The media landscape is buzzing with news of the Martin Reunion show, available today (6/16/22) on BET+. Martin Lawrence’s storied film career began with supporting roles in Do The Right Thing (1989), House Party (1991) and Boomerang (1992). However, it was television that actually made the comedian turned actor a superstar.
As host of the legendary comedy series, Def Comedy Jam (HBO) and star of the hit sitcom Martin, Lawrence was catapulted to fame as the around-the-way shock jock with a corporate girlfriend and homies navigating life in 1990s Detroit. Martin featured Lawrence as Martin Payne, Tisha Campbell as Gina, Tichina Arnold as Pam, Carl Anthony Payne II as Cole, the late Thomas “Mikal” Ford as Tommy and Garrett Morris as Stan. In the vein of legendary comic Flip Wilson, Lawrence played many roles on the show including his rude neighbor Sheneneh Jenkins, Blaxploitation star King Beef, bungling Samurai Dragonfly Jones, annoying kid Roscoe, overzealous security guard Otis, 1960s styled crooner Elroy, overbearing mother Mama Payne and played-out-pimp Jerome.
Martin was part of Fox Television’s Black television line-up that included Living Single, Roc, In Living Color and New York Undercover. This historic lineup helped turn the then-fledgling network into a bonafide network television competitor. A major example of narrowcasting, Fox used the Black shows to build an audience to attract ad revenue, eventually moving on to more traditional fare to satisfy a more desirable demographic i.e. white audiences.
Martin ran for five seasons (1992-1997), becoming an iconic show known for its humor, catchphrases like “You Go Girl,” “Damn Gina,” and run-on jokes like the fact that no one knew where Tommy worked. The show’s popularity can be attributed to Lawrence and Campbell’s comedic timing, sizzling on-screen chemistry and masterful physical comedy. The two had worked together previously on House Party and Boomerang. The supporting cast often stole the show with energetic performances and by literally “playing the dozens” on-screen.
The hilarious episodes featured a who’s who of stars like the Notiorious B.I.G., Brian McKnight, Snoop Doggy Dog, David Alan Grier, Chris Rock, Tommy Hearns, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Marla Gibbs, Sherman Hemsley, Gary Coleman, Kim Fields, Lynn Whitfield, Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas and John Witherspoon. The show ended abruptly after a sexual harassment lawsuit file by Campbell against Lawrence, who was struggling with mental illness.
Lawrence went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars starring in the Bad Boys franchise alongside Will Smith and the Big Momma’s House franchise opposite Nia Long and Paul Giamatti. Arnold and Campbell carved out successful television careers. Arnold starred as Rochelle in Everybody Hates Chris (UPN/CW), Cassie Calloway in Survivor’s Remorse (STARZ) and Tina in The Neighborhood (CBS). Campbell starred as Jay on My Wife and Kids (ABC) and Brooke on Empire (Fox). Payne has worked primarily as a producer and director following Martin, and is currently starring as Myles on Young Dylan (Nickelodeon). Ford worked steadily as an actor with numerous guest appearances on television, supporting roles in film and as co-host of the television comedy competition show, “Who’s Got Jokes?” (TV ONE) A fixture on the film festival circuit, Ford (and Payne) worked closely with the BronzeLens Film Festival, American Black Film Festival and Clark Atlanta University’s Mass Media Arts Department at the time of his death in 2016. The reunion show is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Mikal Ford.
Following the passing of Ford, who died following knee-surgery, the original cast came together in the spirit of healing and forgiveness, with Lawrence and Campbell, who legally could not be on the same set at the same time towards the end of the show, repairing their fractured relationship. In an interview on CBS Mornings, Campbell said she and Lawrence “worked really hard to reconnect, to forgive.”
The Martin Reunion Show is now available on BET+. The show will feature favorite scenes, discussions about the making of the show and a tribute to Ford. Let us know what you think about the reunion show on Twitter @TheBurtonWire.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Instagram or Twitter @Ntellectual.