"Martin" Turns 25: Martin Lawrence And Tichina Arnold Hilariously Reminisce About The Show
"We did so much crazy stuff on set — it was really just the place to be."
Martin will forever go down as one of the most ICONIC sitcoms in television history. Though it made its debut in the early '90s, the series has managed to remain a nostalgic staple in the lives of millions of fans around the world to this day. After gracing our screens for five hilariously unforgettable seasons, we wanted to talk to some of the cast about the show's most memorable moments.
In celebration of Martin's 25th anniversary, Martin Lawrence and Tichina Arnold took a trip down memory lane with BuzzFeed to laugh and reminisce about their time spent on set, answering everything you've ever wanted to know!
How did you come up with the idea for the show?
Martin Lawrence: John Bowman, the show’s co-creator, and I came up with it. I wanted to do a show based on relationships, because I would always talk about relationships in my comedy acts. We also went to the other co-creator, Colin “Topper” Carew, talked to him about what I wanted to do, and he took me over to HBO and we pitched it.
Why was it important for you to improvise so much, instead of following the script?
ML: Man, just to have fun! And it showed that comedy could be natural in a scripted show. We just wanted to give people that energy. I also had a cast that could keep up with me.
How much of the banter between Pam and Martin was improvised?
Tichina Arnold: Well, the rest of the cast would try to stay on script. But Martin, forget about it. Him staying on script is unheard of. His physical comedy and humor goes far beyond any average person. Cameras would roll and we would just watch him. He was a comedic genius! The first time he went off script, we just knew that’s how it was going to be for the rest of the show and that turned out to be much better than what it would have been if he stuck to the script. Him going off script made Martin what it is.
Was there ever a time where the cast or producers thought the jokes went a little too far?
TA: No, nothing ever went too far for us. The main thing we had to watch for was the censor. There was this guy named Roland. This nice black guy, who was about 6-foot-4, who would just sit in on our dress rehearsals and count every time we said “damn” or cursed. You know we were on during a time when television was a lot more censored than it is now, especially during that primetime slot. So, we all used to get pissed off about that, because like who really sits there and counts how many times you curse. Like, come on. Roland would have to approve certain scripts depending on how many censors there were. If Martin and I each said a “damn” in the same scene, then one of them would have to be cut. It became frustrating, but other than that we weren’t censored. Because everybody was on the same page – they just cared about the comedy.
We made sure that we weren’t insensitive to anybody. We shared stories and talked about what was going on in real life during that time. We just shared the truth. It may not have your truth, but it was someone’s. So no, we would never censor comedy.
How did you guys prepare for a taping?
TA: Well, the way our schedules were set up, we would rehearse in the morning and do a block shoot. While we did a block shoot there was no audience. We weren’t with the audience until the evening. So, until the audience came in, the crew was our audience, and if the crew didn’t laugh, then we knew we had to change a joke. They had more than a production role and it was great. Basically we all just went to work every day to laugh.
Did the cast get together before shooting the series, in order to get a feel for each other?
ML: Well, I already knew Tisha because we did House Party together. When she told me she’d be able to do the show, I went over to meet her at her place. We were in the kitchen doing something and she told me about her friend Tichina Arnold, who’s an actress. Tichina came into the audition and I ended up picking her. That’s basically how the cast got started.
TA: Nothing really drew me to the role, other than being able to do a show with Tisha and Carl. I didn’t know Tommy at the time and I knew of Martin from House Party, because he was in it with Tisha. I also wanted to switch from soap operas to sitcoms.
The character of Pam was originally written for a heavy-set girl and all the jokes directed at that character were heavy-set jokes. When I auditioned for the role and booked it, that’s when they changed everything around to focus on my looks, because Martin and I would crack on each other off camera.
If you could rate the cast from greatest to worst, according to who had the best comebacks, how would you do it?
ML: Umm, I don’t want to rate them, but I will tell you Tichina’s right up there. I can definitely tell you Tichina’s up there. But they were all good, everybody could hold their own. That was the beauty of the show and why it worked so well. When it came to improvisation, everybody could hold their own.
Tell me about a funny BTS moment you’ll never forget.
ML: Sometimes when I had bedroom scenes, I would jump out of the bed with a grapefruit in my pants like I had a big penis. The audience would go nuts. We did so much crazy stuff on set — it was really just the place to be. We had all the celebrities, the fans coming out to the show every week. It was just the hottest place to be.
TA: For me, the funniest moments were all things the audience didn’t get to see. The studio audience may have been able to see it, but the general audience missed a lot of the great comedy that happened off camera. I remember when K-Ci and JoJo came on the show to perform. And that’s when they were hot, hot, HOT! You know how K-Ci used to go “Ooh yeah”? For a whole month, Martin would just go, “Ooh yea!” So every time I hear K-Ci doing that in a song, I think about Martin’s crazy ass doing it.
Memorable cast moment?
TA: It was the first time we were watching Dragon Fly Jones and we were in Gina’s apartment. There was this section where Martin and his friend Kenny, who played Dragon Fly Jones’ assistant, were. Now, not only is Kenny one of Martin’s good friends, but he’s also a real boxer. Like he can really fight and do karate, just like Sean Lampkin who plays Nipsey.
So, Martin has always been into sports and he would always try to incorporate it into his physical humor. And while we’re watching him do Dragon Fly Jones, we’re all crying. Like if you go back and watch that episode, you’ll probably hear us in the background just crying of laughter. But the crazy part was Martin used to stick marbles up his nose to play Dragon Fly Jones, so his nostrils could be flared. Well girl, the marble got stuck! He came out of character and tried to get the marble out of his nose. It was scary, because we really didn’t know what was happening. We thought he was being funny, so we just continued to laugh — meanwhile Martin can’t breathe. So yeah, that always stuck out because he almost died and we were just sitting there laughing.
Did you ever play pranks on one another?
TA: Oh, all the time! We went through this phase where, if you were eating, one of us would walk by and slap it out of your hand. It was the rudest and most disgusting thing ever! And if people got pissed off about it, that’s what made it worse. Like if I slapped something out your hand and then you get pissed, then I won. We just used to entertain each other doing crazy stuff. They were childish things, but they would also keep us grounded. You’re with these people all day and everybody’s working hard, you know? And I’m not just talking about the cast, we had an amazing crew — an amazing group of guys and gals that really made us and the show better.
Who was your favorite celebrity guest?
ML: Honestly, if I picked a favorite I’d be lying, because I enjoyed everyone that came on the show.
TA: I love the Biggie episode! We were just so happy to be in the presence of Biggie Smalls.
What celebrity guest would you have loved to see on the show?
TA: I would say Carol Burnett, of course, because I would love to work with her. Whoopi Goldberg too, because I love watching her, as well. So yeah, Whoopi Goldberg and Carol Burnett.
Where did you get the inspiration for the nine characters you created for the show?
ML: Just life and people I’ve met throughout the years. There’s definitely people in my family that have been inspirational during the character-making process. A lot of the people I’ve met in my life have taught and showed me things.
Which character did you love to play the most?
ML: I have a few favorites: Sheneneh, Jerome, Dragon Fly Jones, and Otis. I really enjoyed playing those characters, because they were so original.
TA: Oh, Otis! Otis was my man! I couldn’t get enough of Otis and that’s why I think Martin played him so much. I would beg him to do Otis. Otis was just funny to me — like the way he would say things. And you’d have to do a double take like, wait what did he say?
I also really loved when Martin played Bob from Accounting, the white guy. But a lot of people don’t know that Martin hated getting into character for Bob, because the makeup process was just so long. He would be in the makeup chair with Geneva Nash Morgan, an amazing artist who did his makeup the whole time, for like four hours to do a two-minute scene. Geneva really did a great job with all the prosthetics, she really enjoyed it, and you can tell. She would literally just transform him. But yeah, I loved Bob. And we knew when Martin became Bob, he was cracking on a lot of the white guys that were on set. Martin would pull material from any and everybody. He was an equal opportunist when it came to that. So, if you came on our show best believe you were getting cracked on. Comedy has no boundaries.
What was your favorite episode?
ML: My favorite was probably the episode I wrote, called "Guard Your Grill.” It’s the episode with boxer Tommy Hearns and my head was swollen like a grapefruit, because I got beaten up so bad. That probably was my best episode, because I understand it so much.
TA: My favorite ever was the New Jack City episode. If you listen and look closely, you can actually see me trying to contain my laughter, because I almost peed myself. That’s how hard I was laughing. I don’t know if you know this, but the dog wasn’t supposed to fall. Martin wanted a real dog and Fox was like, “Hell no!” They told him it was not in the budget and would cost them too much money. Martin was actually really pissed off about it.
So, we got a toy dog instead. Our amazing prop guys, Tim Schultz and Ray Massara, did everything they could to make sure it looked real and to guarantee that it wouldn’t fall. They put weights in the bottom of the dog and everything. But when that dog fell and Martin said “Lay,” I was done! The entire crew gasped when the dog fell. Luckily, Martin was able to think quickly on his toes, because the cameras were still rolling. And then he would rub the dog with the back of his hand. I just couldn’t take it.
Who would break character the most?
TA: We as the cast would have a competition with each other to see who would laugh first and it would always be Tommy [Thomas Mikal Ford]! Tommy could never last. Then after Tommy, it would be Cole [Carl Anthony Payne II]. Carl and I would be in competition for a long time, and then there was Tisha. Tisha would last a long time, but ultimately she would break. But nobody could really hold their laughter in around Martin. It was like watching Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and Vicki Lawrence together again.
Although it was never revealed in the show, there were hints that Tommy worked as a Boys & Girls Club counselor. Why was his job hidden from the audience?
TA: Yes, Tommy did have a job and he was a counselor. We were at a table reading one time and they were like, “Well what is it that Tommy does?” Even though it was written into the script, we really couldn’t remember. Like the writers seriously couldn’t remember what his job was, so they incorporated not knowing his position into the show. So everyone would just say, “Man, Tommy ain’t go no job,” and we just ran with that idea.
And when Tommy would get mad and try to defend himself, we would just be like, “Man, shut up!” Our set was brutal, in a good way.
In the show, Pam was looking for a good man and that man ended up being Tommy, someone who was right under her nose the entire time. Was that always a part of her character’s storyline or did it just happen?
TA: No! We incorporated that into the storyline and if it was, the Martin and the writers never let me know. We had people writing in like, “Pam is the dark skin one. Why can’t she have a man? Why do y’all keep cracking on her?” But people don’t realize, it didn’t come from the whole light skin/dark skin thing. It came from the fact that I could hold my own with Martin and crack back. They were taking it for face value and you can’t do that. We’re really good friends and obviously Martin didn’t really mean those things.
But from what I can remember, Martin asked Tommy about me saying, “Man, would you hit that?” It came from us joking around on set, because you know I had a big booty back then. Tommy would always say, “Tichina, good lawwwwwd! Put some clothes on girl.” Tommy knew he couldn’t touch it, so Martin told him he’d incorporate us getting together in the show. And that’s how it came about.
In the final season, there was an episode called “Goin’ for Mine,” which was also supposed to be the pilot for Pam’s proposed spinoff series. Although the show was never created, can you tell us what it would’ve been about?
TA: I would have been working as an A&R record executive. So, it would have been about me trying to find different talent for the record label. This was another example of Martin trying to incorporate my singing and talents into the show. Martin and the Fox network were just testing it out and I guess I was looked at as the breakout spinoff character. It was a great opportunity… it didn’t happen, but everything worked out the way it was supposed to.
And was singing in the show always a part of the plan or did the cast encourage the idea?
TA: Martin was INSISTENT that we sing. He just loved to hear us sing, so he would always try to incorporate it in the show. He was really good about displaying people’s talents and using the show to do it. He said, “Tichina I love when you sing, so I hope you don’t mind, but I’m gonna have Pam singing as much as she can.” And that was cool with me.
Why do you think Martin had such a lasting impression on fans?
ML: Because we kept it real. We gave them a lot of fun, even when we did farfetched shows that were over the top, they still believed in us. They enjoyed every moment, even when they were crazy. You could tell we were having a lot of fun and people enjoyed that. And they could feel that realness and the genuine love that we had for what we did.
TA: Everything that happened on Martin happened organically and that’s why I think it was so successful. Everything we did on the show was from the bottom of our hearts. We truly believed in comedy, working well together, and making a good show. All that hard work seemed to pay off after all these years.
If you could compare the show’s legacy to a musical group or artist, who would it be?
TA: I would compare the show Martin to Prince. It was new, innovative, different, and it moved you. Prince did all of those things, for all types of people (just like the show).
Martin Lawrence is brilliant. He’s comedic brilliance, he really is. To watch him and the process that he goes through really taught me a lot. It was a blessing to be able to watch it take place.
What are the chances of there being a Martin reunion?
TA: Slim to none. I mean, I never say never, but even if we did have one it wouldn’t be the same without Tommy.