Funny Money

Black comedians have always been among the funniest. Now, by tapping into the business side of the industry, today's comics are laughing all the way to the bank.

what you know. “You can’t ever steer too far away from what it is that you truly do. If you start off in hair care products, you might [be able] to go into skin care but you can’t really go open up a bakery,” he advises.

For Cedric — whose real name is Cedric Kyles — comedy is more than just acting up. It’s about leveraging opportunities. In addition to endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Budweiser, he co-owns A Bird and a Bear Entertainment, a production firm that recently inked a three-year, multimillion-dollar deal with MGM. In the deal, MGM has the rights to first refusal on any projects with Bird and a Bear in return for an undisclosed seven-figure sum. The 2-year-old company’s first effort was the feature film Johnson Family Vacation. With a budget of $13 million, the film grossed $31 million at the box office. Cedric and business manager Eric Rhone hammered out an arrangement with MGM that should net their firm as much as $5 million from the $10 million to $15 million anticipated from the movie’s DVD sales.

Back-end deals like these, however, can be complicated and risky. “Your front end is determined by the value that you feel you add to the film — that you know where it’s going to land right off the top. Up-front payment is negotiated early on, but Bird and Bear gambled that its first film would be a profitable one and opted for less cash up front in return for a portion of the DVD sales — the back end,” Cedric explains. “The risk is that if the film is unsuccessful, it won’t generate enough in the box office or in video sales to generate back-end residuals. This [film] paid off.”

For Cedric, the route to entrepreneurship was about control and ownership. “That was the reason Bird and a Bear was formed; in order to develop some films, develop some ideas, to have a certain Cedric The Entertainer kind of energy to them,” says the comedian. “We can control the style of the movie and its content and its characteristics. Often, especially as African Americans, [we're] accused of doing things on-screen that [are] considered buffoonery or something to that nature. Well, that’s really determined by the writers and the powers — the people writing the check.”

While he says he was inspired by the likes of Pryor from a comedic perspective, Cedric doesn’t wish to make some of the same mistakes. “He had individual film production deals. He had people who were putting up money and he had money set behind him,” says Cedric. “I remember the deal he had with Jim Brown. He had a studio deal that was going to afford them $30 million to $40 million worth of film and that kind of thing. It’s just unfortunate that, in those times, for whatever reason, they never really reached any kind of heights with it. I think that nowadays in the world, most comedians understand that they build their business. They look at themselves

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6
ACROSS THE WEB