‘F’ Is for ‘Funny’

As an actor, Cedric the Entertainer has played 
 everything from a barber, gangster, professor and gym coach to food critic, city council candidate and, most recently, an R&B star turned minister in his current TV Land series, “The Soul Man.” He’s voiced an animated lemur, prehistoric rhino, goose and a grumpy biplane in the soon-to-be-released Disney film “Planes.”

He’s quite legendary in the stand-up world, too, having performed on “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” “Def Comedy Jam” and “ComicView”; won the grand prize of Miller Lite Comedy Search with the late comic Bernie Mac; and his … ahem … crowning achievement, touring the country with Mac, Steve Harvey and D.L. Hughley as one of the “Kings of Comedy.”

He’s also started his own designer hat line and founded a charitable foundation providing scholarships and outreach programs to inner-city kids in his hometown of St. Louis, Mo. This fall, Cedric will take over hosting duties of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” What’s even more fascinating than the breadth and depth of his roles in the entertainment business, however, is the fact that he previously worked as a substitute teacher and insurance adjuster.

Folio Weekly: How did you get into teaching? What was the experience like?

Cedric the Entertainer: I had just graduated college [Southeast Missouri State University]. The economy was bad, and I needed a job. My mom was a teacher, so I started substituting. I did it for a couple of years: The kids were bad, the paychecks were rather small and I couldn’t eat that many doughnuts. … Not the job for me.

F.W.: So then you went the corporate route, working for State Farm as an adjuster? How did you ever end up in comedy?

C.T.E.: It was kind of weird. A friend of a friend heard me telling stories. He was doing stand-up at the time and asked if he could use some of the things I was saying [in his act]. He comes back with a $1,000 check one day, then $1,400. He’s making money doing the stuff I’ve been saying. … So a friend puts my name into a contest, the Johnnie Walker National Comedy Search. It was the first time I had ever performed on stage and I won. I stayed at State Farm for a couple years while I did comedy on the side. I had a company car, insurance and expense account — I wasn’t going to give that up! Then I took a leave of absence to do stand-up full-time. Technically, I never quit. I’m still on a leave of absence, so if the economy gets real bad, I can just walk back in the office to my desk and fax machine and start working.

F.W.: What was stand-up like in the early days?

C.T.E.: It just was me and my Ford Escort. It was a red two-door and had a personalized license plate: ULAFF2. The way I took care of that car, you’d have thought I was driving a Corvette. … I didn’t have a lot of money, so when I was traveling, I’d go to a nice hotel, like the Four Seasons or The Ritz-Carlton, with my blanket and bottle of water and sleep in my car in the parking lot. I’d call my mom and tell her I was at the Ritz. She’d say, “Oh, baby, that’s so good!” It was the safest environment, plus they have free coffee and really nice bathrooms.

F.W.: Now that you’re successful enough to sleep in an actual room and not just the parking lot, you should be quite impressed with the accommodations awaiting you in Jacksonville.

C.T.E.: [Laughs.] I’ve actually been to Jacksonville before. We shot “Ride” [a 1998 film with John Witherspoon and Downtown Julie Brown] in Jacksonville, and I’ve performed there a couple of times. I was also there for the Super Bowl. … What I remember most was the traffic and not being able to get to the stadium because there’s nothing but one-way streets. We kept passing it. I’m like, “I can see it!” but we couldn’t figure out how to get to it.

F.W.: Anything else memorable about the city?

C.T.E.: The airport! I don’t even think it’s in Jacksonville: It’s like its own municipality! You get out of the airport, then you have to get on horseback and go over a mountain. When you finally get to [Jacksonville], it’s like, “There’s Jerusalem!”

F.W.: Assuming you are able to get over the mountain and to The Florida Theatre without falling off your horse or circling the building on one-way streets (they’re still here, by the way), what can the audience expect at your show?

C.T.E.: It’s going to be a great time! I talk about music, politics, pop culture. … I’m so blessed that I have the opportunity to do what I do and be able to have such a long career while staying relevant … oh, and Paula Deen.