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The Budding Career of Cedric the Entertainer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Think the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants had butterflies in their stomachs before the Super Bowl?

They had nothing on Cedric the Entertainer.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Feb. 10, 2001 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 10, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Film studio--Paramount is the studio partnered with Mandalay Pictures for the release of the film “Servicing Sara.” Another studio was mistakenly named in story about Cedric the Entertainer in Tuesday’s Calendar.

The actor-comedian, 36, who aggressively guards his legal last name and is billed exclusively with the three-word pronouncement, was at a Super Bowl party at the Tampa, Fla., home of Los Angeles Dodgers left-fielder Gary Sheffield with other friends and athletes. Everyone else was relaxed as they watched the opening minutes of the game, but Cedric was on pins and needles awaiting the first commercial break.

A timeout finally came, and the party-goers suddenly saw Cedric on the screen, romancing a beautiful woman and coolly going into the kitchen to get some beers. They saw him “getting jiggy” with the bottles in a victory dance before regaining his poise and returning to the couch. The gag: Cedric’s date receives an unexpected beer shower when he gallantly opens the agitated bottles to serve her.

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Cedric finally relaxed when he saw his pals laughing and high-fiving each other following the spot. “They all loved the energy of it,” he recalled. “I was so nervous because I hadn’t told anyone about it. But it turned out great.”

The ad scored with more than just Cedric’s friends. The commercial was rated by ad experts as one of the funniest and most effective Super Bowl ads.

And although Cedric already has a loyal fan base through his stand-up routines, his co-starring stint on the WB’s “The Steve Harvey Show”’ and his scene-stealing turns in last summer’s “Big Momma’s House” and Spike Lee’s “The Original Kings of Comedy,” the Bud Light campaign could well elevate Cedric into major league status.

The Super Bowl commercial was the first in a series of beer ads featuring Cedric. Another, which introduces him as a touchdown boogie coordinator, premiered over the weekend during the first game of the XFL. The remaining spots will roll out during the next several weeks of the fledgling football league.

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The ideas for the commercials were ignited last year when Cedric approached Anheuser-Busch Cos., the makers of Bud Light, about sponsoring a comedy tour. He wanted to do commercials to promote the tour, but soon ideas began developing for ads featuring Cedric promoting beer.

“I definitely noticed a difference in how people respond to me after the Super Bowl when I was out and about,” Cedric said last week over breakfast at a Universal City restaurant. “I mean, there were always people who knew how I was. But I’m sensing a little change now. A series is only on once a week, and you can’t see a movie that much. But commercials are on all the time.”

He added with a smile, “I’m not worrying yet. It hasn’t reached the mayhem level.”

But it soon could with Cedric’s current avalanche of projects. In addition to his continuing role on “The Steve Harvey Show” as Coach Robinson, Cedric is:

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* A co-star in the upcoming Fox Searchlight film “Kingdom Come” starring Whoopi Goldberg, opening around Easter.

* Just finishing filming a role for “Servicing Sara,” a Columbia/Mandalay Pictures release starring Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley.

* A featured performer on rapper Nelly’s Grammy-nominated CD, “Country Grammar.” He’s also up for his own Grammy for the soundtrack of “The Original Kings of Comedy.”

* Will be heard as the voice of a zoo bear in “Dr. Doolittle 2,” coming this summer.

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* Co-writing and starring in a film he sold to Universal Pictures, “Preaching Ain’t Easy,” which will also feature his “Original Kings of Comedy” co-headliners Harvey and Bernie Mac.

* Preparing to launch his own comedy revue that he would host and featuring young comedians.

* Has a pilot in development at the WB, where he would play the coach of “the losingest team in the NBA.”

Longtime admirers of Cedric are not surprised at his blossoming popularity. Reginald Hudlin, director of “Servicing Sara,” said he has long been a fan of Cedric’s. “I’ve always said that Cedric should be in the Smithsonian,” he said. “He is a perfect chronicler of the style and nuance of black people dating from 1970 to 2001. He has such a sublime talent that goes far beyond stand-up. He’s culturally specific, but he has that universal flavor that everyone can relate to. Plus, he’s incredibly nice. He doesn’t have this dark, bitter side that most comics have.”

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Cedric maintains that he is just a regular guy with an ambitious work ethic. He describes his comedy as being “down home. I try to come off as somebody you know. I want people to see me and say, ‘He’s all right.’ ”

As Cedric spoke, an easy St. Louis drawl distinguished his remarks. He was a bit sleepy--his 4 1/2-month old son had awakened him extra early that morning. He wore baggy overall jeans and a heavy sweater, along with a fashionable hat.

The performer adopted the name Cedric the Entertainer when he starting out doing comedy in the mid-1980s, taking part in competitions and doing weekly gigs in and around his hometown. He credits Harvey with giving him his major show business break when Harvey saw him perform in 1989 and booked him as a headliner in Harvey’s Dallas comedy club.

Cedric made his TV debut in 1992 on “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” and has appeared on “The Chris Rock Show,” “Politically Incorrect” and “Def Comedy Jam.” He was host of BET’s comedian showcase “Comic View” in 1994 and 1995.

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Although he is relatively humble, others have noticed Cedric’s sharp observational wit, which is delivered not only in jokes but in mime and, even more surprisingly for a large man, graceful dance. One of the highlights of “The Original Kings of Comedy,” which chronicled his groundbreaking tour with Harvey, Mac and D.L. Hughley, was when he portrayed a cool black man driving a space shuttle. Another of his musical routines involves him portraying a frustrated “Pops” Staples of the Staples Singers, upset that no one realizes that there would be no “Staples Singers” if it weren’t for him.

“I like to have a lot of energy on stage,” he said. “That’s very important to me. I thrive on it. And I love dancing. I say I’m the guy who got kicked off ‘Soul Train’ before they kicked people out of ‘The Real World.’ I learned how to dance early on when I saw that the dancers hung out in a separate area of these local parties in St. Louis I went to. You could get in free if you were a good dancer. People have described me like I’m a Jackie Gleason. Very graceful.”

Said Winifred Hervey, executive producer of “The Steve Harvey Show”: “Cedric is so huggable. He’s got a lot of heart, and he goes so much deeper with his acting. He’s not like a guy who’s just doing gags.”

Cedric looks forward to a possible reunion tour of “The Original Kings of Comedy.” And he has more surprises planned: He wouldn’t mind being called Cedric the Dramatic Actor.

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“I’d like to try my hand at it, sure,” he said, laughing. “Just when I start getting to the point of people thinking they know what I do, I wanna flip it on them.”


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