Icon: Martin Lawrence

He starred in a hit TV show, then ran through traffic waving a pistol. Comedy’s loosest cannon has been to hell and back—and despite two new family comedies, he’s still shooting off that filthy mouth.

When did you first realize that you were, indeed, so crazy?

The first person who encouraged me to get into comedy was my high school art teacher, Miss Henderson, who we called Froggie. I’d always disrupt her class, so finally Froggie said, “If you can just chill during class, I’ll give you the last five minutes to make us laugh.” Then one day she mentioned this open mike night at a club in town. I was like, “I’m gonna make it big someday. Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do for you.” And she goes, “If you become an actor, you can buy me a car.”

And did you deliver?

Yeah. As soon as the checks started coming in, I bought her a car.

Your first big break was Star Search, but you lost. what happened?

I guess you could say I was robbed.

Are you able to walk down the street without being recognized?

No, but I am gracious with my fans. They’re why I do what I do. Well, that and the paycheck.

Have you had any nutty fan run-ins?

One time some dude drove across the country, pulled in my driveway, and took off his shoes like he was home. He rolled up on me like he was part of my family, like he was just getting home from a long trip and we were expecting him for dinner or something. I had never met this man in my life.

Wow. So after a movie ends, do your roles stay with you? Like, after Wild Hogs, did you buy a Harley and join a biker gang with John Travolta?

Hell, no! Harleys are no joke. I don’t mess with them. I wouldn’t get on one again unless somebody was paying me to do it.

And now you play a self-help guru in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. After all the crap you’ve been through, what’s your secret to keeping it together?

My advice is to ride your life until the wheels fall off and surround yourself with people who tell you the truth. If you’re not careful in Hollywood, it can go to your head.

We could totally see you doing a late-night self-help infomercial.

You think? I’ll keep that in mind.

What do you say to people who call your stand-up act crude and misogynistic?

I’ve dealt with that negativity my whole career. People like to say, “You can’t say this, you can’t say that, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that.” Sure, what I do may not be for everybody, but it’s worked for me. If it ain’t broke, I ain’t tryin’ to fix it.

It’s been said that Tracy Morgan is playing an exaggerated version of you on 30 Rock. given the choice, who would play you in the movie of your life?

Denzel Washington.

You were banned from all NBC productions because of things you said in your Saturday Night Live monologue, including telling women, “some of you are not washing your ass properly.” Were you surprised the network freaked?

Yeah, but I’m no longer pissed off about it. It’s in the past. During that time I was very headstrong about what I believed in. I didn’t understand all the politics of SNL. It was a different audience for me and I didn’t want to fail, so I used material that I knew was proven.

So you’re not having dinner with Lorne Michaels anytime soon. Any regrets?

If I had a chance to do it over again, yeah, I’d probably do it differently.

Considering all the female characters you played on Martin, from Mama Payne to Sheneneh, are you by chance a woman trapped in a man’s body?

I didn’t even know I could do all those characters until I got the show. I wanted to succeed at any cost, so the characters came out of complete desperation. I was thrown into the fire and had to deliver.

Were those characters based on real women in your life?

Big Mama came from my grandmother and my mother. Sheneneh had a lot in common with my sisters. I always knew they could whip my ass at the drop of a dime.

Final question: If you had one day left on the planet, how would you spend it?

Fucking. Just straight fucking.