|Back to Article|
Comedian, actor, entrepreneur and Christian Ė- Tommy Mikal Ford - is one of the most familiar personalities to emerge in African-American and popular culture in recent years. Using his shotgun wit, homegrown LA schmoozing skills and an infinitely buoyant spirit borne of a child of God, Tommy has shrewdly climbed the entertainment ladder as a Christain. How, you ask?
Fastening his Christian principles around his R-rated comedy, Tommy Ford has successfully kept up with the fast pace of his hometown Ė Los Angeles Ė while, sharpening his resolve to do his very best as both an entertainer with connections and a Christian on a mission.
Tommyís undeniable gift for acting was commonly displayed in his recurring role as the pretentious Lieutenant Malcolm Barker on the popular TV drama, New York Undercover. A favorite of mine as it was for most African-Americans.
But without question, it was Tommyís supporting role on the Urban hit series, Martin, as Martin Lawrenceís homeboy that propelled Tommy Ford into another stratosphere reserved for authentic Hollywood celebrities... no perpetrators allowed.
Still, Tommy remains at heart a man dedicated to doing the right thing as a Christian. As president of the non-profit organization - Be Still & Know, Inc. - Tommy Fordís talents and energies have recently been channeled into building better communities for youth in urban centers. In addition, Tommy has written and launched two children books designed to promote healthy, spiritual and non-violent living for young people.
Tommyís introduction into the Gospel world came a few years ago in his executive producer role for the highly successful debut CD of Gospel comedian Broderick E. Rice entitled, Tommy Ford Presents Broderick E. Rice Alive (Born Again). Once again, Tommy has applied his talent and love for good wholesome comedy by promoting the Christian comedy tour - Kingdom Comedy - that launches in Hotlanta with headliners Chucky Jenkins, Chocolate, Small Frie and Darian Perkins.
GOSPELCITY.COM stole a few precious moments from Tommyís exasperating schedule to talk about his life and love for God and entertainment and the interesting tightrope he must walk in his daily life.
Displaying all the eloquence and humor of a seasoned preacher, Tommy provided a light and enlightening one-on-one for this weekís up-close-and-personal interview. So, enjoy our exclusive with one of the special talents whoís holding down the fort for Christ.
Christopher Heron: Did you grow up like so many other entertainers... in the church? If so, how did you and Martin Lawrence manage to cross paths?
Tommy Ford: I was always a church boy; I went to Christian school most of my life so I hadnít been exposed to much theatre or any things other than church. But my very first experience [with performing] was when I graduated going into ninth grade. The farewell performance (from the graduating class to the rest of the student body and parents) was in the form of a play - a musical at that. But where Iím from that singing and dancing - thatís all sissy stuff. It just so happened I was the biggest in the class so I didnít have to worry about nobody calling me no sissy. In addition to that, I was the class clown, my teacher kind of bribed me and said either sheíd call my mama and tell her how I was cutting up in class or I was going to be the lead in this play. Needless to say, I played the lead; thatís where God was speaking to me. I knew this was going to be my ministry; my platform would not be behind a pulpit but on stage, to be able to perform would be a platform for me. Young people listen to those who they perceive are cool and often these role models are actors, entertainers, rappers and singers. So this is my platform to get the ears of young folks and thatís really how it began.
I have an awesome family who did tons of theatre, there wasnít a question if they were going to come support me; itís just how am I going to fit all my family in. My grandmother has 15 children so there are a whole lot of us; Iíve always had an awesome support team and still do. Their love, support and encouragement are a great springboard for me.
The way I met Martin Lawrence, he and I actually have a strong theatrical background. We did Martinís first play together, so when we met it was like, he said, ďHey man, arenít you that guy?Ē and I was like ďYeah, arenít you that guy?Ē We hit it off with the theatrical and comedian backgrounds - we really became close friends. So one day he said listen, Iíll handle the comedy part and you handle the straight part - weíll make a great team. And the rest is history.
CHRISTOPHER: Are you still the same Tommy Ford that folks back in school would remember?
TOMMY: Absolutely. My address has changed, but my disposition has not. I still occasionally run into folks Iíve known from childhood. We still laugh the same, talk the same, just as silly as we were before. The difficult thing about it is that I am more accountable, I have to be cautious and careful about the choices I make because I affect those around me. I canít be the same fool I was because I'm affecting someoneís life, particularly the lives of young people. Iím accountable to my family, my parents, my children, my wife and my girlfriend, oh Iím sorry, I meant my wife - theyíre all affected by the choices I make. Things are different with my life right now, but Iím still the same cat. I grew up in a spiritual home, where we believed in family, laughter, fun and having a good time. We believed in issues affecting our community and Iím still involved in those activities.
CHRISTOPHER: Since you brought up the topic of accountability, do you, as a Christian, ever struggle with scripts or comedy sketches based on its content or message?
TOMMY: Well, I find less of a struggle as an actor as I do as a human. Scripts and acting is make-belief; we run into struggles as Christians every day in life and thatís the biggest struggle to me. When I look at a script, and Iíve heard Christian performers say before, ďOh, I couldnít do that role because thatís not of GodĒ, well, my take on it is a little different. The wages of sin is death, and because Iím playing a terrible person does not make me a terrible person. As long as the message is clear that the wages of sin is death then thereís ministry in it for me.
If Iím playing a bad guy who is a murderer or is a bad person, at the end of that story, if he is not glorified, not rewarded for being terrible, as long as he is destroyed, has died, is eliminated, as long as it is clear the wages of sin is death, as long as it is clear that if you participate in this type of activity you will surely die, then I believe, Tommy believes, there is ministry in that.
Because I spent a great deal of time in the community there is follow-up. Itís not, ďO.K., I finished this role; let's move onto the next one.Ē I spend a great deal of time in schools, in churches, in children's hospitals, being able to dialogue with young people and getting into their heads. In the past, I have hurt the feelings of some young people and it made me say I ought to be careful about roles I choose, because itís still a ministry.
CHRISTOPHER: You've worked closely with a great comedian like Broderick E. Rice, and now youíre working to promote Kingdom Comedy. Do you believe Christian comedians like Broderick, Chucky Jenkins and Jonathon Slocumb have what it takes to crossover like any of the well-known Kings of Comedy?
TOMMY: I certainly do believe that - as far as their personal lives will allow them to. If they look at themselves and say, "I canít represent myself that way, I donít want to crossover" like gospel singers I know who say they only want to stay here, well hallelujah, thank you for your ministry because thatís where has God told you He needs you to be, but thatís your relationship with Christ. I cannot define that for others.
We ought to be very, very careful because someone from the outside is looking in pointing fingers, judging folks. I think thatís why we push so many folks away from the church, because some of us are so holy, saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost we canít (poop) and count our toes at the same time. Weíre so busy looking at what our neighbors are doing, instead of embracing those around us and encouraging them when they mess up. Let me encourage you rather than gossip and point fingers at you. I certainly think Brodrick, Chucky and Jonathan have the capacity to crossover. It depends on how God uses them in their platform to serve our community. They certainly have the talent.
I remember there was a time very few folks in Hollywood would publicly talk about God or Christ or singing in church. But now itís not so unusual anymore. There are many celebrities boldly standing up and not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Winans began that crossover generation where gospel music was not only heard on gospel stations; now it is possible to listen to Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin on secular stations. I remember that there were also the Clark Sisters, even before Kirk Franklin who has become so popular and done a dynamic job.
CHRISTOPHER: Everyone knows you for your engaging laugh, familiar grin and your quick wit, but they donít know much about what an enterprising businessman you are. What are some of the projects you are doing behind the scenes - both in the gospel and secular worlds?
TOMMY: Iím an enterprising businessman.
CHRISTOPHER: Well, tell me about it.
TOMMY: Tell you about it. You're nosy thatís your problem? (laughs) They nosy in Montreal and they want to get up in my business. (laughs)
CHRISTOPHER: So is that the way weíre leaving it?
TOMMY: Yíall donít have a sense of humor in Montreal?
CHRISTOPHER: Iím just a journalist.
TOMMY: I have a couple of companies - one is called Model T. Ford Entertainment. I produced Brodrick E. Rice's first album and heís getting ready to do another one. I just joined forces with a production company here in Miami (I live in Miami and L.A.) where we have a deal with NBC producing and developing an animated childrenís show. I also write childrenís books; I have about six books coming out this year - two of them have won some awards. I have a telecommunications company and we have calling cards, all kinds of exciting things. There are a whole lot of wonderful things going on right now and Iím really excited about them.
CHRISTOPHER: Well no doubt, for every enterprising brother like a Model T. Ford there is usually a very, very fine woman in the background, watching your back. Is your wife as funny or is she the straight man, watching your business?
TOMMY: Oh, she is hilarious, we have a lot of laughter in our home and she is my business partner as well. She has a strong marketing background and is able to take that gift God has given me and create a great platform for it. She is as amusing and silly as I am.
CHRISTOPHER: So tell me, whatís the inspiration behind this comedy tour Ė Kingdom Comedy? What are you hoping to achieve?
TOMMY: Through Be Still and Know Inc., a non-profit company, we want young people to know we can help them redefine their definition of ďcoolĒ. Iím an old fart - 37 years old and Iíve never smoked, drank, done drugs and Iím cool. Kingdom Comedy sets out to let them know laughter, entertainment and joy is not just happening in the secular market.
I donít have to have a filthy mouth, hold in my stuff and come on somebody in order to be funny, in order to be hilarious. Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty; so we can laugh, weíve got something to smile about, to celebrate. I donít have to apologize for being blessed, I donít have to apologize for all the gifts God has given me. He made me a promise and if I delight myself in the Lord, Heíll give me the desires of my heart. Kingdom Comedy will help us redefine what entertainment is, help us redefine what family entertainment is - the true meaning of entertainment is when you walk out the door. I should be entertaining a thought, a concept, a philosophy. What we supply is laughter and fun but itís wholesome, itís spiritual. Weíre not coming to preach, thatís your pastorís job - we entertain.
Particularly with all the craziness going on in the world right now, all the ills and the ill-minded folks, we need to be able to laugh in a wholesome way. We need to be able to find activities families can get involved in; not just say O.K. leave the kids with the babysitters and stick Barney in the VCR. We can all go out together, be entertained, laugh and have a good time.
CHRISTOPHER: And when youíre looking to get your laugh on, who breaks you into pieces?
TOMMY: Wow, itís difficult today, I donít watch a lot of television and when I do, not many of them make me laugh out loud. Before I was married and didnít have any children, I used to spend a lot of time with different comedians. Martin was not only a good friend but I was a fan of his. Mr. Jamie Fox, Mr. [Chris] Tucker, all these cats I was pawing around with when they were just starting off. We were all coming up together so I really appreciated their gifts and talents.
There are some cats out there, like Cedric the Entertainer, who is incredibly funny and he doesnít have foul words coming out of his mouth. We have a lot of entertainers who are funny in the true sense of the word.
What's funny to me is how you can take everyday life and laugh at it. Bill Cosby has had great success because he took everyday life and we were able to laugh at it. I was right out of college and worked with three generations of comedian greats: Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. These guys were so funny because we actually believed it when Richard Pryor went into character; we really believed who he was. Today Eddie Murphy when you watch the movies heís done like "The Nutty Professor" and "The Klumps", him playing all those characters.
You donít see Eddie Murphy playing the character, you see Grandma and Pops and all those people sitting around the table. I really admire cats that have that kind of talent. Eddie exhibited some phenomenal character work in those and shouldíve been nominated for many awards; he shouldíve been an Academy Award winner because his work was so crisp, clean, detailed - we believed it. These are some of the people I admire and think are very funny. I believe, particularly when it comes to character work, those individuals. True comedy to me is when I am lost in the character as opposed to me thinking about them pretending to be someone else.
CHRISTOPHER: Church folks who do perceive Godís different characteristics like His anger, His jealousy and His happiness - but His sense of humor is lost. Not all Christians have a sense of humor either, particularly when it comes to comedy flowing from the church. Can you put it all into perspective?
TOMMY: I think thereís a difference between religion and relationship. I think religion is based on tradition - based on what mama did, and what mamaís mama did, you didnít wear pants, you didnít laughÖthose are rules. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. I honor Him in Spirit and in Truth, I donít pretend; I Ďm not playing a role, itís in Spirit and in Truth. Thereís a big difference in tradition, religion and then relationship. In relationship, I am a father and I love my son, but when he cuts up, I put a foot in his behind. After Iím finished putting a foot in his behind I clean up my foot, of course, then I wrap my arms around him and I let him know how much I love him and that daddy is teaching him how to do right.
Thereís a difference in religion when you have to pretend to be somebody who you are not. When youíre around church folks you talk a certain way, look a certain way, but I should be that same individual 365 days a year. I must not be doing something right if folk are running from me instead of coming towards me. There has to be a light that says, ďThereís something special about that cat. Letís go hang out with him.Ē Iíve heard people say, ďCan you pray for me? Thereís something spiritual about you. Are you a preacher?Ē No, Iím not a preacher; I donít want an initial in front of my name. Reverend, that keeps people away, that pushes people away saying Iím supernatural, Iím not like you regular folk.
I have a relationship with God. Sometimes in that relationship Iím going to mess up. Itís difficult for me to mess up around church folks Ďcause theyíre so busy pointing fingers, being hypocritical, judgmental and religious. I donít have permission to be human.
In the church today, our young people are facing things we never actually faced. Theyíre exposed to so much we werenít exposed to. These are the radical times that require radical measures, things that are not traditional. There was a time when we were growing up, in order to see a naked body on television you had to sneak and watch something real late. Now, you just watch a video, you watch the talk shows and you can see a bit of everything. So those things of the past, tradition is going to sustain them. We have to get their interest; we have to be good examples of honest individuals.
I have to let them know I am not perfect, I have sinned and fallen short of Godís glory, but the difference is with relationship. Just like my son, God will make me lie down and tell me, ďSon, Godís not going to put up with that foolishness.Ē Then, once I delight myself in Him and continue to get myself together, Iím a work in progress and He will give me the desires of my heart. So I think the big difference is honesty, truth, not being traditional and just playing the role.