Cedric is closer to `Honeymooners' than you'd think

He's a brash everyman, just like Kramden

Movies

On screen / DVD/Video

June 09, 2005|By Annette John-Hall | Annette John-Hall,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

For those who can't imagine the immortal words "One of these days, Alice -- Pow! Right in the kisser!" being uttered by anyone other than the beloved Jackie Gleason, who immortalized the character of Ralph Kramden on the 1950s TV series The Honeymooners, don't fret.

Cedric the Entertainer doesn't say them.

These are different times, and Cedric's Ralph doesn't threaten his wife in the film version of The Honeymooners that opens tomorrow. Yet he and Gleason's brash New York City bus driver intersect in a big way.

Cedric is the everyman everybody knows.

He was the Original King of Comedy who did the funny-bone-tingling bit on how black people have to turn down their car radios so they can concentrate while parallel parking. He was the overzealous Casanova who courted his girlfriends with disastrous results in those Bud Light commercials. And as veteran hair-cutter Eddie in the controversial 2002 comedy Barbershop, his social conservatism was as sharp as his seldom-used razor.

The real Cedric, whose given name is Cedric Kyles, is an everyman too, albeit one with a penchant for fedoras, single-button suits, and sparkly jewels. On a recent afternoon, he sported a rose-tinged gold timepiece encrusted with bezeled diamonds, a gift from his wife, Lorna.

Like Ralph Kramden, Cedric the Entertainer is "a working guy," the St. Louis native says, kicking back in his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. "It's a different job with different pay, but it's no different than anybody else who has a job and works hard at it."

This has been a pretty good year for the 41-year-old showman. He executive-produced The Honeymooners, after playing the long-suffering Nate Johnson in the 2004 comedy Johnson Family Vacation. He also voices Maurice the lemur in the new animated hit Madagascar.

In the PG-13-rated Honeymooners, Ralph is a dreamer who is always concocting his next get-rich-quick idea. His wife, Alice, played by Gabrielle Union (Bad Boys II), wants to buy a duplex fixer-upper with best friends Ed and Trixie Norton (Mike Epps and Regina Hall). But when Ralph loses the down payment on yet another scheme, Alice gives him one day to come up with the cash. John Leguizamo is hilarious as the street hustler who aids Ralph and Ed's shenanigans.

Cedric has already heard the naysayers.

"There may be purists who ask, `Why do this to a show we love?' But it's good we have a diverse cast. ... It shows the diversity of the middle class. We all start with the same kinds of experiences -- families working, paying bills, those kinds of themes."

Despite his diverse entertainment resume, Cedric, who lives in Los Angeles, says he'll never stray from his first love. He'll display his sharply drawn observational wit on a 12-city tour that starts June 16 in Columbus, Ohio.

He concedes that "the more famous you get, the harder stand-up gets. You've got to be big-time funny. ... You wonder, why Eddie Murphy ain't doing nothing? Why Damon Wayans? ... It's that fear of rejection. The only way to remove it is to attack it."

Cedric may be making more money than he has ever known, but living in Tinseltown can be humbling. "There's always somebody in Hollywood with more money than you. You go in the same room with Steven Spielberg and feel stupid! And George Lucas has got Chewbacca ring tones! That dude is making a killing right now."

Funny stuff. "I trust my comedy, but noncomedic roles are the way you're going to get recognized in Hollywood. ... If my name came up for a dramatic role, people would say, `That's an interesting choice,' but I wouldn't be the first choice."

That being the case, he's working with Sony Pictures to develop the story of Louis Armstrong, in which he would star.

Recognition "is one of those things that you think is not that important. But then a $12 million little movie like `Barbershop' does $75 million, and it makes you desire some kind of recognition.

"But," he cracks, "I'm happy with my NAACP Image Awards. I have 'em up."

For film events, see Page 33.

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