After his parents divorced when he was eight, Martin Lawrence rarely saw his father, who worked as a police officer at the time. His mother, Chlora (née Bailey), began working several jobs to support her family. During his teen years, Martin Lawrence excelled at boxing. He lived in Maryland, and attended Thomas G. Pullen School of Creative and Performing Arts (Landover, Maryland), Fairmont Heights High School (Fairmount Heights, Maryland), Eleanor Roosevelt High School, and also Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Maryland, becoming a Mid-Atlantic Golden Gloves boxing contender.
Martin Lawrence moved to Denver and found his way to the legendary Kings Wood comedy club. Shortly after appearing at the Wood, he won a performance spot on Star Search, a popular show in the United States. He did well on the show and made it to the final round before ultimately losing. However, executives at Columbia TriStar Television saw Martin's performance and offered him the role of "Maurice" on the television sitcom What's Happening Now!!; this was his first acting job. Upon cancellation of that show, Martin Lawrence found bit parts in various films and television roles. His breakthrough role was as Cee in the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing. Other roles followed in films such as the House Party series and the Eddie Murphy vehicle Boomerang. During this period, entertainment mogul Russell Simmons selected him to host the groundbreaking series Def Comedy Jam on HBO. Def Comedy Jam gave many comedians (including Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer) mainstream exposure.
Martin Lawrence's Martin co-star, Tisha Campbell-Martin, filed a lawsuit against Martin Lawrence and the show's producers for sexual harassment and verbal and physical assaults. HBO Studios settled the lawsuit so the show's final season could be completed. Campbell-Martin agreed to complete the season on the condition that she not appear in any scenes in the last two episodes with Martin Lawrence . No criminal charges were ever filed and the accusations were never brought to court.
After Martin ended its run, Martin Lawrence found ample work in comedy films. He often starred as the second lead opposite actors including Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, and Tim Robbins. Many of his films were blockbusters at the box office, including Boomerang (1992), (also with him again in Life) Bad Boys (1995), Blue Streak (1999), Big Momma's House (2000) and Bad Boys 2 (2003). He also starred in critical and box office failures including Black Knight (2001) and National Security (2002). Regardless, his salary steadily increased to over $10 million per film role. He continues to work in film, with such films as Big Momma's House 2, which opened #1 at the North American box office and grossed almost $28 million its first weekend, and Wild Hogs (2007), in which he plays a bored suburbanite seeking adventure on the open road in a biker comedy alongside John Travolta, Tim Allen and William H. Macy.
In 2006, Martin Lawrence appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, during which Martin Lawrence briefly brought back to life some of the characters he'd portrayed on Martin.
At the 2009 BET Awards Martin Lawrence appeared in a spoof movie trailer with Jamie Foxx for a fictional movie The Skank Robbers that featured, their respective television characters Sheneneh Jenkins and Ugly Wanda. in 2010, Fox announced that it was producing a film based on the sketch, featuring Foxx, Martin Lawrence, and actress Halle Berry.
In 2010, it was announced that Martin Lawrence would reprise his role as FBI agent Malcolm Turner in Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, the third film in the Big Momma's House series, which was released in 2011.
Martin Lawrence was engaged to actress Lark Voorhies in 1993. He married Patricia Southall, a former Miss Virginia USA, in 1995. The couple had one child, Jasmine Page (January 15, 1996). They divorced in 1997.
In July 1995, while on the set filming A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Martin Lawrence lashed out in a violent rage and was then hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
On May 8, 1996, Martin Lawrence became increasingly erratic and was arrested after he reportedly brandished a pistol and screamed at tourists on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles and was then hospitalized, with his PR stating "exhaustion and dehydration". On August 19, 1996, he was arrested at Burbank Airport for carrying a loaded gun in his suitcase. In March 1997, Martin Lawrence was arrested again after punching a man in a Hollywood nightclub.
On July 10, 2010, Martin Lawrence married longtime girlfriend Shamika Gibbs at his Beverly Hills home. Actors Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington were among the 120 wedding guests; Shanice serenaded the couple by singing the Minnie Riperton classic "Lovin' You".
In addition to his Beverly Hills home, Martin Lawrence also owns a farm near Purcellville, Virginia.