Chris Tucker didn’t spend his high school years in the late 1980s agonizing about what he was going to do after graduation. Instead, the Atlanta-born entertainer started honing his act.
When school ended, he kept performing, and by 1992, he was regularly featured on HBO’s mega-hit showcase Def Comedy Jam. He became a fast favorite, his observational humor delivered with his unique high-pitched voice, quick delivery, great mastery of timing, and an energetic, inclusive nature. His expressive face really drove the material home.
In 1994, his made his movie debut with a part in House Party 3. He followed that with Friday, starring rapper Ice Cube, and then a few others, including The Fifth Element.
It was when he starred in Rush Hour with Jackie Chan in 1998, that his continuously rising star shot up to mega-stardom. People couldn’t get enough of the buddy-cop action flick, and two sequels followed. Jackie Brown and Silver Linings Playbook are among the 20-plus films he’s been in.
Tucker's been successful and prolific with his parallel careers in stand-up comedy and film. Currently, he’s on tour, with a show scheduled at Celebrity Theatre on Friday, October 13. Phoenix New Times talked with Tucker for a few minutes about things like discovering his knack for telling jokes and how he crafts his shows.
New Times: When was the first moment you realized stand-up comedy was going to be a part of your life?
I was one of the funny kids in high school. I talked my way into hosting the talent show and I told my first joke and I immediately realized that telling a joke on stage was different from telling jokes in the classroom. I told that joke and I got a big laugh. I kept hosting the shows and I’d talk about things that were going on around the school and that got laughs. That’s when the bug hit me. I thought, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” I discovered what I wanted to do at an early age.
So you just kept going from that point?
Yeah. I was in high school for about two more years after I started hosting the talent shows. Then I worked in a comedy club in Atlanta for a year, and was performing as an amateur. I became a regular, and comedians from California were coming through, telling me they thought I was good and suggesting I move to Los Angeles. So, I left for L.A. in 2002.
Did you plan to get into acting or did you just fall into it?
I definitely planned on it. I grew up watching Richard Pryor and he was a great comedian and actor, and Eddie Murphy, too, who was closer to my era. I grew up watching him as a great stand-up. I saw him that way first, then on Saturday Night Live, and then in movies. I wanted to follow their paths; they set the standards that I wanted to follow.
Was Saturday Night Live ever a goal for you?
No, it never was. I don't know why. Maybe if I'd have grown up in New York. So many great comedians came out of it, but I think I was more focused on stand-up and movies.
It didn’t take you long to blow up in both the stand-up and movie arenas. Was it hard to adjust to that level of fame?
Not really. I mean, your privacy goes away a little. Your world stops a bit when you go out — people see you and they get excited, which is great. Other than that, I think it’s just different, but it’s not bad.
What can the Phoenix audience expect to hear you talk about on your stop?
The show is always evolving, but it’s exciting, because there’s so much going on in today’s world. There are so many things to talk about. I definitely talk about what’s going on the world and offer my points of view and opinions. Also, my personal life is always fun to talk about and let people know what’s going on with me and how my life is now, all that stuff. I like to keep it balanced and fun and exciting.
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How do you plan your stand-up shows?
I'm in the moment a lot, which is what I think makes stand-up comedy special. I also have things I talk about that I prepare, but I always like to be in the moment. If something happened that day, I will probably try and include that. There’s lots of improvisation. I like every show to be different. I might do the same material at multiple shows but perform it differently every time. I've always wanted to be a perfectionist and make my show better and I want everyone in the room to laugh and enjoy it. That's my whole goal, for everyone to have a good time.
I once read a quote from you that said stand-up is your favorite thing to do, performance-wise. Is that still the case?
I might have said that, but I think at this point, I feel equally strong about stand-up and acting in movies. Stand-up helps me in the movies — it gets me ready for the movies. Doing movies is another level of expression and creativity. It allows me to use the comedic and serious sides of myself. So, both are important. I probably said that about stand-up, but the true answer is both [laughs].
You did a stand-up movie for Netflix in 2015. Is that something we’ll see from you again?
Yes, I am planning on recording this tour and eventually doing another stand-up comedy movie.
Tucker is scheduled to appear at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 13, at Celebrity Theatre, 440 North 32nd Street. Tickets are $36 to $122. Call 602-267-1600 or visit the Celebrity Theatre website.