable now, from Tiffany Hadish and Vanessa Fraction to Cory Fernandez and DeRay Davis.
Several of the comedians who appeared on the show followed Martin Lawrence’s trajectory, beginning as just stand-up comics but eventually branching out to focus more and more on acting roles.
DeRay Davis and Tiffany Hadish both went on to have successful film careers in their own right, with Haddish helming comedies like Night School, Girls Trip and Like A Boss.
2. His career renaissance started in 2020
Very few actors can maintain the same level of momentum and career success across decades; most instead have periods of relevance where they turn out lots of work, and then quieter periods where they rest.
There’s no doubt that the Martin Lawrence boom was in the mid-90s and early 2000s, but we may actually be heading into a new Lawrence golden age right now.
After the Big Momma franchise wound down and was brought to a close in 2011, Martin Lawrence went through a sparse period in which he did not take on very many projects.
Though he did release his first comedy special in around 14 years in that timeframe, it was obvious that his focus was very much away from Hollywood, and that churning out new releases was not really his priority.
However, 2020 brought with it Bad Boys for Life, the long-awaited third instalment in the Bad Boys series, which began as a Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star vehicle in 1995.
With 90s nostalgia slowly creeping into pop culture, and this beloved series returning to shake up the buddy cop genre, could a Martin Lawrence renaissance be around the corner? Only time will tell!
1. He has been engaged three times
Martin Lawrence has spent a long time cultivating a career in the public eye, and with that has come his fair share of celebrity relationships.
His first relationship with a well-known star was in 1993, when he got engaged to Lark Voorhies, the former child actress who made a name for herself on Saved By the Bell.
The couple broke off their engagement in the same year, and Martin Lawrence went on to date former Miss USA pageant competitor Patricia Southall soon after, marrying her in 1995. Southall and Lawrence got divorced in 1997.
In the same year as his divorce from Southall, Martin Lawrence began dating Shamicka Gibbs. The pair were married in 2010, after over a decade of seeing each other, and they also share two daughters.
Unfortunately, the pair also filed for divorce in 2012, citing irreconcilable differences, and requesting joint custody of the children. Martin Lawrence has not had any public celebrity relationships since.