Chris Tucker: Why he left, and why he's back on stage

Chris Tucker returned to the stage Aug. 13 after four years away from the spotlight. But Chris Tucker is far from the first comedian to take a sabbatical.

Ben Glass/New Line Cinema
Chris Tucker peeks over the shoulder of Jackie Chan in 'Rush Hour 2'.

On the night of Aug. 13 Chris Tucker returned to the stage at the Wild 94.9 Comedy Jam in Mountain View, Calif. It has been four years since he starred alongside Jackie Chan in 2007’s "Rush Hour 3," and since then, he's stayed out of movies and, mostly, out of the public eye.

In an interview with the New York Times Tucker offered an explanation for his absence, saying that that the movie roles offered to him were disappointing. They were too similar to the one he played in the ‘Rush Hour’ series, he said, and just not “good enough.”

Chris Tucker isn’t the first comedian to take refuge from undesirable roles in stand-up comedy, where there is personal freedom of speech unavailable in television and film. Dave Chappelle, who joined Tucker at the Wild 94.9 Comedy Jam, left his Comedy Central cable TV ‘Chappelle Show’ at the height of its popularity because, he said, he felt uncomfortable with subtle racial emasculation, among other pressures.

“I connect dots that maybe shouldn’t be connected. I don’t know,” said Chappelle in a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey, “but certain dots, like when I see that they put every black man in a dress at some point in their career... I’ll be connecting the dots like ‘Why do all these brothers have to wear a dress?’ That’s happened to me.”

And though Tucker was aware of the way incoming movie scripts rehashed a prototype he no longer found applicable to him, he had another gripe too: he wanted to break into more serious work. Citing Sidney Poitier as the actor he wishes to emulate, Tucker said his favorite films deal in the “social, real stuff.”

This, too, is a tough path for comedians. Bill Murray’s dramatic turn in 1984’s ‘The Razor’s Edge’, for example, led to such a failure at the box office that in his dejected state he left to study at the Sorbonne for four years.

Four years. Long enough, wrote Nathan Rabin at A.V. Club, for Murray to return “older, wiser, and infinitely more willing to overlook colossal paydays in favor of taking smaller roles in quirky independent fare.” Murray went on to win a Golden Globe Best Actor award for his performance in the (serious) 2003 film "Lost in Translation."

Chris Tucker is on a 20-city US comedy tour now. After that, who knows? Maybe four years of time away from Hollywood will have same effect on him.

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