Is Martin Lawrence still funny? A few people asked the question prior to his Friday-night performance at the Pearl, openly wondering which Lawrence they'd see: the genius behind his classic concert films, 1994's You So Crazy and 2002's Runteldat; the guy whose physical comedy (a la Steve Martin) and TV and film characters (a la Eddie Murphy) made his self-titled Fox sitcom must-see TV in the 1990s for young black America; or an aging performer struggling to get his groove back?
The answer: All of the above.
Lawrence's near-capacity show provided glimpses of the actor/comedian he used to be, one who mined vulgarity for all it's worth and used himself as the butt of jokes (a la Richard Pryor). But the self-deprecation was the least funny part of the show, perhaps because few people remember all the trouble he got into the late '90s: arrests, bouts with drug abuse and the infamous incident in 1996 when an armed Lawrence ran down LA's Ventura Boulevard shouting obscenities.
- Martin Lawrence. March 19. The Pearl.
"It's been six years," Lawrence said of his last stand-up performance, and the rust showed as he struggled a bit with punch-line timing and pacing, creating awkward dead spots between jokes. Lawrence has never been a social satirist of Pryor or Redd Foxx's stature, and his state-of-the-union forays lacked punch and cultural relevance. White-folks-mad-because-we-got-a-black-president jokes are well past their use-by date, as are you-know-a-relationship-is-good-or-bad-when... skits (which went on entirely too long).
Though time has added a few pounds to his frame, Lawrence thankfully retained his ability to elicit laughs by acting, well, so crazy. Punctuating punch lines with his signature herky-jerk dancing, bug-eyed faces and jackrabbit pelvic thrusts drew the most applause, helping settle him into better material about how the vagaries of everyday life provide the richest, most comedic moments.
Like this one: After a pregnancy, "a woman's body looks like a cat scratched it all the fuck up. There's not enough cocoa butter in the world to cover up those lines. But you have to love those lines, licking every one. Yum, yum." Not uproarious on paper, but it was scream-inducing in person, trust me. Lawrence had just enough gut-busters to satisfy. Given that he's been away from the stage for six years, that's admirable. But fully getting his comedic groove back? That'll take lots more practice — and better material.