Lawrence ended up moving to New York City and found his way to the legendary The Improv. Shortly after appearing at The Improv, Lawrence won a performance spot on Star Search. He did well on the show and made it to the final round, but did not win. However, executives at Columbia Pictures Television saw Martin's performance and offered him the role of Maurice in What's Happening Now!!; this was his first acting job. Upon cancellation of that show, Lawrence found bit parts in various films and television series. His breakthrough role was as Cee in Do the Right Thing. Other roles followed in films such as the House Party series, Talkin' Dirty After Dark, and the Eddie Murphy vehicle Boomerang. During this period, entertainment mogul Russell Simmons selected him to host the groundbreaking series Def Comedy Jam on HBO. Def Comedy Jam gave many comedians (including Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, Mike Epps, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer) mainstream exposure.
During his stint with Def Comedy Jam, Lawrence appeared in his own hit series, Martin, which aired on Fox TV. The show ran from 1992 to 1997 and was an enormous success. Martin was the flagship of Fox's Thursday-night line-up, which drew millions of viewers away from NBC's "Must See TV" line-up. He hosted Saturday Night Live on February 19, 1994, where he made crude remarks about women's genitalia and personal hygiene; the monologue was completely edited out of NBC reruns and syndicated versions, and Lawrence was banned from the show for life. Martin's ratings continued to skyrocket so much that Fox became more of a contender against NBC and came closer to being considered among the top television networks.
After Martin ended its run in 1997, Lawrence found work in comedy films. He often starred as the second lead opposite actors including Eddie Murphy, Danny DeVito, and Tim Robbins. Many of his films were blockbusters at the box office, including Nothing to Lose, Life, Blue Streak, and Big Momma's House. He also starred in critical- and box-office failures, including Black Knight and National Security. Regardless, his salary steadily increased to over $10 million per film role. He continues to work in film, with such films as Big Momma's House 2, which opened at No. 1 at North American box office and grossed almost $28 million its first weekend, and Wild Hogs, in which he played a bored suburbanite seeking adventure on the open road in a biker comedy alongside John Travolta, Tim Allen and William H. Macy.
In 2006, Lawrence appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, during which Lawrence briefly brought back to life some of the characters he had portrayed on Martin.
In 2008, Lawrence starred in Disney's College Road Trip co-starring with Raven-Symoné. It was his first G-rated film, but not his first appearance in a children's film: he supplied a voice for Open Season opposite Ashton Kutcher.
At the 2009 BET Awards he appeared in a spoof movie trailer with Jamie Foxx for a fictional movie, The Skank Robbers, that featured their respective television characters Sheneneh Jenkins and Ugly Wanda. In 2010, Fox announced that it was producing a film based on the sketch, featuring Foxx, Lawrence, and actress Halle Berry.
In 2011, Lawrence reprised his role as FBI agent Malcolm Turner in Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, the third film in the Big Momma's House series.
In January 2013, it was announced that Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer are considering pairing up to star in a comedy for Lionsgate TV. The series will likely follow the same production model as Charlie Sheen's Anger Management, which is also produced by Lionsgate TV. That show was recently given a hardy back-90 pickup following its initial 10-episode order. In March 2013, it was announced that television producers/writers Robert L. Boyett and Robert Horn are on board, writing and executive producing. They have worked on the popular hit sitcoms Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, Full House, and Designing Women. Partners, pairs the two actors as Chicago lawyers from "vastly different backgrounds who unexpectedly meet in court on the worst day of their lives," according to a network description. David A. Arnold has been tapped to write. Arnold has written for television shows including: Raising Whitley,Meet the Browns, The Rickey Smiley Show and more. Edi Patterson has been cast as a regular and will play Verushka, a busty, sexy Russian woman who co-owns the massage shop next door. Danièle Watts will play the daughter of Lawrence's character. The show premiered August 4, 2014 and lasted one season.
In August 2014, Martin Lawrence confirmed, on Conan O'Brien, that Bad Boys 3 is almost done being written.
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