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Lavar Walker leaves pharmacy behind, thanks to Kevin Hart

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Kevin hart’s
Plastic Cup Boyz

7 p.m. Friday
(17 and older)

House of Blues,
29 N. Dearborn

$35

(312) 923-2000;
www.houseofblues.com

Video: Lavar Walker's comedy

Updated: April 8, 2013 7:25AM



The memory is still vivid.

Lavar Walker is in third grade at St. Dorothy elementary school on 77th and Eberhart, not far from his family’s home in Chatham. Dressed in his little uniform — grey pants, shirt and tie — he’s acting out as usual, which has resulted in his banishment to a corner of the classroom.

Like that matters. Even public humiliation can’t stop his inner clown from running amok. While his teacher reads to the class in front of him, back turned, Walker mimics her. And every time she swivels around to see what’s cracking up her pupils, he too does an about-face.

Soon, though, she’s on to him and threatens to call his mother.

“Noooooo!” Walker begs her. “Don’t call my mom!”

Because his mom, you see, brooks no guff. None.

“If your teacher calls me,” she has told young Lavar, “I’m gonna beat you.”

If his dad finds out, that would be worse.

“I was so terrified, I broke down in class,” he remembers many decades later and shortly before his House of Blues show Friday in Chicago as part of the “Plastic Cup Boyz” tour, curated by superstar comic Kevin Hart.

“The teacher grabbed me by my legs and was dragging me out of the room. I was grabbing onto desks, the kids were laughing and horrified at the same time. I was really scared.”

But scared straight? No way. Folks have always laughed at his antics and wisecracks, and their laughter feels good. So he plays jester, consequences be damned.

“I got a lot of whuppins,” he says of those rambunctious early days, “a lot of parent-teacher conferences.”

By the time Walker entered high school, at what is now Simeon Career Academy on the South Side, his once unbridled silliness was tempered dramatically. Why? Survival.

“That s--- was bad,” he says of Simeon in the 1990s. “That’s like ‘Lean on Me,’ OK? I acted out a little bit, but I think I had more of a moral compass than the other kids. Acting out there and trying to stand out in high school, as bad as that damn school was, you’re headed on the road to total destruction. You’re not gonna last. I might have made fun of the security guard here and there, but I didn’t really go overboard, because I was at school with killers.”

The muted mirth continued post-graduation, when Walker headed down to New Orleans for an intensive seven-year stint in Xavier University’s pharmacy program. Only during his final semesters there did he test out his unpolished stand-up chops on a local stage.

At that point, however, there were no thoughts of someday ditching his day job. Working the pharmacy counter at CVS in Atlanta paid well and offered benefits. And that was enough. Then.

“Moneywise, it’s great, but you’re getting cussed at by people and ringing up groceries,” Walker says. “And I was getting kind of miserable doing it. But at the same time, I couldn’t stop. I had student loans. I had a house. I had a car. I gotta do this!”

More than ever before, he says, comedy became a necessary outlet to blow off steam and foster his creativity.

“It was like, Man, ‘I’m happy [up] here.’ ”

Over the next 10 years or so, he went from bombing repeatedly to hosting his own Wednesday night comedy showcase in Atlanta, where he now lives. From there, appearing on BET’s “ComicView” and “The Mo’Nique Show” led to traveling the country in comedy tours featuring Rickey Smiley and Hart, to winning the Hart-hosted 2012 Miller Lite Comedy Competition in Las Vegas and thereafter being chosen for NBA star Shaquille O’Neal’s 2013 “All-Star Comedy Jam.”

Now comedy is Walker’s day (make that mostly night) job, though he keeps a hand in the pharmaceutical world on a fill-in basis.

“Remember the name Lavar Walker because I want to be able to say, ‘I told you so!’ ” Hart said in an email to the Sun-Times. “The guy is a legitimate comedic star.”

Asked if he’s shooting for the arena-packing success of Hart, who recently hosted “Saturday Night Live” to mixed reviews, Walker pauses briefly.

“To be honest with you, I just want to be happy doing what I do and make a great living doing it. Does that sound crazy?”

Pretty sane, actually.

“If you get right down to it,” he says, “looking back on everything I’ve done to this point, I think I made it. I’m the biggest star in the world to me.”

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