Cedric the Entertainer and 'The Honeymooners'
ED GORDON, host:
Cedric the Entertainer has been building his reputation as a funny man on stage and screen for almost two decades now. In fact, the former insurance claims adjustor has become one of today's most popular comedians. His latest role is in the new film "The Honeymooners." Cedric plays the quick-tempered but endearing Ralph Kramden in this modern day remake of the classic 1950s sitcom. Cedric follows in the footsteps of the late comedic actor Jackie Gleason, who defined the Kramden character. But Cedric says, with all due respect, he wasn't intimidated by the part.
CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER: I mean, I was handpicked for this role by the studio. I mean, they basically said that they wanted me to do it. Otherwise, they weren't even going to do the movie. So I definitely was honored by that and then, you know, was ready to take on the challenge.
GORDON: You know, it's funny. Hindsight would say that you are such a natural for this role. Once they called and told you that, did you see it immediately?
CEDRIC: Yeah. You know, I actually kind of felt that. I thought that, you know, one of the things about, you know, the early TV show was that there's such a unique blend of the way Gleason played him where he was just kind of gruff, always irritated kind of a character. But at the same time, he was so lovable, you know. And I think that, you know, it takes a very fine line of: How you do that? How do you kind of, you know, in one way, push the envelope and come off mean, but at the same time love you? And I was definitely pleased by the choice and definitely the opportunity to play the role.
(Excerpt from "The Honeymooners")
CEDRIC: (As Ralph Kramden) Billy, what's up? It's Ralph Kramden. How you doing? Vacation by the--oh, OK. It's William now.
Remember I had loaned you $6? You got that?
Unidentified Man: And you ain't kidding.
CEDRIC: (As Ralph Kramden) Remember when we went on a date and it watch supposed to be dutch but I paid?
GORDON: Cedric, was there ever any hesitation in taking on, as you say, such an iconic role? I mean, when you say Ralph Kramden, you close your eyes and see Jackie Gleason.
GORDON: So was there any concern, or did you think that--obviously, there are going to be kids who love you and go see this movie who don't know anything about "The Honeymooners."
CEDRIC: Yeah. Of course, there was some concern about it because, you know, you think that you're going to have those purists, those people that are like, `Don't mess up our TV show. And it was such a great character, you know, that should go down in history. And why would you even want to approach it? And why would you put a black man in the place?' And, you know, one thing that I thought that--I definitely, you know, respected Jackie Gleason and his talents and his capabilities as an entertainer and a comedian. So I wanted to be able to do it without necessarily doing a caricature of him or just a dead-on imitation.
GORDON: Hey, Ced, so much being talked about in terms of whether or not Hollywood is finally seeing African-Americans differently bankable and in ways that they didn't see before. When you look at this, when you see the ability to cast this with an African-American cast, should we read anything into or, frankly, is it just simply your popularity?
CEDRIC: You know, I think that, you know, there's starting to be some growth in diversity in casting like that. I think, you know, you look at Denzel playing Julius Caesar on Broadway, you look at, you know, the cast of "On Golden Pond" on Broad--you know, being all back on Broadway. So there seems to be some growth in the--you know, in the acting spaces to show that if the characters are good and the script is good, then anybody can play these roles and put a nice spin on it. And I think that as far as Hollywood, they have to become a little more aggressive about that and understanding that, especially when it comes to the box office. So that's one of the main things that we--I feel is kind of on my shoulders in this particular movie, is to show that we can also do well box officewise.
GORDON: Your Ed Norton is Mike Epps, and many people may know Mike, I guess, from the "Friday" movies.
GORDON: But those of us who know Mike know how wild that boy is. That must have been fun to play off of him.
CEDRIC: Oh, man, I mean, it was so automatic. I mean, when--you know, when they let me know that Mike was the other--my Ed Norton for this movie, I was extremely excited and I definitely thought that he was the right person for the job. And, you know, once we got all set, man, I mean, it was automatic. The dude is--he is a true free spirit. He is funny as all get out. And you can't--you know, he's just one of those energies, man, where, you know, he just kind of come through the role always on some Mike Epps stuff. You don't even know how to describe it, but this is Mike Epps stuff right here.
GORDON: Right. He is a wild boy. That's all I can say.
CEDRIC: Yeah, exactly. We leave it at that. We just had a ball with him. The thing--we shot most of this movie in Dublin, Ireland, so a lot of times it just led us to be together on and off screen just hanging out with each other and kicking it, you know. And so, it really led for us building a nice friendship during the course of this film.
GORDON: Ced, we should also note that another friend of this program is your wife in the movie, and that's the lovely Gabrielle Union.
CEDRIC: Oh, yeah.
GORDON: Talking about not only fine, but talented.
CEDRIC: Yeah, extremely talented. When you think about the role of Alice Kramden, especially the way Audrey Meadows played it. But one of the things about it is that she was a very strong character and Ralph was--you know, got things popping and going and, you know, off the cuff. And his wife was always kind of able to bring him down to Earth and center him a little bit. And so I, you know--we--I definitely wanted someone who was not only ascetically pleasing and beautiful, but also you knew that she had the power, you could see it in her acting that she can--you would believe her as this woman that's got her husband, you know, in a place where, OK, she's the only one that understand the man this way and she can make sure that he--you know, he's listening.
GORDON: Hey, Ced, let me ask you this. I've known you now for some time and I've watched you build your career and really kind of take it to different levels. How much of what you do in the next few years will be based on perhaps broadening Cedric the Entertainer's appeal. Are you looking at doing anything that's dramatic of something outside of comedy?
CEDRIC: Definitely. I think you always want to kind of, you know, stretch for yourself but also give your audience and your public--you want to, you know, surprise them and give them things to be--to look forward to. And I think, you know, a lot of comedians have proven that they can switch from the comedy to the dramatic roles. I mean, you look at Jamie Foxx and, you know, Robin Williams and--you know, I definitely want to, you know, look for the opportunity to do something really strong, but I'm going to wait till it's the right thing. I don't want to do it just to say I can do drama.
GORDON: Before we let you go, let me ask you this. I know that stand-up, obviously, is the thing that brought you to the attention of fans first. Will that always be your first love?
CEDRIC: Definitely. Stand-up is such a--the purist form of what we do, you know, as far as it's kind of entertaining. I'm actually going to do about 13 cities before I start my next movie this summer. But it's so--such instant gratification, man. I mean, it's such a thing that you go out--these are the things that you're thinking about, the things that you're writing, and you're able to go out there and say it and get that immediate response from a audience right back. And it is the kind of thing that keeps you fresh and keep you edgy and keep you on point. That's wh--that's special and it's something that most comedians at least always have a desire, even if they doing it.
GORDON: Hey, Ced, thank you, man. The movie is "The Honeymooners" and, more than anything, it's just a funny movie. And, you know, you're always, always funny. And more than anything--and I say this to people when I mean it and people should know--you're just a good guy. You don't always find them in this business, and you're one of them, Ced. I appreciate your time.
CEDRIC: Right on, Ed. I appreciate saying it. Same to you, though, brother. I'd definitely say the same about you.
GORDON: Good luck now.
CEDRIC: Hey, good luck, dawg. Thank you, man.
GORDON: On Monday, Cedric's co-star and fellow comedian Mike Epps will give us his take on "The Honeymooners."
(Soundbite of music)
GORDON: 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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