Cedric Antonio Kyles, aka Cedric the Entertainer, has done just about everything you can do in show business. The 50-year-old native of Jefferson City, Missouri, has been a stand-up comic, a TV host (BET's "Comicview" and "Def Comedy Jam"), game show host ("Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"), voice actor ("Madagascar"), Broadway performer (the 2008 revival of David Mamet's "American Buffalo") and film star ("Barbershop," "The Honeymooners"). Known for playing roles that alternate between cuddly and outrageous, Cedric currently has a larger-than-life cameo in "Top Five" (opening Friday) as a "handler" who provides a touring comedian (Chris Rock) with drugs, liquor and available women. Lewis Beale spoke with The Entertainer during a publicity tour.
You have a real knack for playing these out-there characters, like the grumpy guy who criticized Rosa Parks in "Barbershop." Where does that come from?
There's a little bit of slice of life, people you run across. When I read the script, saw what Chris Rock, the writer-director, was about to accomplish, well, I met guys like this throughout my career. He's a former drug guy, hustler. He believes he's a businessman.
What's Chris Rock like as a director?
This movie will prove to be one of his best acting and directorial jobs. It resembles his life a bit, people he knows closely, like Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. He was well-prepared, he had his shots set up. It's a comedy, but I thought he had cool messages about fame, the desire to be known for something else, to be famous beyond the category people put you in. I loved the fact he used being inside a reality show as the most fame his character was getting.
Growing up, what were your comic influences?
Very early in, my grandmother was a huge Jackie Gleason fan. I remember watching his variety show. He was a big guy, light on his feet, we always saw him as the boss. As I grew older, I was influenced by Richard Pryor, seeing Eddie Murphy on "Saturday Night Live." I had an uncle who was the funny guy in our family; everyone couldn't wait until he came around -- he was someone I liked being around.
A lot of people first discovered you when you appeared in Spike Lee's "Original Kings of Comedy," with Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac and D.L. Hughley. How important was that for your career?
I had been on "The Steve Harvey Show," on "Def Comedy Jam"; I already felt famous. But because of the size of the tour, the magnitude of the movie, to this day I do recognize that most people know me from that.
Speaking of Bernie Mac, who died in 2008. You spoke at his funeral and recently told the Huffington Post what a great influence he was on your life and work. What made him special?
He had a very sharp edge about the perspective of society, this urban perspective, and he was true to it. You felt like you had to deal with this personality. Bernie was able to cross that line; he was commercial, but his edge was legitimate.
If you had to choose between doing only clean comedy or going totally blue, which would you choose?
I would go with clean comedy. I think we all have these dirty sides, but I like cleanliness; I would prefer to be clean, I would like to make you laugh from a place that doesn't need vulgarity. It's like I want my house clean.
You've done pretty much everything in show business from game show host to Broadway actor. Which was the most difficult for you?
Broadway was the hardest I worked to be recognized as a performer. When you do stand-up, you have the freedom of your own commentary; when you do Broadway, you do not have the leisure as an artist to add anything, other than your performance. I'm so used to add so much of my stuff; in the movies, I improvise and improve my character.
With the death of performers like Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, a lot of people are talking about the state of comedy today. What's your take?
It always changes. But I believe that there are people out there with voices, like Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle. I like Hannibal Buress. I think a lot of these people are funny and unique, and will make themselves known. People who have commentary, an interesting sense of humor.