Martin defined the ’90s black sitcom genre because it was the first of its kind- a Black sitcom not focused in on a family, but friends. Martin complimented the early 90’s boom of black comedy perfectly by featuring some of the best comedians of the time to go head to head with a top-of-his-game Martin Lawrence. Now, in getting this list together I had to enforce some stipulations. Recurring characters like Ms. Gertie, Myra, and Stan didn’t count. Guest stars like Biggie, Jodeci, and the rat from Chilligan’s island don’t count either-while they were guest stars, they were more of the plot device and playing themselves. That being said, here’s a list for your bingeing pleasure.
1. Chris Rock
Season 4, Episode 19 The Love Jones Connection
Chris Rock has the distinction of set trippin guest starring on two rival shows – the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Martin. On this episode, a bout-to-blow, pre-Bring the Pain Chris Rock guest stars as Valentino, a contestant on a date with Shenehneh on the Love Jones Connection. What ensues is not only a tit for tat between the two’s account of their date but a rare example of the two biggest comedy stars of their generation going back and forth with each other (the next time we’d see Martin Lawrence and Chris Rock on the screen together is 14 years later in 2010’s Death at a Funeral. )
2. David Alan Grier
Season 1 Episode 27, “Checks, Lies, and Videotapes”
One day, David Alan Grier will get his flowers while he can still smell them. I mean, what else can you say about a Yale Drama School/Tony Award nominated comedic actor? If it was drama, someone with his resume would have had at least three BET tributes by now. But since comedy isn’t respected as an art form, he goes unlauded. Anyway, his turn as Gina’s Pastor Rev. Leon Lonnie Love is a masterclass is comic acting. From the intro alone, he shines as the sketchy Pastor and leaves a lasting mark on the first season of Martin.
3. Marla Gibbs
Season 4, Episode 10, “Housekeeper from Hell”
One cool thing about sitcoms is that it has a way of honoring people past. Martin was great at featuring talent from years past on the show, giving viewers glimpses of stars like Antonio Fargas and Rerun chances to be honored as legends in their field. One great example is featuring Marla Gibbs as Miss Minnie, Martin and Gina’s mean ass maid. Gibbs plays Miss Minnie sweet at first, but switches up and goes off on Martin and Gina for everything from sleeping in too late to going to Nipsey’s.
4. Tommy Davidson
Season 2, Episode 12, “Hollywood Swinging” Pts. 1 and 2
Ok, if you’re a true Martin fan, you can’t deny the fire Varnell Hill two part episode. Rumored to be a thinly veiled shot at the then popular talk show host Arsenio Hall, Varnell Hill dominates the next two episodes as a white womanizing, phony talk show host from Martin’s hometown of Detroit who leads Martin into believing that he’ll put him on. Tommy Davidson is probably the only person who could’ve pulled off the flyness and the fakeness needed to kill this episode. One of the best scenes in Martin history (and beleive me, this episode is full of them) is Martin interviewing Varnell Hill on his success. Seeing Martin hate on Varnell and Varnell stunting on him in return (“the catfish is delicious”almost had Martin Lawrence break character) is one of the best interactions Martin’s had with anyone outside the cast, and why Tommy Davidson should be remembered as the greatest guest star in Martin history.