• Chris Tucker talks tax problems, Michael Jackson and more at Gilda’s LaughFest

    Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 6.40.34 PMGRAND RAPIDS — Ever since news broke in 2009 that he owed the government a few million in back taxes, comedian Chris Tucker unfortunately became a constant presence on TMZ instead of on the big screen or on stand-up stages. In 2007 he starred in the third and what would become the last Rush Hour film as Detective James Carver, alongside Jackie Chan. At the time, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. And then he all but vanished.

    Three years ago, though, he went back to his roots and began performing stand-up again, scored a role in the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook and reportedly began paying off a $12 million tax bill. Which brings us to Friday night at the Grand Rapids Community College Ford Field House during Gilda’s LaughFest, wherein Tucker killed in front of 2,800 comedy-hungry fans. The 42-year-old Atlanta native’s approach to comedy is holistic; for him, it’s whatever it takes to get the crowd roaring. If that means impersonating his longtime friend, the late King of Pop Michael Jackson, well, then, that’s what he’s going to do– and he’s going to do it damn well. If getting laughs means he’s going to take the form (and voice) of Toni Braxton or Anita Baker, he’ll do it. (Dude can sing.) And if it means dropping quick hits about his experiences on flicks like Friday or The Fifth Element — where Tucker is pleased to tell you he stole the show — then, he’s going to do it.

    Also peppered throughout Tucker’s set was traditional observational material, during which he questioned the need for two windows at a McDonald’s drive-thru– one to pay and the second to get your food. Apparently, trust is a factor for Tucker. “I don’t know you like that!” he exclaimed. Tucker also proved personally revelatory, as he repeatedly reminded the crowd of the terrible financial situation he’s in and how, perhaps, he didn’t manage his hefty earnings too well (though it did seem he placed most of the blame on an accountant). “I’m saving my money this time,” he told the crowd.

    The audience eagerly lapped up Tucker’s stories — some undoubtedly embellished for comedic effect — about how Charlie Sheen let him borrow his Ferrari (and then forgot whether Tucker still had it or not), how he would drive a train inside Jackson’s house at Neverland Ranch and how he asked both Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey for a few million bucks to help bail him out of his IRS pickle.

    Though clearly not the most skilled joke writer — a lot of premises and punch lines relied on tropes — Tucker wholly proved he made the right choice returning to stand-up. In fact, he told the crowd there’s a stand-up comedy film in the works. And if we’re lucky he’ll reprise his role as Detective James Carter in a fourth Rush Hour movie. The rumors are out there. Let’s hope they turn into reality. But will Tucker return for another Friday movie? “I don’t know. [Ice] Cube still hasn’t paid me for the first.”

    The money raised throughout the 10-day Gilda’s LaughFest goes to support the services of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club provides support for cancer patients and their families and friends affected.

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    Dylan P. Gadino

    Dylan is the founder and editor emeritus of Laughspin.

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