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Nick Cannon Biography

Started as Stand-up Comic, Earned Acclaim as Actor, Added Music to His Career


Actor, writer, musician

A promising young actor who has demonstrated box-office appeal to both black and white audiences, Nick Cannon has been called the Tom Cruise of his generation. In addition to performing, he has also written and produced material for television and film and has written and recorded an album. Attractive, charming, and a self-described workaholic, Cannon "has the looks, talent and intelligence to be a star for as long as he wants," according to Jet.

Started as Stand-up Comic

Born on October 17, 1980, in San Diego, California, Cannon was raised there by his mother and his paternal grandmother. He also spent time with his father in North Carolina. A natural performer, he auditioned for the television program It's Showtime at the Apollo when he was 11 years old. Soon afterward he made his first appearance as a stand-up comic on his father's religion program on public access television. "People probably though I was cute more than they thought my jokes were funny," he recalled to Los Angeles Times writer Soren Baker.

During his teens Cannon lived in California with his mother. Though he was attracted to show business, his mother insisted that he finish high school before trying to launch his entertainment career. He graduated from Monte Vista High School in 1998, and began to appear in comedy clubs in Los Angeles. An agent discovered him there and got him a job with the Nickelodeon television channel, where he appeared as a warm-up act on the hit series All That. Cannon was such a success that Nickelodeon gave him his own comedy show in 2002. The comic wrote material and served as executive producer for The Nick Cannon Show, and also wrote for such programs as Keenan & Kel and Cousin Skeeter.

Cannon's stand-up appearances had also caught the eye of actor and producer Will Smith, who got the young performer a small role in the hit movie Men in Black II. Smith also produced a TV pilot starring Cannon for the WB network.

Earned Acclaim as Actor

Soon after, Cannon landed his first starring role in the film Drumline. Cannon played Devon Miles, a drummer from Harlem who receives a scholarship to the fictitious Atlanta A&T University, a historically black university with a marching band that needs some new energy. Devon is a bright talent, but resists the authority of the band director and provokes a fierce competition with the team's lead drummer. He also develops a romantic interest in the head cheerleader. "Obviously, he's kicked off the team," wrote Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe, "and obviously, he'll be redeemed in time for the Classic."

Despite Drumline's predictable plot, critics enjoyed the film, particularly because of its focus on African-American college life—a subject rarely seen in contemporary cinema. Critics also appreciated Cannon's performance. New York Times writer A.O. Scott called him an "engaging lead actor," and Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times noted that the filmmakers were "smart in picking its lively, likable cast, starting with Nick Cannon."

Drumline proved Cannon's potential as an actor, but also proved his crossover appeal. The film, which grossed $13 million in its opening weekend and totaled more than $55 million domestically, drew an audience that was about 60 percent black and 40 percent non-black. According to Baker in the Los Angeles Times, the film was part of a "seismic shift in the way young black men are portrayed in cinema" and "helped show that young black men could carry a drama that focused on driven college kids rather than gangs and guns."

Cannon again played a wholesome character in his next film, Love Don't Cost a Thing. He portrayed Alvin Johnson, a gifted student from a supportive family, who pays a popular girl to let him date her so that he can gain friends and status at his high school. Reviewers admired Cannon's ability to show how Alvin changes from an awkward and earnest young man to an obnoxious showoff once he becomes popular. The actor, wrote Baker in the Los Angeles Times, "brings a good deal of charm to both Johnson incarnations, making it hard to dislike the guy who abandons his lifelong friends, disobeys his supportive mother and even turns on [the girl] once his popularity swells." Cannon explained to Baker that he enjoyed finding depth in this character: "I always try to figure out, even if he's a bad character or a jerk: What can you love about this character? If you can find that good, innocent side within that character, then that's where the money is."

Added Music to His Career

Cannon, who plays drums, drum machine, synthesizer, and harmonica, has also incorporated his music into his many of his creative ventures. He composed the theme song to his self-titled TV series, and also wrote "Shorty Put It to the Floor" for Love Don't Cost a Thing. In 2003 he released his first compact disc, Nick Cannon. Singles from the album, including "You Pops Don't Like Me" and "Feelin'Freaky," received considerable airplay on music cable channels, as did the hit song and video "Gigolo." That summer, Cannon was part of the popular "Scream 3" tour.

Easily bored by routine, Cannon told New York Times writer Linda Lee that "If I stay in one place too long or do one thing too long, my bones ache." Though he enjoyed partying in his teens, he now prefers sharper focus on his work. "I can't go out anymore," he explained. "Now I'm a workaholic." With roles in several upcoming films, including Shall We Dance? and Roll Bounce, Cannon shows no signs of slowing his performing pace.

In addition to his music and acting, Cannon is branching out into film producing and screenwriting. He executive-produced and wrote the treatment for The Underclassman, an action-comedy in which he also starred. He also served as executive producer for The Beltway, a political thriller that provided him a change of pace from his usual comedic roles. He is working on his first screenplay and has begun work on a memoir.

With the help of his father, a motivational speaker, Cannon has created the Nick Cannon Youth Foundation, which hosts inspirational conventions for young men. The actor hopes to inspire young people to aim for creative success while maintaining a positive life. "I'm taking my career into my own hands," he told Ebony. "I have a focus and a vision [now] that nobody can bring to pass but me."

Selected works


Whatever It Takes, Columbia Tri-Star, 2000.

Men in Black II, Columbia Tri-Star, 2002.

Drumline, 20th Century Fox, 2002.

Love Don't Cost a Thing, Alcon Entertainment, 2003.

Shall We Dance?, Miramax, 2004.

The Underclassman, Miramax, 2005.

Roll Bounce, Fox Searchlight/Fox 2000, 2005.

The Beltway, Miramax. 2005.


All That, Nickelodeon, 1998-2000.

The Nick Cannon Show, Nickelodeon, 2002.


Nick Cannon, Jive Records, 2003.

At a Glance …

Born on October 17, 1980, in San Diego, CA.

Career: Actor; Nick Cannon Youth Foundation, founder and director.

Addresses: Agent—c/o Miramax, 375 Greenwich St., New York, NY 10013.



Boston Globe, December 13, 2002, p. E7; December 12, 2003, p. E5.

Ebony, February 2004, p. 22.

Jet, January 12, 2004, p. 65.

Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2002, p. F30; December 13, 2002, p. E12; December 16, 2002, p. E1; December 11, 2003, p. E20.

New York Times, December 13, 2002; December 22, 2002; December 12, 2003.


"Hard-Working Nick Cannon on Life, Work, and Staying Grounded," About.com, http://romanticmovies.about.com (September 13, 2004).

"Nick Cannon," Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com (September 8, 2004).

—E. Shostak

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