Mike Epps is a stand-up comedy veteran who's seen the business change quite a bit since he started out in the early 1990s. In particular, the Indy native sees one major difference in particular.
“The censor level is crazy,” says the 48-year-old. “It’s censored real bad. That’s the only way I think it’s changed. You can’t say nothing now.”
Epps returns to his hometown to headline the New Year’s Weekend Comedy Festival at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 30, performing alongside other comics like Sommore, Earthquake, DC Young Fly, and Mark Curry. We caught up with Epps by phone ahead of the show.
NUVO: What do you remember about growing up in Indianapolis as a child?
MIKE EPPS: What I loved about Indianapolis was that it had its own world. It wasn’t like the East Coast. It wasn’t like the West Coast or down South. It was its own world and a very unique place.
NUVO: Were there any places in the city that were specifically memorable or important to you growing up?
EPPS: Ah yeah. I loved Eagle Creek when I was a kid. That was a place that I really, really enjoyed going to as a youth.
NUVO: I’ve read that you were encouraged to pursue comedy at a young age by your parents. Were they big comedy fans too?
EPPS: My mother was definitely a comedy fan. She used to watch Carol Burnett and George Jefferson [from The Jeffersons and All in the Family]. We watched all the comedies.
NUVO: What about your father?
EPPS: He was a Richard Pryor guy. But we wasn’t watching comedy like that. Whatever came on TV is what we watched.
NUVO: Aside from your parents, what people or places were key to you and your growth as a comic?
EPPS: Boston Comedy Club in New York. Crackers in Indianapolis. I played a lot of the local clubs.
NUVO: When did you start out at Crackers?
EPPS: I started out at Crackers maybe in 1992 or 1993. And there was another spot called Ty Wilson’s Comedy Club that was inside of a hotel on Shadeland.
NUVO: I also write about music for NUVO and know that you were in Sparkle with Whitney Houston. What memories do you have of being around Whitney Houston for that movie?
EPPS: Whitney Houston was a kind spirit. She was a beautiful lady to work with. I think she was a much different person singing than she was around the movie business. She just seemed like she was in her actress mode. She probably had two different characters that she played with.
NUVO: You’ve been in all sorts of music videos. Is there one experience that was maybe more wild than the rest?
EPPS: I did a video with Ice Cube called “Gansta Nation” in Chicago that was pretty crazy. It was just gang members every damn where. We were on the southside of Chicago. I just remember being like, “Boy, when this video is over, I can’t wait to get the hell up out of here.” Sometimes that gangsta rapping brings around a lot of street people, so I couldn’t wait to get the hell on.
NUVO: We live in pretty divisive times with President Donald Trump in office. What impact has the current political climate of America had on your work as a stand-up?
EPPS: I think it’s affecting everybody. People are getting in trouble for saying stuff. Even comedians. I’m just doing what I gotta do, while I can do what I can do. I’m doing the best I can for a guy my age.
NUVO: Shifting back to Indianapolis-related topics. I’ve been at a Pacers game where you came out on the court and said a few words. What excites you about this current Indiana Pacers squad?
EPPS: They look young and hungry. I like Dipo. I like Myles Turner. They look young and hungry. The NBA is totally different this year. LeBron ain’t in the East to knock ‘em out, so they’re really got a good chance.
NUVO: What excites you about how Indianapolis is evolving as a city?
EPPS: I love Indianapolis. I was there when the Colts first came to Indianapolis on those Mayfair buses. I’ve seen the change. I’m happy for my city. I’ve watched it grow, and I respect everything about it. I think the mayor is doing a good job. I think everybody is doing a good job out there. It’s a great city.