Comedian and box office blockbusting actor Martin Lawrence has seen incredible financial highs and lows throughout his career. From his tenure as the host of Def Comedy Jam to his culture-shifting self-titled sitcom to his hit “Bad Boys” film franchise, few in Hollywood have been able to tickle the funny bone like this German-born star has.
On April 20, Lawrence received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and became one of perhaps a dozen Black comedians to receive such an honor. A quick review of his portfolio shows how the comedian has navigated the rocky road of success and settled with an estimated net worth of $110 million.
Cracking Jokes and Discipline Laid the Foundation
An Army brat, Martin was born in Frankfurt and grew up in Prince George’s County in Maryland. There, he honed his craft as a comedian, cracking jokes in class and performing his stand-up routines for his peers.
Lawrence was in the gym boxing when he was not making people laugh in school.
“Boxing kept me out of the streets, by giving me something to do,” he once said, adding the sport provided discipline and structure for him after his parents divorced. “And it gave me a father figure in the coach that was there for me. It just reiterated what my mother was trying to teach me about focusing and getting my life together.”
This discipline is exactly what he needed to succeed in comedy.
After graduating from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, he earned a spot as a comedian on the early talent competition show, Star Search, and secured a role on “What’s Happening Now!” a popular all-Black ensemble sitcom in 1985.
A Star is Born
Lawrence’s trajectory was ascending, and shortly afterward he landed two pivotal roles that would change his life: a spot in the Academy Award-nominated film “Do the Right Thing” and with his cousin Christopher “Play” Martin in two of the “House Party” movies. These movies caught the eye of his now-friend Eddie Murphy and helped Lawrence become the “Saturday Night Live” alum’s wingman in the romantic comedy “Boomerang.”
As an on-screen funnyman, Martin, who has over 43 acting credits to his name, was hot and unstoppable.
In August 1992, his life would change forever with the debut of the “Martin” show. It featured Lawrence as radio host Martin Payne, Tisha Campbell as his girlfriend Gina, a cast of friends, and an opportunity for the comedian to create characters the world would come to love like Sheneneh Jenkins, Jerome, his character’s mother Edna, and Dragonfly Jones.
According to The Guardian, the show averaged 11 million viewers in its first season, all who tuned in to hear Lawrence say, “You so crazy” or “Get to Stepping.”
Despite the show’s success, his salary reportedly was only $100,000 when he started in 1992. By 1997, he received $6 million to star in “Nothing to Lose,” changing his life forever.
Remarkably, while Lawrence seemed to be on top of the world in the mid-‘’90s, it was not without controversy. The man dubbed the “next Richard Pryor” struggled with success and had a highly publicized breakdown in May 1996.
Police detained Lawrence after he was discovered wandering in the middle of a Los Angeles intersection, shouting “Fight the power!” He was said to have had a loaded handgun in his pocket and mucus on his face.
A few months later, while attempting to board a plane to Phoenix, he was arrested at the Burbank Airport for having a loaded 9mm Beretta on his person.
The comedian did not face any charges in either case.
However, it cost him something. By October, he started the process of divorcing his wife, Patricia Lawrence. Patricia told a judge at the time he threatened to kill her and her family, and she was awarded a restraining order.
In 1997, the biggest dent in his career transpired. Campbell, Lawrence’s co-star, and TV wife made sexual harassment and battery allegations against him, accusations he denied, but he agreed to no longer film scenes with her during the last seasons of the show.
After her claim, he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly punching a Los Angeles man in the face at a dance club.
Being Bad Changed the Game
While his sitcom did not garner him a large paycheck, it afforded him a fan base that helped him command top dollar for his role in the first “Bad Boy” movie with Will Smith in 1995. When the sequel rolled around, he was able to command $20 million.
$20 million seemed to be the magic number by the time the 2000s came. He also received $20 million each time to do “Blue Streak” and “National Security,” and earned that number performing stand-up while on the road.
The amount he received to produce his four comedy specials is not clear, just as the purse he secured for the “Big Mama” movies. However, his 2002 “Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat,” is the sixth highest-grossing in-theater comedy special bringing in $19,184,920 at the box office.
His “Martin Lawrence: You So Crazy” made $10,184,701 and comes in at the eighth spot.
With his recent star on the Walk of Fame, Lawrence is now remembered as one of the most celebrated entertainers in history.
Now, with the announcement of “Bad Boy 4,” where he will return with Smith who has recently had his own career-damaging ordeal, the comedian is showing no signs of slowing down.