Throwback Interview: Nick Cannon

    A Jamie Foster Brown Interview
    (excerpted from the June 2006 issue of Sister 2 Sister magazine) 

    I got a phone call from Nick Cannon’s people who were upset because they had heard that Christiana Milian was doggin’ him on the radio saying he had cheated on her and that she was also on the cover of another magazine doggin’ him. They wanted him to address this and they wanted him to address it in Sister 2 Sister magazine because they know that we do right by folks.

    This wasn’t a hard sell for me. Nick and I had run into each other before. He always complained that I never had him in the magazine. Well, Mr. “I can do anything and will do anything including running around naked,” you’re on.

    But mind you, I’m not doing this just because he’s cute and he likes older women, which I am, mind you; I’m putting him in here because Nick is Hollywood’s hot star these days. He’s got a bunch of junk in his trunk…the trunk of his car…papers, notes, contracts, TV show scripts, movie scripts and all sorts of big, big deals. I was amazed. Nick Cannon may clown around on “Nick Cannon Presents Wild N’ Out,” but behind the scenes he’s a serious businessman.

    The evening I was to interview Nick, we were invited up to a suite where he was doing a photo shoot for another magazine with the young woman who won Flava Flav’s heart in his series, Nikki, or “Hoopz” as they call her. There were photographers, hair and makeup and stylist folks, publicists, assistants to this and that, managers and so forth everywhere. Even Nick’s new artist from the DC area, Izzy, was there. When he realized who I was, he went ape saying, “Aw man, I’ve been reading you since I was a kid. Take a picture somebody! (That always makes me feel good. Even though I know a lot of men read Sister 2 Sister, it’s always refreshing when I meet them. They’re always so excited.)

    Now the question was where the hell were we going to do an interview? Nick himself set out to find a place. “Let’s do it in the hallway, Jamie.” Nope, the hotel management saw us on the hidden camera, came up to us and said no. Let’s do it in the restaurant. Nope. Too noisy. Nick says, “Let’s go down and try the library!” Nope. There’s a private party about to happen there. Nick says, “Hey let’s just do it on the bed!” Nope, Nick I got a hubby to go back home to.

    We even tried it with him sitting on the toilet but that was a little gross. So, the only place left was the bathtub. We immediately threw some pillows in that bad boy and he commenced to pouring his heart out! He talked about growing up with his father, who was a televangelist, in Charlotte, North Carolina; moving to San Diego to live with his mother during high school; trying to be a gang tough guy and racing down California highways to do standup in L.A. comedy clubs, where he was discovered by Nickelodeon. Oh, yeah, and he told S2Swhat he’s looking for in a dime. I still don’t know why a woman has to be a dime when a lot of these guys (not Nick, of course) don’t look like half a cent nor have good “cents.”

    He’s the rapper with family-friendly lyrics but in my interview, you’ll discover that Nick is a serious businessman. He didn’t have a high-powered mom-manager to broker deals for him like many other celebs his age—Nick learned about Hollywood and money management the hard way. What did he see in his ex-fiancée and how did he mess up with his sex symbol ex-girlfriend Christina Milian. He spoke up about his role as the bad guy in the relationship with Christina, and sends a message to Ms. “Say I.”

    ***
    Jamie: Okay, Nick, this is the first time we actually really did anything.
    Nick: I’ve always wondered why I ain’t never got no love. I can never get a one-on-one interview with Jamie. You’ve known me since I was a little boy.

    Jamie: No, I have not.
    Nick: Since I was about 18…

    Jamie: Eighteen? When you did what?
    Nick: On the set…it was something that Will was doing. Will Smith.

    Jamie: Were we at Will’s shower with the baby and with Jada? I was at the house?
    Nick: For Jaden?

    Jamie: I met Anthony Anderson there. He was there.
    Nick: I think that was the first time.

    Jamie: We were salsa dancing.
    Nick: Yeah, that was at the Spanish villa house.

    Jamie: Yeah, we were there for that. So you were 18 years old. You were a baby! You didn’t come up and say anything.
    Nick: You were walking past me.

    Jamie: No, I was just walking past, but I don’t think you came up and introduced yourself to me.
    Nick: I was young.

    Jamie: You were young then, right.
    Nick: I wasn’t famous.

    Jamie: But there was still an interest in you. I’ve never heard your comedy.
    Nick: Really?

    Jamie: No, I’ve never heard your comedy. Tell me a Jesus joke.
    Nick: It’s not funny no more. I was 11 when I was telling Jesus jokes. What did I used to say? It was a religious joke. Shadrach, Meshach and a big Black Negro.

    Jamie: Your father and mother weren’t together? How did that work?
    Nick: My parents got together when they were 17. Yup. They were boyfriend and girlfriend as teenagers. My mom got pregnant. My dad went to a Christian Bible college or whatever. His mother actually raised me for like the first half of my life. My mom was too young. She was trying to work. I think she was going to nursing school. I would go back and forth. I would live with my grandmother during the week and, like every other weekend I would go and stay with my mom. She was young, like 18, so she was trying to get herself together too. I don’t even know if they were really boyfriend and girlfriend. I’m my mama’s favorite accident [laughs].

    Jamie: So where was your mother’s mother?
    Nick: I never was really that close.

    Jamie: Did you ever live with your mother? At what point did you live with her?
    Nick: Yeah. After her father passed away, I moved in with her. I was probably around 9, 10, and stayed there for two years, and then moved with my dad in North Carolina. I was bad. Wanted to get in gang violence…you know, Southern California, doing stuff.

    Jamie: That’s the same thing that Ray J went through, sneaking out the window at night.
    Nick: I was a lot younger. Everybody was like, “That boy needs a man in his life.” [When I got with my dad,] Dad put it down, you know, being a strict Christian household. We were going to church every night of the week. I was in every club, every service, couldn’t have my hair cut a certain way, couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t listen to rap music, couldn’t dress a certain way.

    But my dad was smart. He gave me alternatives. He knew I liked rap music, so he got me stuff to create my own rap music. A drum machine. He let me use the camera. He used to have a public access ministry. He had all this camera equipment and stuff like that. He knew I loved TV, so he was like, “Instead of watching TV, make your own TV.” And that’s how the whole standup comedy thing came about. He thought I was real funny and he was like, “Man, start putting some of that stuff on tape and I’ll put you on TV.”

    Jamie: What kind of rap did he let you listen to at that time?
    Nick: I didn’t at that time. I wasn’t allowed to. It was shellshock for me just because being at my mom’s house, being able to do whatever I wanted to do. You know, Mom had me a fresh pair of Jordans all the time. She was a cool mom. You know, I was bad and I took advantage of it. But then to go to my dad, I couldn’t do none of that stuff. I went from being the best dancer and rapper at my school to going to a new school and not being able to do no dancing and didn’t know what the current stuff was. I couldn’t watch “Martin.” He said it was too worldly. It wasn’t for a young boy. We could watch one hour of TV a day and that’s when his wife was watching “Oprah” [laughs].

    Jamie: Do you think that was a good thing for him to do that at that time for you?
    Nick: It wasn’t about being a good or bad thing, but it was a cool thing. He gave me the alternative of something more extracurricular-focused, or something to focus on ’cause I had ADD. Him giving me all those challenges…like one time he caught me. I would sneak to watch TV. He caught me watching “The Arsenio Hall Show” one night. I wasn’t supposed to be watching that and plus it was mad late at night. Instead of getting mad at me or punishing me, he read in a book that Arsenio Hall would write 100 questions down before his interview with the person. He made me sit at the typewriter and type out 100 questions. Once I typed out 100 questions, he’d set me up with an interview and said, “Instead of watching Arsenio Hall, you should do what he does.”

    Jamie: Who did you interview? Did you interview anybody?
    Nick: This guy who passed away named John McDonald. He used to own McDonald’s Cafeteria in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was one of the richest Black businessmen in North Carolina at the time. From there, I got my own public access show through my father. I interviewed everybody from Gladys Knight to Don King to….

    Jamie: How old were you then?
    Nick: I was like 11 or 12.

    Jamie: What kinds of questions would you ask them?
    Nick: I was interviewing Don King and Tommy Hearns at the same time. This is when Tommy Hearns was hot. I was like, “Yeah, so now that your boxing career is like over….” He was like, “What are you talking about, my boxing career is over?” He was like, “This is one of the hardest interviews I’ve ever been on.”

    Jamie: How were you in school? Were you cool in school? Were you ?
    Nick: I was smart. I was a small guy in high school. All the way to the end of high school, I was like 5 feet 2, 85 pounds. I was a little dude. I always won them over with my personality, but I wasn’t the ladies’ man, especially during that time, living with my dad. My mom kept me cool. She’d send me all the new shoes. I had to sneak them by my dad. There was certain stuff he didn’t want me to wear. I remember at the time, everybody
    had the team jacket, like the Starter coat. He didn’t think it was right for you to have on a $200 coat and all that type of stuff. My father has four other sons. We would shop at the Goodwill and all that stuff. He didn’t want me to have more than the other kids. It kept me levelheaded and it showed me that life wasn’t about all that.

    Jamie: That’s interesting because there is a pressure on parents to have their kids dress a certain way because the children in school pressure them.
    Nick:  Yeah ’cause I went to a public school. My little brothers went to the church academy, so they had the same thing on every day.

    Jamie: Were you keeping up with your grades?
    Nick:  In the second grade, they said I had ADD. I was a hyperactive child. I was always running around, always trying to get attention. I just love attention more than anything. ADD runs in my family. One of my cousins takes medicine for it. But I was the one they were like, “We’re not going to put him on medicine.” They tested me for the gifted classes and I had the third highest in the country. They sent me letters, like the president sent—I forgot, it was like the ACT test or something. I was like 9 years old. I skipped the rest of third grade and they moved me up to the fourth grade and put me in bilingual classes. From there I was cool; I was a better child. I was challenged.

    Yeah, because I would finish my work and try to make everybody laugh and try to get the teacher’s attention. I would be singing in class and stuff. But when I had stuff to do….

    Jamie: Do you know that they say now that entrepreneurs and people who are really smart usually have ADD?
    Nick:  Well, I know how it benefits me today because right now I can write for groups, act, rap and do all these different things and be able to handle all the tasks. I don’t have to sleep as much as the average person. Like when I was little, I could never sit still. Even in church, that was torture because my bones would start to ache because I always had to be moving.

    Jamie: How did your half brothers do?
    Nick: They’re cool. They’re all my younger brothers. I’m working with them now more than anything. I got them jobs on my shows. One of them works for my record label. One of them is in a singing group that I signed. But, I think my father and I have a closer bond because I was his first and I was closer to his age at the time. He runs my foundation—the Nick Cannon Youth Foundation. It’s pretty much doing the exact same thing that he did with me. We’re trying to do that with other kids—teaching kids about journalism, public access and ways to get their creative juices flowing. I remember, at 12 years old, I knew how to run cameras and set up lighting and edit film, and we’re trying to put those same types of facilities in the urban communities so kids could learn about television production.

    Jamie: What happened when you got to high school? When did you go buck wild?
    Nick: In high school, I went back to live with my mom. The situation really didn’t work out, me with my stepmother and my father and my mom always calling. My mom was like, “Send my son back.” It was hard leaving my mom by herself. I left her to go stay with my dad, who had another family. So by that time, my mom was like “Send my son back for high school,” which was cool because, at that time, that’s when I really wanted to get into entertainment. My dad set up the foundation for the entertainment but I was like, “I’ve got to be in California because that’s where it’s happening.” She was in San Diego, two hours away from L.A.

    Jamie: What’s happening in San Diego?
    Nick:NIck: Yeah, ain’t nothing in San Diego, but I still felt like that’s where I needed to be. In high school, I started hanging with the wrong crowd. It started off real innocent. All I wanted to do was music, go party, created a clique. We started hanging out with some older guys who were actually affiliated with that whole gang violence stuff.

    I was still little. That’s one of the things that made me think I’ve got to stop what I’m doing. I was walking with this girl in the neighborhood and this car pulled up, jumped out, three dudes popped out and just gave it to me. They broke my nose. My nose was all crushed. All this stuff never healed. It was cracked all the way. Blood was everywhere. I was like, “Alright, I’m out of this.” You knowwhat? I moved. By that time I was 15. I had been doing talent shows, trying to do rap and trying to do comedy, still in California. But in San Diego, you can only go so far. So, by that time, that’s when I took things in my own hands. I had college scholarships and writing programs to UCSD, but I didn’t really want to go to college, I wanted to be an entertainer. So that whole thing made me just say, “Alright, I’m going to take this serious. This is my own life. I can’t be out here acting stupid in the streets, getting in fights, people I know getting killed and stuff like that.” From that point on, I started driving up to L.A, never hung out at school no more, and didn’t go to any more parties. By the time I was 17, I had moved to L.A. by myself. I’d sleep in my car outside the Comedy Store. I’d try to bunk with different people at 17 years old.

    Jamie: You were kind of discovered at the Comedy Store. Who discovered you?
    Nick: It was crazy. I opened up for Outkast. It’s ironic because Blue, my manager now, was their manager then.

    Jamie: Okay. Go ahead.
    Nick: We did a rap show and I opened up for Outkast. Guy Torry was the host of the show and we were onstage, just joking around. And he was like, “Man, you’re kinda funny.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know. I do stand-up, too.” He was like, “If you do stand-up, come up to L.A. Tuesday night. I’ve got Fat Tuesdays at the Comedy Store and you can come through.” The first couple of times, he came through. He let us rap and I was like, “Yo man, you should just let me get on and tell some jokes sometime. He was like “Man, you can’t tell no jokes.” I said watch! I went out there. He was like, “Yeah, I’ll give you two minutes at the top of the show.” I went out there and ripped it. Ever since then, every week, he’d let me come back to do two minutes at the top of the show. So I would drive two hours to do two minutes. From there, I got discovered doing that at the Comedy Store. Then the people at the Improv would want to see me, so I would go over to the Improv. I started doing the L.A. circuit.

    Jamie: How much were you making?
    Nick: Seven dollars a set.

    Jamie: Seven dollars a set??! How were you living?
    Nick: That was the cool thing. Being that I was pretty much a kid, I didn’t have to pay bills. All I needed was gas money. That was what my whole comedy act was about, just getting gas money to drive from San Diego.

    Jamie: Do you remember one of those jokes?
    Nick: It was a bunch of stuff. I used to talk about needing gas money and the whole thing about Texaco not liking Black people. I just talked about all that stuff…how cheap my mom was. I used to talk about my mom was so cheap she used to buy all of my toys from Mexico. It was true! I didn’t find out until one day she brought me a See ’n Say. I pulled the string and it started spinning and landed on the cow. That thing said “La vaca, La vaca.” It said moo. That was my best joke when I was 15.

    Jamie: Tell me about the transition from Nickelodeon to MTV.
    Nick: Nickelodeon [producers] saw me doing stand-up. I actually became a writer for “Kenan & Kel,” “Cousin Skeeter” and a couple of WB shows. And I ended up writing my own pilot at the same time. I was the youngest staff writer in television history at 17. So I wrote my own show and Will Smith bought it and that’s how I have the Will Smith connection. It was called “Loose Cannon” and we shot it for the WB. We had a six-episode commitment. That was my first big check at 18 years old—a couple of hundred thousand dollars. But Will told me, “Don’t spend all that money on silly stuff.” I bought a Range Rover and another car. He was like, “Don’t buy that stuff.” And I didn’t listen and I totaled the Range Rover like two months later. I’m thinking a six-episode commitment, Will Smith is the producer, Bentley Evans is writing, it’s on the WB, I’m good. I can spend all this money. Then the show didn’t get picked up and I went broke.

    Jamie: You know that’s what happened to Will.
    Nick: Yeah, that’s what he was telling me. So I went broke. So that’s the time I paid all my mom’s bills off ’cause that was one of the reasons I moved to L.A., too. My mom lost the house and everything like that, so I was like, “Instead of me going to college I’m going to go make money in stand-up and stuff.” So, by the time I did get my first check I was trying to pay off her bills and pay my bills….

    Jamie: She lost the house? What kind of work did she do?
    Nick: My mother is an accountant. It was just hard. It was only her and she was still going to school for accounting. And that was the thing; she always used to urge me to get a job because she needed help because nobody was helping her. She ain’t got nothing to worry about now.

    Jamie: Did Drumline really put you over?
    Nick: Yeah, that was the thing that made me a household name for everybody. Before, I was just a kid star on Nickelodeon. Drumline kind of put me over the top. At the same time, that’s when my record was coming out with Jive and all that stuff.

    Jamie: You made jokes about the fact that your record didn’t do well on Jive, right?
    Nick: Yeah, absolutely, because it was a great record. I did [songs] with Mary J. Blige, R.Kelly, Diddy, Pharrell, Joe…and they didn’t sell it. Nobody knew when it came out. So, it wasn’t like it was a bad album. They put so much money into the actual album, by the time they got time to promote it and market it, there was no more money.

    Jamie: Yeah, if you had all those people, they had to pay a lot of money for that.
    Nick: Yeah, it was all business. That’s why I’m not mad with them. It was a business decision. I’m happy that I got a chance to start my own label and moved elsewhere where there is a better support system that understands it.

    Jamie: You weren’t signed for several records? You were only signed for one?
    Nick: I signed but thanks to Blue Williams…

    Jamie: …Blue Williams got you out?
    Nick: Yeah.

    Jamie: Okay…films in the works. Let’s get all that out of the way.
    Nick: A bunch of films. Monster House comes out in July. It’s an animated film I do with Kevin James for Sony Pictures. I did an independent series called "Weapons". That’s crazy. It’s probably the best script I ever read. Some people would never think I would do anything like this. Pretty much what happens is three White kids who think they’re Black— they love hip-hop and all that stuff—they end up raping this little Black girl who turns out to be my sister and I find out about it. My whole journey is like what I’m going to do with these dudes. I’m not a bad kid, but you raped my sister. My mentality is I’ve got to do something about it. So the entire movie, I’m trying to get a gun and going to kill them. It’s playing with time, so you see this happening, you see the whole rape thing happening and it’s like you don’t know who did it and if I’m going to kill the right dude. The budget on the movie was nothing, but it was a great script. I got it through my manager and through my agent. But it was like one of those things ’cause I’ve done so many movies. I just wanted to get my name out there to be the star of a movie. So Love Don’t Cost a Thing, The Underclassman, Drumline, I was the star of the movie. It was cool. It was my movie. Now that I’ve created that, I don’t want to really be the star of the movie. I just want to focus on my craft and character work. This is what I do: Do you know what I mean? It’s not really about being a star.


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