Mike Epps has definitely carved out his lane in Hollywood; the comedian and actor, who first made noise with his stand-up comedy and later gained national attention starring alongside Ice Cube in the hit comedy Next Friday, has become a household name. His career has soared to new heights with major roles in feature films like Jumping the Broom, Sparkle and The Hangover franchise, and he is currently amid his successful worldwide “After Dark Tour.”
SoulTrain.com spoke with Epps to discuss his career, the tour, philanthropy and the often symbiotic world of music and comedy.
SoulTrain.com: You’re currently on your “After Dark Tour,” with stops in over 40 cities in the U.S. as well as dates in Australia. How are things going?
Mike Epps: Everything is good! I’m out here bobbing and weaving trying to achieve it! I’m out here hanging like wet clothes trying to get it! But the tour is really good. This year, I’m doing Mike Epps “grown and sexy;” to come to this show, you can’t just be grown, you gotta be sexy, too! For this tour, I’m talking about some real good stuff this year and also, I’m putting on three-piece suits with alligator boots!
SoulTrain.com: Speaking of stand-up, you’re regularly on tour but lately, it seems more and more comedians are stepping away from touring. Do you think you’ll leave the stage and just focus on films and acting?
Mike Epps: The thing about stand-up comedy is it complements you being in movies. I make sure I keep my tours sharp and I make sure I stay in front of my core audience. I mix it up like that; when I’m not doing movies, I’m doing stand-up and when I’m not doing stand-up, I’m doing movies. But I’m always going to do stand-up.
SoulTrain.com: You’re enjoying an acting career that is steadily on the rise and you’ve been very vocal about changing up the direction of your roles, taking things to new levels and embracing your dramatic side more. How often are you met with resistance by directors and producers who insist on pigeonholing you as the “funny guy?”
Mike Epps: This happens all the time. I have to continuously reinvent myself in Hollywood because you can be typecast and get caught up doing the same thing over and over and of course, people get tired of seeing you do the same thing. I have to continue to challenge myself, [that’s why] I did Sparkle and [the upcoming] Term Life with Vince Vaughn and Stealing Cars with John Leguizamo. I’m always taking chances when it comes to movie roles to expand my talent and give people a chance to see me in a different light.
SoulTrain.com: Music is closely tied to your career; you’ve hosted the BET Hip Hop Awards several times, you’ve appeared in music videos, and you’ve co-starred in feature films with music giants including Ice Cube, as well as Beyoncé and the late Whitney Houston. What are your thoughts on the relationship between music and comedy?
Mike Epps: I consider myself a musical comic because I’m very in tune with music. I think stand-up comedy and music have always coincided with each other; if you look at some of the forefathers of comedy like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, they always worked with music groups. They are cut from the same cloth and it’s really all about staging and performing. People use comics all the time in their music and comics use music all the time in their acts. They’re both really relatable when it comes to being an artist.
SoulTrain.com: When you’re writing or rehearsing your stand-up material, do you listen to music? If so, what kind of artist(s) do you draw from?
Mike Epps: I listen to everything from Tupac to Marvin Gaye to Miles Davis to Earth, Wind and Fire to 80s rock to Elton John. I listen to a lot of different music and it really helps me form my jokes and gives me an insight as to what’s funny. But if you listen to a lot of musicians, they can be funny, too; sometimes, their lyrics are hilarious!
SoulTrain.com: Speaking of the late Tupac Shakur, you’ve worked closely with his mom Afeni Shakur with the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts. Can you tell us about it?
Mike Epps: Afeni Shakur, who is very vocal in the community with helping people, runs the center in Georgia in honor of her son. Every year, they do something for kids and it’s all based on helping them unleash their art when it comes to things like singing, drawing, dancing, and poetry. Being a fan of his, I’ve always felt like I wanted to help and be a part of that because I think it’s a great program and they launch a lot of great talent out of it. It’s great to be a part of and I’m always trying to lend my hand to something like that.
SoulTrain.com: Through movies, stand-up comedy tours, and a major social media presence that includes Mike Epps TV on YouTube, you are always on your fans’ radar. What is next for you?
Mike Epps: I’m always going to do philanthropy work but my core interest is in movies and television. That’s what I want to really get involved in. I’m always trying to elevate my production company and I try to put out good work and find new talent and things like that.
SoulTrain.com: You are going to branch into television—will you be doing scripted TV? Reality shows?
Mike Epps: No reality shows but right now, I’m doing a show called Survivor’s Remorse. It’s loosely based off LeBron James’ life and I play the uncle of the character that plays him. LeBron James and Time Warner are the executive producers, and it’s going to be a great project on the Starz Network. It comes out in the fall of 2014, so be on the lookout for that!
SoulTrain.com: As an entertainer and a huge fan of music, can you speak to the legacy of Soul Train?
Mike Epps: I want to send a big shout out to Soul Train and Don Cornelius. Growing up as a kid, I watched Soul Train and it was just great entertainment every Saturday. I couldn’t miss it, I love it, and I never will forget it.
For more information on Mike Epps and the “After Dark Tour,” visit his website.
LaShawn Williams is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former Arts & Culture Editor for Gapers Block. She is an arts and entertainment enthusiast with immense love for stand-up comedy, music and dance. Follow her on Twitter at @MsWilliamsWorld.