As stand-up comedian and renowned actor Mike Epps continues his live show march across the United States – January and Jackson, MS, February and Las Vegas – one thing remains abundantly clear: to a great portion of his audience, Epps will always be “Day-Day,” the character from Ice Cube’s series of Friday comedies from the 1990s, as well as a hero of HBO’s Def Jam Comedy stages. And Mike Epps will always be family.
That was certainly true when I caught Mike Epps, live and onstage at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center on another Friday, Friday the 13th.
It’s not as if Epps hasn’t had a slew of other prestige gigs, comedically and dramatically. Along with appearing in the top-money-making R rated comic film of all time, The Hangover and its sequels, Epps has a Netflix special “Only One Mike,” starred alongside Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite Is My Name,” currently appears in the Netflix sitcom The Upshaws, and has portrayed the role of stand-up comedy avatar Richard Pryor on two occasions: in the 2016 Nina Simone biopic, Nina, and through the more recent HBO Max Adam McKay-produced dramedy, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
For those keeping score, Epps was hired by Precious and Empire producer, director, and writer Lee Daniels to portray Pryor in his own filmic biography of the comic legend, a flick which is currently stuck in the seventh circle of development hell.
With all that backstory, Epps took the stage at Parx Xcite with the irreverent, long-form storytelling inspiration of Pryor at his back. Though Epps is now drug free (“save for weed”), his cocaine days are regarded with fondness and fearlessness. Not only did he joke about being coked up while filming movies like All About the Benjamins (“look at my eyes”), he poked fun at the women in his life, during his cocaine habit and post-cocaine. “You can tell I was on the powder by the look of the woman I was with at the time.”
Epps may not be as well known or paid (or as succinct and cutting a storyteller) as, say, a Dave Chappelle. But that should change for Epps, and audiences should hook into Epps’ tall-tale-telling exercises told in a relaxed fit manner.
There was a lot of reminiscing and recollection within the body of Mike Epps’ long set, much of it tied to similarly misogynistic-but-funny, and certainly self-deprecating elements of his 1990s and early 2000s past. Women approach him differently now than they did in his comedic youth. The children he has with his self-deigned “baby mamas” approach Epps differently too.
Banging his microphone for the sake of emphasizing the arrival of a punch line, Epps was comfortable ruminating and moving backwards – sometimes in corny fashion with a recitation of zodiac roles and rules – but, especially to his time of being “Day-Day Jones” in NWA rapper-turned-family-comic-actor Ice Cube’s Next Friday comedy from 1999. These jokes really hit home for many of us in the Parx Xcite audience who had loved those silly family hip hop comedies.
As cousin Day-Day, who had just won the lottery at the start of the film, life was good and nothing but net. Possibility loomed large. Epps was at peace being recognized often for his work in Next Friday and its sequel, Friday After Next. And even though Ice Cube has been griping about not having the rights to make a fourth Friday – even though he created the characters – Epps had doubts about what the next next Friday could look like as fellow comic actors such as Jon Wetherspoon are dead. It was wildly humorous the way Epps put it all in perspective, but also sadly true. Life moves on and people die – often young people caught in the present-day web of gun violence. And Epps made fun of that too, blackly comically joking about how parents don’t really know their children and their occasionally evil intents.
One truly powerful thing that came out of these home truths is how Epps showed his connection to the Black community that he came up with at the top of the 1990s, pre-Def Comedy Jam tours and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam broadcasts. With genuine warmth and surprise at the crowd’s reactions to his every word, Epps revealed that this same audience was something of an extended family; about how many members of this audience were repeat customers forever who had come up with him from his days hitting up South Street’s Laff House in Philadelphia or its after hour hangouts such as Morgan’s.
One such show of familial pride and dedication to his past was Epps’ choice of opening act, Philadelphia stand-up comedian Buckwild, a comic who – upon landing in jail for a time – found himself the beneficiary of Epps; good graces and financial support. Buckwild, a Muslim man with wild stories about his grandmother and his LGBTQ+ cousins, made a friend in Epps during the good old bad old days of stand-up comedy on South Street, and those bonds never broke. By the end of Epps’ set, Buckwild returned to the stage for what was a genial sparring match between two top comedians at the top of their game and at the height of their friendship.
I would dare say that you won’t find such connectivity between a comic, a fellow comedian and an audience who loves him than you will find seeing stand-up comedian Mike Epps.