Comic Lil' JJ has big talent

January 08, 2007|By Marisa Guthrie | Marisa Guthrie,McClatchy-Tribune

Lil' JJ is wise (and successful) beyond his years. At the still-tender age of 16, the comedian has appeared on Showtime at the Apollo and The Tonight Show. He won BET's standup competition, Coming to the Stage, beating out performers three times his age.

JJ is a big-screen vet, having been chosen by Queen Latifah to appear in her movie Beauty Shop - when he was 13.

Now he has his own show, Nickelodeon's Just Jordan. And he has a deal with the network film studio to star in and executive-produce a feature based on his life.

"He's got tremendous presence for someone so young," said Tom Ascheim, executive vice president of Nickelodeon Television. "We thought he was going to be a star. And I know that sounds very reductive, but he does have that thing."

As host of Teen Nick's Friday Night Slimetime and a recurring character on All That, Lil' JJ is familiar to the network's audience.

In Just Jordan, he takes center stage as Jordan Lewis, a ninth-grader who recently moved with his sister (Kristen Combs) and divorced mom (Pam Lewis) from Arkansas to Los Angeles, where mom now helps father run his diner.

Lil' JJ, born James Lewis, grew up in Arkansas, the oldest of four children. His comedy role models include Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and "the No. 1: Richard Pryor."

He performed in small talent shows in Little Rock and began commuting to Los Angeles for jobs at age 12.

"When I moved from Little Rock to Los Angeles, it was a big difference for me, being from the laid-back, relaxing place and moving to a big city," said Lewis.

Although he has no problem navigating the hairpin turns of Hollywood, Arkansas is where he feels most comfortable.

Lewis' comedy mines the absurdities and ironies of being a kid.

"He speaks so humorously, but pointedly, about what's going on," said Ascheim, "that it's really easy for kids to relate to him."

In the show, Jordan regularly breaks the fourth wall to address viewers directly. In the first episode, which premiered last night, he delivered an epistle on the notion of style versus substance: "If lookin' good wasn't important," he says to the camera, "Halle Berry would be at a drive-through saying, `Regular or extra crispy?'"

The series is loosely based on Lewis' own life. "It's real life," he said, "being young, being a teenager and finding stuff that I feel just ain't right about life.

"I feel like I'm the spokesperson for a lot of teenagers. There's different stuff that kids want to say to adults to get off their chest and I step in and say it for them."

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