Taking Madea to the masses

Tyler Perry has made a career of defying expectations. Born into a poor New Orleans family, the 36-year-old thesp-scribe had a troubled, abusive childhood. As therapy, he began to write about his experiences. His 1992 musical “I Know I’ve Been Changed” was a flop, and the financial losses he suffered forced him to live out of his car and in homeless shelters for several years. Then he discovered Madea. The character, a 6’5″ elderly matron played by Perry in drag, caught on with audiences traditionally ignored by the legit community, namely churchgoing African-American women. Madea has appeared in five of Perry’s plays, the most recent being 2005’s “Madea Goes to Jail.” Combining outlandish slapstick with Christian-themed social commentary on delicate issues including incest, personal responsibility and child abuse, the plays have collectively grossed $75 million in ticket and DVD sales. Perry’s forays into film have been even more successful. “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which Perry adapted from his first Madea play, was produced on a $5 million budget but went on to gross more than $50 million. Last February, follow-up “Madea’s Family Reunion” opened at No. 1, earning $30 million in its first weekend alone. Last week, TBS licensed 75 episodes of Perry’s “House of Payne” skein, and his next film is slated for February.

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