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Making an Impression

Jamie Foxx's urban-flavored imitations and sense of humor have him poised to be the next hot African American comic. But does he want to be No. 1?

March 26, 1998|BRETT JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jamie Foxx handles the pressure quite well. Dressed in a luxurious maroon suede shirt and slim-fitting black pants, also suede, his muscular chest and slightly bowed legs cut an impressive figure of ghetto fabulousness. His smile and wink shine with down-home charm and goofy arrogance as he poses for a photo shoot in the conference room of the Beverly Hills firm that handles his publicity.

Not a bead of sweat or harried look washes across his face. Instead, knowing smirks of his impending success fight yawns. Foxx, perhaps the next hot African American male stand-up comic this side of Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, appears poised to step to the challenge of running with the big boys.

Though currently on hiatus from co-producing and starring in the WB network's top-rated comedy, "The Jamie Foxx Show," the "single deluxe" comic normally spends four out of five weekdays on the show's set, then hops a plane to do his stand-up act on weekends, and somewhere in between squeezes in time to produce his own R&B music or read scripts for his next film venture.

He is a study in small-town boy meets big-city fame: a Terrell, Texas-born 20-year-old whose face is on the cover of Vibe magazine and who has just returned from selling out New York's Radio City Music Hall.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 28, 1998 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 12 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong age--Comedian Jamie Foxx is 30. His age was listed incorrectly in Thursday's Calendar Weekend. Also, in addition to being nominated as outstanding actor in a comedy series by the NAACP's national office, he went on to win the award.

"I was like daaaamn. It was packed to the gills. The people were just everywhere, the big screen. The stage was real long and I ran up and down it," Foxx recalls.

To capture the surreal reality, he admits to taking a photograph of his name on the marquee. It's enough to make him awed by the pied-piper power of his funnyman shtick.

"It almost makes me want to ask, 'Do they know who's performing here?' " Foxx says.

Who's performing is a comic-actor-musician on a 57-city comedy tour. "Jamie Foxx: Unleashed" has filled many of the same arenas in which the white-hot Rock appeared last year.

He plays L.A. Friday night, with two shows at Universal Amphitheater.

And like Rock, Foxx is about more than just comedy.

"If I can make everybody in Los Angeles talk about me like they do in Terrell, then I've got a good thing going," he says in his velvety Texas twang.

"Once I get L.A., then let's get Atlanta. Now let's get on TV. We got the black, now let's get the white. That's what I like about the game. Becoming popular at things people don't expect you to do. To be an alien and fit in everywhere. That's the joy of it."

Foxx is a master impressionist specializing in black celebrities such as Bill Cosby, Mike Tyson, Jessie Jackson, Luther Vandross, Prince and Babyface. He can whip crowds into fall-out, giggle frenzies by singing TV theme songs as those pop icons. Several times during the interview he unveils such mimicry. Imagine "The Brady Bunch" theme song if cooed by Prince: "Ahhh, uhnn, uhnn, Brady."

"What I do is draw from everybody. Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Steve Allen with a little political satire on the piano," Foxx says, gazing into the hazy Los Angeles sky from the window.

He also credits Sammy Davis Jr.'s Mr. Bojangles as an influence on his comedic approach.

"I'm the type of person that when I watch things, I don't watch to remember. I watch to let it soak in," he says. "And then a few weeks later, it comes out through your pores. All of a sudden you have these things in your library."

Less raunchy than the notoriously blue, hip-hop-inspired comics of "Def Comedy Jam," Foxx is a self-styled "'R&B type of guy" who caters to the ladies and their boyfriends with a similar combination of edginess and sexual frankness of modern-day crooners such as Brian McKnight or quartet Dru Hill.

Foxx's urban-flavored yet accessible humor propelled his sitcom, originally the anchor of WB's Wednesday night lineup, to the network's top-rated show in its 1996 debut season. But network executives recently moved the show to Sunday.

"The move to Sunday was for successful reasons," says Bentley Kyle Evans, the show's 31-year-old executive producer. "If a show does extremely well on one night, then the network will move it to another night as a flagship for another night's lineup, to start a whole new night." (Viewership has dropped this season against the tougher competition of Sunday nights.)

On the show, loosely based on the comic's own struggle to stardom, Foxx plays Jamie King, the nephew of Aunt Helen (Ellia English) and Uncle Junior (Garrett Morris), who moves toLos Angeles to work in the family hotel and pursue a career in show-biz. King's battles with the starched accountant Braxton (Christopher R. Duncan) and the sexual pursuit of model-esque hostess Fancy (Garcelle Beauvais) are the center of the sitcom's high jinks. Its success is in large part due to Foxx's ability to create new characters and crystallize everyday situations into comic gems.

"Jamie loves to improvise things. He's constantly throwing out new ideas," Duncan says.

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