Comedian Mike Epps: 'The Honeymooners'
ED GORDON, host:
The remake of the classic television show "The Honeymooners" opened in theaters across the country this weekend. Cedric the Entertainer and comedian Mike Epps star as the classic comic characters Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. Rising star Epps talks with NPR's Farai Chideya.
(Soundbite of "The Honeymooners")
Announcer: Jackie Gleason, "The Honeymooners." With the stars Art Carney...
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
Fifty years ago, Americans got to know Ralph, Alice, Ed and Trixie--two working-class couples whose high jinks made the television show "The Honeymooners" a classic. Now there's a new take on "The Honeymooners": an African-American cast, including Cedric the Entertainer as Ralph Kramden and comedian Mike Epps as his buddy Ed Norton. The film opens this weekend, and we got a chance to talk with Mike Epps about putting a new spin on a classic role.
Mr. MIKE EPPS (Comedian, Actor): Hey, how you doing?
CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. Thanks for...
Mr. EPPS: That's good.
CHIDEYA: ...coming to see us. Now Art Carney played Ed Norton in the TV series and won five Emmys for that role. People know who he is.
(Soundbite of "The Honeymooners" TV series)
Mr. ART CARNEY (Actor): (As Ed Norton) What do you say, Alice?
Ms. AUDREY MEADOWS (Actress): (As Alice Kramden): Why, I cast my vote when I screamed.
Mr. CARNEY: (As Ed Norton) Ah, you're just like Trixie. I think the both of you are jealous of my legs. It's gonna look pretty good when I get the right stuff to go with it, you know.
Mr. JACKIE GLEASON (Actor): (As Ralph Kramden) Yeah, like a long overcoat.
CHIDEYA: Who did you base your version of Ed on?
Mr. EPPS: I was a little too young to watch it, you know what I mean? So what I did was went and watched a lot of episodes of it. They said, `Do a black version.' I said, `I'm already black! I can do my version of it.'
(Soundbite of "The Honeymooners" film)
Unidentified Actor: I don't believe we've had the pleasure.
Mr. EPPS: (As Ed Norton) No, we haven't had the pleasure, because if we had been pleasured I think we'd a knowed about it.
What I wanted to do was just bring myself to the project. You know, a lot of the people that's going to come and see this movie, they just don't--they've never seen the sitcom either. So I just tried to be myself and just picked up on a few small things that he would do and just made sure I put that in there for the diehard fans.
CHIDEYA: And what was it like to work with Cedric? Did you bring any of how you two related into the characters that were playing?
Mr. EPPS: Yeah, of course we did. Me and Cedric, we go back Def Comedy Jam days, you know? When we got the role, man, we automatically got each other's numbers and started calling each other when we found out we was doing this movie.
CHIDEYA: Now there's been this kind of trend--you've got Ving Rhames playing Kojak and Bernie Mac in "Guess Who" flipping the script, putting black people in white roles, or formerly white roles. Why do you think that's happening?
Mr. EPPS: Well, I think Hollywood, to be quite honest, I think they've run out of material. I think--I'm serious, I think they've just run out of material, you know. I think it's just a trend now. You know, once they had a couple of them that were successful--you know, "Guess Who" was successful and a couple of other movies that they remade were successful. You know how Hollywood is: They just follow suit.
CHIDEYA: So if you could choose some movie that some white person did some time in history and play some character...
Mr. EPPS: Or...
CHIDEYA: ...who would that character be?
Mr. EPPS: Or a television show?
CHIDEYA: Or a television show.
(Soundbite of "Magnum P.I." theme music)
Mr. EPPS: I would love to play Magnum P.I.
CHIDEYA: Oh, that's great.
Mr. EPPS: A black Magnum P.I., you know?
CHIDEYA: What's your spin on it?
Mr. EPPS: Have the white guy run all the errands like he did the black guy, you know what I'm saying?
CHIDEYA: Now the role that you've got coming up that a lot of people are going to want to keep their eyes on is a starring role as Richard Pryor in a movie that Pryor is producing.
Mr. EPPS: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: How did you first meet Richard Pryor?
Mr. EPPS: Well, I was called to his house. His wife had found out who I was, you know, I guess through the grapevine, and I guess they decided--her and Richard decided that they were going to have me play the lead role.
CHIDEYA: That's a phenomenal honor to picked like that...
Mr. EPPS: It is.
CHIDEYA: ...by one of the greats of comedy. How did you first hear about Richard Pryor?
Mr. EPPS: I heard more people say his jokes, you know, if you understand what I mean. I heard his jokes through people.
Mr. RICHARD PRYOR (Comedian): Catching on fire is inspiring. They should use it for the Olympics. Because I did the hundred-yard dash in about 4:06--in the underbrush. And you know something I noticed? When you run down the street on fire, people will move out of your way.
Mr. EPPS: That's how I got familiar with him. I didn't listen to Richard Pryor until I was like 20 years old. I don't have the same story as everybody, like, `We used to go sneak and listen,' you know. My mother's joke wouldn't--she didn't have no curse albums in the house.
CHIDEYA: Well, what does she think about your career now?
Mr. EPPS: Well, she's happy. She's proud. Now that I've been paying the bills a little bit for her she's pretty happy about me.
CHIDEYA: How are you going to play him? Are you going to study his films and try to really be as much of him as you can be, or are you going to try to bring a little bit of yourself to the role, or both?
Mr. EPPS: Well, I'm going to play me. I'm going to play me in Richard Pryor because, you know, I think it's an insult to do impressions. I want to approach it like Denzel approached Malcolm X, like Jamie approached Ray. There's just so much to draw from from myself that'll help me play Richard Pryor, you know. It's going to be some big shoes to fill. I'm just going to have to break it down and dissect it and try to understand it as much as I can and do a good job, you know, and represent him.
CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Well, we will keep an eye out for that and, of course, "The Honeymooners." Thanks for joining us.
Mr. EPPS: Hey, thank you.
GORDON: Mike Epps stars as Ed Norton in the new movie version of "The Honeymooners," which is playing in theaters nationwide.
That does it for the program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.
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