From the comedic preachings of the Rev. Leon Lonnie Love (David Alan Grier) to the feisty “Don’t start none, won’t be none” toughness of Ms. Geri (Jeri Gray), many of the supporting and recurring characters on “Martin” often gave Martin Payne (Lawrence), his girl Gina (Tisha Campbell-Martin) and friends Cole (Carl Payne), Pam (Tichina Arnold) and Tommy (Thomas Mikal Ford) some real competition in bringing the funny in spades.
And while Garrett Morris’ Stan Winters, Bentley Kyle Evans’ Titus and Maura McDade’s Shanise McGullicuddy provided moments to smile at, perhaps no other supporting character left a mark the way the guy living above Martin Payne on the fifth floor did. Whether he’s coming in to Martin’s apartment through the fire escape, replying that he’s doing “nuthin’…jus chillin’” or wearing clothes he “borrowed” from Martin that were always too small, Bruh Man was someone you could not forget.
As easy as it is for Reginald Ballard to take credit for the popular character and all of his unique mannerisms, truth is the entertainer can only blame one person for Bruh Man getting over with fans: his mother.
“A lot of that was on accident too, man,” Ballard confessed to EURweb. “Like the walk. I was fresh out of theater school, I went to college. I majored in theater and we just came out here [to California] and I remember always saying, ‘Always stay in your light. Always stay in your light.’
“So when we did the first episode that I did, you know, the boxing scene when I was sitting in Martin’s chair, he said, ‘Bruh Man, I know you’re not sitting in my chair.’ So I got up. And what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to stay in the camera as long as I could [Laughs] because, you know, so my mama could see me on TV. So I’m doing a little slow bob. And Tichina, after we did the first takes, Tichina was laughing. She said, ‘Yo, did y’all see the way that he was walking? That junk was funny!’ And so that’s how that came about. That’s how the walk came about for the Bruh Man.”
And with that came the Bruh Man we know and love, courtesy of mother Ballard.
“Exactly. I wanted to make sure my mom see me as long as she could on TV. [Laughs],” Ballard added. “So it was just, I’m just trying to stay in my light. I’m staying in my light. [Laughs] That’s how that came about.”
Ballard’s thoughts on Bruh Man come as “Martin” celebrates it’s 25th anniversary this year. The sitcom, which first aired on the Fox network on August 27, 1992 and ran until its final episode on May 1, 1997, is noted for its hip-hop influence, in addition to characters Lawrence played, including Martin Payne’s confrontational neighbor Sheneneh Jenkins, security guard Ol’ Otis, old school Detroit pimp Jerome, Martin’s mother Edna “Mama” Payne and martial arts “expert” Dragonfly Jones, among others.
As for Bruh Man, the character’s creation spawned from “Martin” co-producer Benny R. Richburg Jr., who initially wrote Bruh Man under a similar name. Although Richburg mentioned coming up with a name for the character upon turning in the script for Bruh Man’s first episode, Ballard recalled that never happening. As a result, the name ‘Brother Man’ was used and the foundation was laid for Ballard to insert a little flavor from his home state when he auditioned for Bruh Man.
“Benny Richburg wrote the character. He wrote ‘Brother Man’ because he couldn’t think of a name for the character. He said he was gonna name the character the next day when he had to turn the script in. He was trying to write the script. He said, ‘Man, I’m just gonna put ‘Brother Man.’ I’ll give him a name tomorrow.’ So when I came to audition, I went and said ‘Bruh Man.’ That’s how we talk in Texas. We used to say, ‘bruh man’ in Texas all the time,” Ballard shared while detailing how he put together Bruh Man’s way of speaking and signature identifier for the floor he lives on.
“When I went in and said ‘Bruh Man’ and I did the fifth floor with the four fingers and all that, Martin and them was rollin.’ They were like, ‘Wooow.’ So first, when I did the audition, the casting director, Eileen Mack Knight, she asked me, ‘Can you do something a little different?’ and I said, ‘Ok, cool.’ That’s when I went into the way we speak in Texas. We kinda laid back in Texas. That’s where I’m from, we laid back in Texas. We’ll say something like, [goes into a Texas drawl] ‘Hey man, look, if it don’t get done today, it’ll get done tomoraaah.’”
“That’s how my sister used to talk, too. She used to talk, like, ‘Stop boy, uhhh,’” continued Ballard. “I put a little of that Texas flavor in it and they loved it. That’s basically how it came about. And then we just made [it] up. Like when I went through the window [to come in and out of Martin’s apartment]. I was going out the door one episode and Martin said, ‘Yo man, you know what would be funny?’ He said, ‘Man, just stop and go through the window.’ And that’s how we did that. A lot of that stuff wasn’t written in the script originally, but when it all came full circle, it worked out. It worked out.”
Ballard’s salute to Texas paid off for him big time as Bruh Man became a popular fixture on “Martin.” Despite his popularity with viewers and fans, Bruh Man’s Texas dialect posed a challenge for the show’s writers, who ended up having Ballard naturally interpret their work by approaching it as Bruh Man from the start.
“It was hard to write for the way I spoke…The way I spoke, I use the Texas dialect. It’s like Texas street dialect, Galveston, TX,” Ballard said, adding that his take on Bruh Man over others deemed “too Hollywood” was the reason Lawrence took a liking to him and he ultimately snagged the role.
“That’s how we communicate sometime. That’s the way we do, you know, because you’re being cool. It’s like a form of being cool. It’s like [transitions in to Bruh Man] ‘Yo what’s uuuuup.’ You know, We’ll drag it out. We drag it out. We don’t say, ‘Come here.’ We’ll just say, ‘Yo, come here maaaan. Yo, come here,’ you know what I mean? That’s how we do it. It’s a lot of the words that I’ve played with and messed around with. I would say, like the bathroom episode when I came out the bathroom. I’d say, ‘Yo man, you ain’t get the note I left up under your baaathroom?’ [Laughs]. I played with the words a lot. They couldn’t write for that, but they would write the scenario and they would write what’s supposed to happen, you know the scene. They would write the scene out, but I would put my words to what they write and I would make it how Bruh Man would say it.
“That was just the Texas way, man. it’s just how me and my boys used to talk sometimes. And then I kinda overemphasized some of the stuff, you know, and made it my own,” continued Ballard, who revealed he played Bruh Man straight when he auditioned for the role. “It’s not something that I had in mind, but when I went in and after she (McKnight) told me to change, then that’s when it all came together. It all came together.”
Since “Martin” went off the air, Ballard has kept himself active over the years with performing stand up comedy around the world as well as notable roles in “Horrible Bosses,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” Bounce TV’s “In the Cut,” and the Disney Channel’s hit show “Raven’s Home,” opposite Raven Symone.
Looking back on “Martin,” Ballard is grateful to have been given the freedom to make Bruh Man his own. After all, an actor’s ability to assume any role is what they’re built for, to do what they do best.
“I went in to play it kind of straight the first time,” Ballard said about his initial approach to Bruh Man in his audition. “And then when she asked me, ‘Can I do something different?,’ that’s when I just did something totally different. That’s what you’re supposed to do. When a director asks you can you do something different, you gotta be ready on the spot.”
In it’s ‘90s heyday, “Martin” was a consistent ratings getter on Fox. Five seasons, nearly five years and more than 100 episodes to show for it, the series ended with Marty Mar and Gina moving on to live a happy life in Los Angeles, Cole proposing to his girlfriend Shanise and Pam starting life as an A&R at a record label.
So the question now is what happened to Bruh Man? What would life be like for the fifth floor resident after all these years?
To answer that question Ballard jumps into Bruh Man mode to say the character would “still be chillin’ wit a whole lotta sanmiches” [Laughs]
“He would be visiting the new people in the building, you know, kickin’ it with em and probably be down on the Internet now, because they ain’t have the internet like that back then,” Ballard guessed, adding in his belief that Bruh Man would fully utilize today’s technology, including Tinder, to his advantage. “Bruh man would be down there on somebody’s iPhone, making a couple of calls, some FaceTime calls to the honeys, [Laughs] lookin’ at the honeys, makin’ him some sanmiches because he can’t be there. That’s what Bruh Man would be doin’.”
To see some of Bruh Man’s best moments from “Martin,” scroll below: