Q&A: Chris Tucker discusses Netflix stand-up special and his disappearing act

"I started out being a stand-up comedian and eventually wanted to become an actor," Chris Tucker says.

“I started out being a stand-up comedian and eventually wanted to become an actor,” Chris Tucker says.

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Tucker is the rare celebrity who makes almost as much noise with his exits as with his entrances.

The lanky comedian shot to prominence in 1995 as the loud-mouthed pothead Smokey in the seminal stoner comedy “Friday.” But it was the buddy-cop franchise “Rush Hour” with Jackie Chan that catapulted the Atlanta native into the ranks of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors.

But unlike other performers riding a wave of popularity, the 43-year-old seemed to spend most of his time off the grid. Between “Rush Hour” installments, the comedian kept a relatively low profile, surfacing for the occasional TV appearance, comedy concert or acting role such as his acclaimed supporting performance in 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”


Tucker returns to the spotlight Friday in his first Netflix stand-up special, “Chris Tucker Live.” Taped at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, he tackles dating and aging and shows off an uncanny impression of singer and close friend Michael Jackson. In Beverly Hills, Tucker recently discussed his latest projects, why he doesn’t do more movies and the possibility of another “Rush Hour” or “Friday.”

Let’s start by asking how everything is going.

Everything is great. I’ve been touring for the last couple of years all around the world. Doing what I wanted to do. I started out being a stand-up comedian and eventually wanted to become an actor. I went back to my roots. Having a lot of fun. It’s been great doing what I wanted to do. I never stop working. I’m always on the road, honing my craft. I’m touring around the world — Australia, the Middle East, Asia, Malaysia, Singapore.

There were also the charitable things when I wasn’t filming. I got to travel with Bill Clinton through Africa, which was an incredible experience. You get this success and other people invite you to do things and take these trips. I’m glad I said, ‘I’m going to Africa and learn what’s going on in the world.’ It shaped me as a person and shaped my life going forward.

This is the first major project since “Silver Linings Playbook.” Why don’t you do more films?

I wait for special stuff. I just finished a movie with Ang Lee called “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” We did it in Atlanta, which is where I’m from. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with great directors, like David O. Russell and Ang Lee. Working with them helped me grow and be a better actor.


Why are you so selective?

I want to get better. I want to do something that excites me, that is different and fun.

Why this special now?

It just came together. I just said, “I want to do this.” A lot of people don’t know I’m a comedian. I wanted to show them.

There seem to be a lot of personal topics.

I wanted people to see the real me instead of the characters. This is all me, my silliness and my seriousness. All my relationships, friendships, family, all the stuff I’ve been through. I learned how to do this by watching the greats — Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy. Richard Pryor always talked about his real life and struggles. That’s what makes a stand-up movie special.

What’s also clear is your deep affection for Michael Jackson.


I was fortunate enough to meet him and then befriend him. I admired him so much when I was growing up. To meet one of my heroes was so exciting. He was such a kind, generous person, not only the biggest star in the world but a kind and friendly person. I was such a big fan.

What are your feelings about the last “Rush Hour” movie?

I had fun doing it. It was great working with Jackie, and it was lots of fun. I don’t know if we’ll do another one, but Jackie and I are talking all the time about working together again.

So there’s the possibility of another “Rush Hour”?

If they come to me, we’ll see what happens. I don’t know what they’re thinking. But I’m definitely open to it.

CBS is getting ready to do a TV version of “Rush Hour.” How do you feel about that?


I think it’s great that “Rush Hour” has taken on a life of its own. It shows it was successful and impacted the culture. I wish them all the best.

Even more than “Rush Hour,” I hear you get approached mostly about “Friday.”

A lot. This year was the 20th anniversary. When we made it, we never thought it would take on a life of its own and become a cult classic. It’s fun. I went to see it when it was re-released, snuck into a theater without being noticed. I enjoyed it because the laughter is still there, people still laugh at the same moments. I really enjoyed it. When we were making it, everyone was broke, everything was starting from scratch. It was our show, and this was my shot. We were all raw talent. That’s what makes it so great.

So the inevitable question is, will there be a possibility of another “Friday”?

I don’t think so. It was right for the time. I don’t know if we can capture that magic again. I would love to do it for my fans, but I would rather have them watch the original. Unless there is some miracle, I seriously doubt it.

So what’s next for you?


I’ve been busy looking at working with great directors. I hope to have another movie out by next year. I’m always seeking and still excited about doing different things. The fire has not gone out. I just want to keep challenging myself.


‘Chris Tucker Live’

Where: Netflix

When: Anytime, starting Friday

Rating: Not rated