Comedian and actor Chris Tucker became an international movie star with “Rush Hour,” the 1998 action-comedy in which he co-starred with Jackie Chan. Tucker had made movies before – the very funny 1995 film “Friday” with Ice Cube – but “Rush Hour” launched Tucker into the stratosphere. At one point, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
Tucker has kept a relatively low profile since then, rarely making films or doing press. He’s sometimes called comedy’s great recluse, but he’s actually kept plenty busy. Tucker travels a lot, often doing overseas charity work with guys like – oh, you know – Bill Clinton and Bono.
Tucker is back on the stand-up comedy circuit these days, touring theaters and finishing up a new concert film to be released this summer. Tucker recently talked about his comedy roots, working with Bernie Mac, and his recent role in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Q: Were you into comedy as a kid?
A: Sure, I grew up watching Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. I remember going to the movies and watching Richard Pryor in “Stir Crazy,” in the famous prison scene when he was walking down the corridor. And I remember seeing Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop.” As a kid, I identified with them. At the time I didn’t know I wanted to do stand-up comedy, but I was fascinated by them.
Years later, I was hosting a talent show in my high school. I told a few jokes and had an epiphany. And that’s when I decided I’d go into show business and comedy.
Q: You were one of the first breakout stars of HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” in the 1990s. What was that scene like? Who were the guys you came up with there?
Well, Bernie Mac was on the first show I was on, but he was from an earlier generation. He had already done the first season with a lot of vet comedians. He was the headliner and I was the opener.
That was great being on the same show with him. I thought I did real good, then he went up there and just destroyed it. And that’s how I got introduced to Bernie Mac.
Q: You were recently back in the movies with “Silver Linings Playbook.” That movie has dramatic elements, but I was amazed at how funny it was. There are just huge laughs in there. What was your experience with that?
Yeah, you know what? We didn’t know going in that it was going to be humorous. We went in thinking it was going to be a drama. But when you get so many great actors together, with a great director, stuff comes out of that. We found a lot of humor in it. A lot of comedy comes out of pain like that. It felt real. It felt natural. But we didn’t know it was going to have so many laughs in it.
Q: You’ve only done a handful of films in your career, but one was Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” which I think is just hugely underrated. What was your experience with that film?
It was great working with Quentin because his dialogue was so good. I remember just saying it word-for-word because it was so natural. It made it really easy, because he knew just what he wanted. That little scene I had was a lot of fun to do.
Q: So what can people expect from Chris Tucker stand-up show circa 2013?
Oh, man. Expect a lot of stories. I tell a lot of stories.
Q: This tour is being billed as “The Return,” but you’ve been back doing stand-up comedy for a while, right?
In 2006, I went back to the clubs to start working on a new stand-up show. I went from there to doing theaters again, and for the last six years I’ve been doing that on and off, just touring. We call it “The Return” or “Coming Home.”
But now this is the World Tour. I just got back from the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi, We were in London, and we’re going to Australia. We’re taking it all over the world.
Q: How was it doing shows in Abu Dhabi?
That was my first time. The crowds were great, it was a lot of fun. There’s a lot of stuff to talk about, just being in a different country.
Q: When traveling like this on long theater tours, what do you do to keep from burning out?
You have to be on the road with people you like. You need a good crew. Because they keep you company and, you know, keep you right. So I got a great group of guys that roll with me. And I try to rest. I don’t do too much before, and make sure I give it all to the show.