Having a good laugh is one of the most therapeutic ways of releasing pinned up emotions. We often find relief in the comfort of laughter whether it’s finding a funny anecdote from a bad situation or watching a favorite funny film or show. Most of us have a comic inside of us but few have the gift of standing out and the art of stand-up.
Mike Epps is one of the members of this elite club. The NAACP Image Award winner wrapped up his second season of the Starz series, “Survivor’s Remorse”. On the show, viewers fell in love with the character of Uncle Julius—the streetwise and playboy uncle of pro basketball player, Cam who moves from the projects to the suburbs of Atlanta into his nephew’s mansion.
In the season finale, Epps character is last seen in an ugly automobile crash—leaving fans wondering if this is the final curtain bow on the series.
Epps enters a new chapter in this television career, taking on the role of the new ABC television summer series, “Uncle Buck” premiering June 14. The family comedy is a modern-day adaption of the 1989 film starring the late comedic actor, John Candy.
“First of all, I could never follow John Candy. John Candy was a remarkable comedian at what he did. At the time, it was great as a film. My “Uncle Buck” is Mike Epps into the title of Uncle Buck. At first when I was offered the show, I got a little intimidated, people are going to look at me like, ‘That’s not John Candy.’ I thought about it,” he said. “My kids and the new millenniums they don’t even know who John Candy is. I think the show is going to be an education as well as a homecoming for those that remember John Candy.”
We best remember Epps from his earlier start on the comedy circuit in the early 1990’s. A native of Indianapolis, Epps would often travel to Chicago to hit the comedy circuit often becoming a familiar face at the Clique Nightclub, the Cotton Club and All Jokes Aside.
He says his second out-of-town comedy gig was in Chicago at the Clique formerly E2 Nightclub on South Michigan. “I rode on a Greyhound bus to the Clique. Tony Sculfield was hosting that night. My first time on stage was in front of a Chicago crowd.”
After receiving $1,500 from his tax returns he moved to the Big Apple where he eventually ran out of money. After camping out on his manager’s sofa for two weeks, he got his big break appearing on Russell Simmons’s HBO series, Def Comedy Jam.
One night as he’s finishing up his stand-up act, he was unaware that Ice Cube and John Singleton was in the audience. Impressed by his act, they were introduced and invited him to audition for the film Next Friday; eventually landing the role of Day-Day.
One of the first purchases he made with his money—a charcoal BMW 745 and a washer and dryer for his mother.
“I come from a poor background. Everything that I get, I feel like I have to share it. I’m learning as an adult—you can’t share that. You can’t make this person happy—you can’t buy them. I’ve had such a hard time saying ‘no’.”
Epps came from humble beginnings, growing up in Indianapolis—raised by a single mother. He dropped out of school in 8th grade and was intrigued by the street guys that graced the neighborhood. Everything that has carried him thus far throughout his success he says is through his faith in God and his mother. Since then, he has bought the six homes that he and family were evicted from, fixing them up and making sure his aunts and cousins currently reside in them in his hometown.
This past month, he went back to Indianapolis and graduated from Arsenal Tech High School earning his high school degree.
“I contribute this to my mother who allowed me to go out there in the world, through her prayers and experience everything that I needed to experience at a young age. I didn’t understand. My momma didn’t know what I was doing or where I was at the age of 15 or 16 but her prayers got me through a lot of stuff.”
Some of his film credits include Friday after Next, All About the Benjamins, Sparkle, Repentance, Bessie, Jumping the Broom for which he won an NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2011. Epps most recent role as Richard Pryor can be seen in the Nina Simone biopic, Nina, starring Zoe Saldana.
A small role that he said he was born to play prepared him for the lead role in the actual biopic based on the life of legendary actor and comedian, Richard Pryor. The project that has been in the works for the past ten years. He would often visit both Pryor and his wife forming a close bond.
Preparing for such an iconic role is a challenge with Pryor’s daughters and other family members in dispute with the film’s producers but Epps refrains from discussing it—rather focusing on the job he’s been hired to do.
“Tapping into somebody that was so complexed. As an actor, as a comedian, I know for me to pull it off—I have to go into some dark places even in my own personal life. A sacrifice is a sacrifice. In order to give the people what they want, I have to sacrifice that and disappear and go away—deeply engulf myself into the role.”
Just recently, during a visit to Chicago to promote his new television show—the comedic star made an impromptu visit to the South Side visiting students at Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Ameena Matthews of Pause for Peace is a long-time friend of Epps and invited him to speak to the student body.
Moved by the senseless violence that has engulfed the streets, he felt his visit was a ‘no brainer’. “These kids very rarely see successful people in their presence that take the time out to speak to them. To try to educate them on show business, Hollywood or about life itself—God put it on my heart. I love these children because I come from this. This is my ministry.”
A father himself, all of his fame and fortune is not what brings a smile to his face—it’s the joy of his children. “My kids are the best gifts that I’ve ever had. Just being excited about going to hospital and seeing them—this kid, this baby. Nothing could top that. My experience with my kids.”
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