Cedric The Entertainer
Boyce “The Voice” Valentine was a famous ‘80s R&B singer who was popular, making a lot of money and living the high life in Las Vegas with his sexy wife and their daughter before God came calling and Boyce gave up his secular ambitions to become pastor of his aging father’s St. Louis church, taking his reluctant wife and daughter along for the ride.
The parishioners of his church, however, are not real. Neither for that matter is Valentine, but the more than 3 million viewers of the new TV Land show, The Soul Man also starring Niecey Nash would be surprised to find that the man who plays him — Cedric The Entertainer — has more in common with his TV character than most would think.
“The power of faith, the opportunity of already being an orator, a person who speaks to large groups of people—even though I do it in a stand up capacity, as you mature and you start to see things in the world like hard crime, the tragedies, and often times, yes I would love to have a voice. To be able to heal and guide people and show a form of leadership. So I wouldn’t put it past that at certain point in time in life I get the real calling and have a big church with lots of parishioners.”
In the meantime, the famed actor/comedian best known for his work onscreen in such "Cadillac Records", "Code Name: The Cleaner" opposite Lucy Liu, "The Original Kings of Comedy," "The Honeymooners," "Barbershop," "Kingdom Come" with Whoopi Goldberg, "Johnson Family Vacation" and “Larry Crowne” with Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks, created the show as a great way to tell family-oriented stories reflecting the cultural fabric of the black community that were more universal in their appeal.
Cedric understands all too well the tightrope he is walking between the Christian community and entertainment industry in the show that airs on Wednesday nights at 10, but has never been one to steer clear of controversy.
“I believe people should be challenged —where they formulate and have to give thought to their true opinion about something. As a comedian and even as a TV pastor there are questions and jokes that lead my people to tell me “are you sure you want to say that?,” says the comedian who won a record-breaking four consecutive NAACP Image Awards for 'Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series' for his portrayal of the lovable Coach Cedric Robinson on the WB's #1-rated "The Steve Harvey Show," which ran for six seasons.
“But I’m going to say exactly that if it’s something I believe has an inkling of truth, and I want people to rebut me— to have an opinion and start having conversation about it. That’s usually where the greatest ideas come from, not from everybody agreeing.
Storylines have ranged in scope from approaching a parishioner dealing with alchoholism to the challenges of being a first lady and a big mega preacher who has lost his way and is out for the money.
“All of these things are a part of the show and as we continue to develop it, the show allows us to talk about other real issues that exist in our world from same sex marriage to bullying to gun crimes—with humor and a message.
As part of his research, Cedric visited a number of churches including First AME, West Angeles and City of Refuge and for as surprised as some might be, the 48-year old married father of three feels quite at home in church.
‘Faith is very important in my life,” says Cedric, whose full name is Cedric Antonio Kyles. “I grew up a member of the Church of Christ for most of my teenage years when you really formulate your real faith or what you carry as an adult. I do try to talk in a manner that is an example of Christ in the sense of somebody that people want to be like and hopefully I’m giving a good example of what it’s like just to be a good guy in the world.
“Except,” he laughs, “for the days I have to slap people. “For me, faith was a process,” Cedric continues in a more serious vein. “It was one of those things where I’ve was raised in the church with my mother and I wanted to go. There’s other kids your age and you start to find friends there. You join the choir and you get to like a girl. It was one of those things.
“As I had to deal with it in a real way and started to understand the Bible and the aspect of salvation I was in my early twenties when it started to make more sense. Because my mother was dealing with some hard things, I had to ask real questions. She was operating on the old school line “just believe, don’t worry about it and don’t ask any questions”.
‘I was like “you have to as questions. You’re an educated woman. You don’t just sit around and let somebody else tell you what to believe. Why do you believe that?’ From there I was able to grow spiritually.”
Attending church in L.A., however, turned out to be somewhat the distraction.
“When I first came to L.A., it surprised me that I was a celebrity at church,” states the Atlanta native who grew up in St. Louis. “It was a bit of a turn off because you come there as a fellow sinner trying to find yourself and be saved and you turn around and see somebody trying to take a picture or people assuming that you have benevolence money for everything. So I found myself not wanting to belong to an organization, but deeming it necessary in the raising of my kids. So at this point, we go and visit churches more than we stay at one church.”
He hopes that is not the case of fans who he hopes will find Rev. Boyce's path from "singing soul to saving souls" very compelling.
“In a society where the popular shows are about mean attitudes and showing black culture in a way that has people degrading each other, this show feels like a positive beacon of light even though for a hard Christian base, we may cross lines.”
Of course as with most things, there are “haters”.
“The folks who find Neicey’s dresses cut too short or that the reverend said a cuss word,” Cedric notes. “Inside the storyline we are working on, my wife is not interested in coming along for the ride. She’s doing it for me because she loves me but is not a first lady by choice. We want to show that in a process through the series and show her growth. We don’t want to be pressured into taking her out of low cut dresses.”
“The Soul Man”, which ranks as TV Land’s second highest-rated original series debut, is just the latest of a number of projects Cedric has on tap for his “A Bird & A Bear Productions”, including a sketch comedy show in development at Comedy Central and a show in development for Disney. And for a young man who struggled to overcome not having a father in the household and doubting who he was and how to find his way, Cedric—who once worked as a substitute teacher and State Farm insurance claims adjuster before getting his break on “Showtime At The Apollo” and HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” nearly 20 years ago—is more than pleased with where he is today.
“I’ve done some really amazing things for a guy from Saint Louis who started out doing comedy because I was encouraged by making people around me laugh,” Cedric reveals. “To be able to have done that on an international level, traveled, done movies and film, commercials, written a book, producing and directing—I have to say I’m really blessed. Of course, I could always be richer.”
His saving grace, he says, is the love of my family and laughter.
“I love to laugh and give laughter, which is a gift from God,” Cedric states. “It’s that blessing that allows me to see joy in little bitty things. Laughter is something that is new everyday and a fantastic feeling. It is my saving grace for sure.”