The name Chris Spencer is in a way a part of the early 90s into the 2000s African American comedic royalty. The comedian, actor, director, producer, and writer has worked extensively with the Wayans’ brothers, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, and Nick Cannon. He played the character of Preach in the cult classic “Don’t Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Juice in the Hood,” he was head writer on “Wild ’N Out,” and has produced and worked on countless comedy specials and awards shows.
Spencer spoke to Rapzilla.com about his newest film, “Canal Street,” and also shared a bit about his daughter’s involvement in Lecrae’s new music video.
In the movie “Canal Street,” Spencer brings on his dramatic chops to play Prosecutor Elijah Franklin. He is the partner of Prosecutor A.J. Canton (Mekhi Phifer).
“’Canal Street’ is about a murder and all eyes point to a young black kid (Bryshere Gray) who’s just moved into the neighborhood,” he explained. “It’s a bit of a conflict because as prosecutors we have to do our job but also as black men we feel a certain way because of policy brutality and the way they point their fingers at black men.”
He said that Mekhi’s character is more conflicted than he is. “My character is like, ‘Listen, it doesn’t matter if he’s black or white. Black people go to jail, white people go to jail, we can’t have an emotional attachment if we are doing our job as attorneys’.”
“This is what we do, I’m about the money.”
The polarizing message of the film is relevant to what is going on in today’s headlines as well. Couple this with the many faith elements and moments of conviction in the film, and the recipe is ripe for a conversation.
“Big studios don’t normally do films like this. If you are going to tell a story like this it’s going to have to be low budget. You get more control though,” said Spencer. “We know the culture, we know the world, there’s no one telling you how your script should be written.”
He continued, “These kinds of movies will always be done and always have to be done. Not just for black culture, but for every culture. For every genre. It might not be a script that Universal or Lionsgate will pick up so you’ll have to raise money through crowdfunding or a rich auntie or whatever.”
To get into the proper mindset of the role, Spencer read some excerpts and articles on Christopher Darden, one of the prosecuting attorneys in the infamous O.J. Simpson murder trials. Similarly, Darden, a black man, was tasked with finding Simpson, also a black man, guilty of his crimes.
Spencer had the fortune of seeking counsel from his father, who is a public defender. He has a bunch of lawyer friends and Spencer was able to pick all of their brains on the character he was to play.
“My father told me their psyche and mindset,” said Spencer. “In real life, I could never be a prosecutor because I don’t want to be responsible for changing someone’s life.”
Spencer signed onto “Canal Street” after receiving a call from director Rhyan LaMarr. The actor said LaMarr chased him a bit at first saying, “I always see you doing comedy and doing standup. In your stand up I see you covering serious issues and you get dramatic on stage. Well, I have a role for you.”
Spencer kind of brushed it off until LaMarr called again and asked, “Are you free?” The next thing he knew, he was being flown down to Chicago and it “became real.”
Aside from the film, Spencer is always moving. He’s going to be executive producing a spin-off of “Blackish” called, “Grown-ish.” He’ll also most likely be shooting another comedy special in October.
In the future, he hopes to get more into directing. So far he’s directed a national spot for Honda. He did an episode of “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” and has also directed B-Roll segments onto award shows.
“It’s a place I want to explore even more.”
“The bossiness in me is the director, the creative guy in me is the producer, all of those can be put together in the stand up guy who directs, acts and produces all in one,” he said. “I do everything every time I go on stage.”
He does all that in the same vein as those he associates with. Spencer got his start on “In Living Color,” masterminded as the urban alternative to “SNL” by the Wayans’ family. Along the way, he has helped many comedians get their break including a young Kevin Hart as a new jack on a comedy special.
“We’re all joke slingers. All these guys are family and we all knew each other when people didn’t have any money. No matter who’s on top, there’s a certain respect level. Everyone knows this business is up and down so right now you might be on top, and tomorrow it could be someone else,” said Spencer. “Kevin is the guy right now, Nick is the guy and they are like little brothers to me.”
As someone who has seen talent come and go, Spencer had some words of wisdom for those looking to break into the industry.
“You have to ask yourself if this is what you really want to do. Is it for the women or the partying or you’re in it for the long haul? It’s not a 100-yard dash, it’s a marathon,” he shared. “You might want to be Eddie Murphy, but you might end up being Steve Harvey, or you might end up being Judd Apatow. If you are going to be in the entertainment industry, just know that it’s hard work. Just stick with it. If you’re trying to be an actor and you can’t act, take a class. If you’re trying to do stand up and you’re not funny, there are classes you can take. Be in it because you love the craft not just because you want to pop bottles.”
This is perhaps what Spencer has instilled into his own daughter, Isabella, as she was recently the start of Lecrae and Tori Kelly’s new music for the song “I’ll Find You.”
In the video, Isabella is the first cancer stricken patient you see. She gets out of bed and runs around cheering up the other patients in the hospital ward.
Isabella did an excellent job, and maybe it’s just a matter of time before we see her and dad on screen together.
Check out Isabella below:
Spencer famously tells a joke about his daughter being a “thug” in the joke below: