Lighten Up ATL
The Lit AF Tour Burns the Comedy Candle at Both Ends

By Lee Valentine Smith

He's a major movie star these days, but Martin Lawrence returns to his raucous comedic roots this month as host and headliner of the Lit AF Tour. The multi-city comedy tour follows the release of his new movie, "Bad Boys For Life," with co-star Will Smith. The film, partially filmed in Atlanta, topped national box office receipts upon its release against some fierce competition.

For this leg of the live tour, Lawrence heads a rotating cast of some of his funniest friends for a killer night of laughs. Joining him on the Atlanta stop of tour will be comedians Rickey Smiley, DeRay Davis, B. Simone, Donnell Rawlings and Benji Brown. "Being on the road with this group of funny AF comedians is a blast," said Lawrence in a recent press statement. "Bringing the tour back out on the road is always exciting, no two shows are the same and we all bring something different to the party."

INsite spoke with comic-actor-author-motivational speaker Smiley by phone after a recent episode of his syndicated radio show - heard locally on WHTA, Hot 107.9.

Balancing a radio show, comedy tours and family life is a full-time job in itself. How do you compartmentalize it all?

(Laughs) Well, you just have to spread everything out and take a lot of naps! It's just that simple. I don't it all at one time. I'll take on something then take a nap, then take on something else and then rest and just keep going. And if I can't do it then, I'll reschedule. So it's the R and R. Rest and reschedule.

You'll have to put everything else aside to handle the excitement of the Lit AF Tour.

I sure will. It's so good and I have such a good time doing it. I really think I like performing more than doing radio because going on stage in front of a live audience is just the best. Martin Lawrence and all the comedians on the tour are a real pleasure to work with. So it's easy, we just go out and have a great time and put on a great show for everybody.

You and Martin go way back at this point. This is the second edition of the tour but you've known him for much longer, correct?

Yeah, this will be the second leg of the tour. I guess I first met Martin in 1993 on HBO's Def Comedy Jam. Then we did the tour last time and I really do think it was one of the most professional experiences I've had in my entire career.

Your touring slate is full with this one and then your own headlining shows later in the year. Do you like the camaraderie of the ensemble shows like the Lit Tour or do you prefer the freedom and time to stretch out on your own headlining tours?

You know, I think I kinda like the Martin Lawrence shows better. The production value, you can't match it. That stage and those lights and the big Lit AF on the stage. Then Martin comes out and you get to perform with such an iconic performer. You can't match it, you just can't.

The line-ups vary a bit from city to city but it looks like you are on nearly every night of the show.

Yeah! I wish I could have done the other dates but I think I had a few previous engagements that I'd already signed contracts for. I would have done all of 'em.

You almost got the whole tour.

Just about! But you know I just go to have a good time. I don't take myself too seriously. I'm at the point where I can just go up on stage and have frickin' fun.

That's what it's all about. When the cast is having fun, the audience can feel it.

Absolutely. And the whole staff, his team, it's a dream. I get a chance to reconnect with Adele Givens and Michael Blackson and Bruce Bruce and Earthquake who is one of my closest friends. We started out together. Earthquake, Bruce Bruce and I all started out pretty much the same year so it's been thirty years now for us.

Congratulations. That's a long time, but you aren't slowing down yet are you?

It's been a long time, a long time! I'm excited about the opportunity to be out with this show because it's one of the two best comedy tours that's on the road today.

In your opinion, what is the other best tour these days?

I have a lot of fun when I go out with Mike Epps, that's a good one. He just cracks me up. But anytime I get a chance to go out with Fantasia or Anita Baker or host Jazz In The Garden, those are good, too.

Such a diverse schedule. Didn't you also do the Super Bowl Gospel Show a while back?

Oh yeah, I always host the BET Super Bowl Gospel concert. That's fun in a different way, but it's also about helping people and that's always good. Good music and a good cause, so you just can't go wrong.

You can't go wrong with the Atlanta line-up of the Lit Tour, either.

So strong. Donnell Rawlings is hilarious.I remember when Deray Davis first started when he a teenager. I remember mentoring him. Now he's a big star. I'm now in a mentorship with B. Simone, who I absolutely love. She's one of my new up and coming favorite comics. Just great. It's always good to connect with her. I don't get a chance to work with Donnell too much, but man, when we do see other, we have a good time. It seems like we always run into each other in the airport heading to a flight and when we see each other, it's genuine love. I loved him when was with Dave Chappelle and he's so good on the tour. I'm excited.

Your connection to the south is a big part of your comedic style. Not many people can say they went from Birmingham to BET.

(Laughs) Yeah, I was blessed. I got my start at the Stardome and it was awesome to be able to go out to L.A. and do the BET stuff and make the hometown proud, you know?

Birmingham has produced a number of cool people. What's in the water over there?

Man, it's the cornbread! Isn't that something? Yeah, Birmingham gave us Ruben Studdard, some other American Idol greats, Kate Jackson, Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson. Just on and on.

When you were growing up in Birmingham, did you want to be a stand-up as a kid?

No, I wanted to be a musician. I took lessons, learned to play some different instruments. Then I went to a comedy club one night and it just happened. But you know a lot of musicians are funny. You'd be surprised, some of the gospel musicians are just hilarious.

Did your upbringing in the church help with some of your characters?

Oh yeah, a lot of them are a mixture of some of the people. My chuch background really had a lot to do with not only my music but my comedy, too.

Do you ever from some of the church folks? 'Is that supposed to be me?'

Oh yeah, but I just say it's a mix of everybody. I don't want nobody to be mad at me. But I think that's why the characters work is because everybody can identify with them, so they're really all of us. These days I don't even think about it too much. It's all in there, so I just take it off the top of my head, go from there and have fun with it. And that's what we're gonna do every night of this tour.

Martin Lawrence headlines the Lit AF Tour on Saturday, March 7 at State Farm Arena. Doors open at 6:30 and showtime is 7:30 p.m. Rickey Smiley plays the Cobb Energy Centre at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 17. For more inforamrtion, please visit litaftour.com.

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