Nick Cannon always seems like he’s having a good time.
On a balmy afternoon near Battery Park in Manhattan, Cannon is laughing and joking with a photographer about his suit while acknowledging that he has less than two hours to get to JFK Airport to make his 7 p.m. flight. “We’ll be a’ight,” he says confidently. That scenario and his reaction are quintessentially Cannon: a sense of urgency without seeming too worried about anything. For a guy who came into the game with big dreams that he managed to fully realize, the ability to stay focused without getting flustered has been a hallmark of his career and life up to this point.
The personality, comedian, rapper, actor and philanthropist emerged in the early 2000s as an ambitious and likable Nickelodeon star and after more than a decade, he’s parlayed that affable persona into a multimedia empire. All the while, Cannon took shots from outsiders who felt that he wasn’t “edgy” enough to appeal to anyone other than preteens.
“I laughed at it,” Cannon says of the early criticisms. “I couldn’t care less what people say about me this week or next week. I’m trying to build a 50-year career. [People] like Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Sammy Davis Jr. — I know people had things to say [about them] at that moment, but when you step back and look and see what these people did to affect culture — that’s my goal.”
And Cannon points out that, while he has nothing to prove, his early life was no Huxtable-ish fairy tale. “I grew up in the ’hood, I could tell you every thug story that you would wanna hear,” he says. “But what is that going to prove?”
Nick Cannon has proven enough over the last several years. He’s dabbled in films and radio, landed stand-up comedy specials and became the chairman of Teen Nick. And in 2008, he wed one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. His five-year marriage to Mariah Carey has kept Cannon a fixture on tabloid pages and gossip sites, but he says that marriage has been nothing but a source of love and peace.
“Being married to my wife is one of the easiest things about my life,” he shares. “It’s so natural and it’s rooted in love, so when you hear stuff, that doesn’t even resonate. It’s laughable at times. Obviously, like I said in my last stand-up special — I get it. I see how [our marriage] came out of left field and people were like ‘Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon? That don’t go together!’ But that’s what love is all about — especially the type of love we want to represent.”
That positivity and love was especially needed in early 2012, when Cannon was rushed to the hospital and was told that he was suffering from mild kidney failure. Several weeks later, he was hospitalized for blood clots in his lungs. It was announced that the star was diagnosed with lupus nephritis, an autoimmune disease.
“My health scare last year was crazy because [when you have] doctors telling you ‘This might be it,’ and they’re preparing your family and saying it can go either way or there’s a 50/50 chance and all of that stuff, it puts life in perspective,” Cannon explains. “I was a brand-new father — my kids weren’t even 1-year-olds at the time. And it was just like ‘If I do get a chance to do it again, I’m going to make sure all of the things that matter, I focus on. And the things that don’t matter, I let ‘em fall by the wayside.’ And because I still deal with the health condition to this day, it just makes me hungry and makes me grind harder, because we’re not promised tomorrow.
I’m doing everything I can do to keep myself healthy, but at the same time, in the back of my mind I [know] the clock is ticking. I need to leave my mark. That’s what everybody should do. You’ve got to leave this place better than it was when you got here. I feel like I can’t waste one day. That’s why when people say ‘your work ethic is crazy,’ I’m like ‘The clock is ticking.’ I gotta leave something.”
And that restless spirit is part of the reason Cannon is re-emerging in 2013. He admits that after his marriage, he consciously decided to pull back from the spotlight and focus on ventures that were slightly low-profile.
“I’ve definitely become more focused since I’ve been married. You can see it in my business choices and the way my career has gone,” he says. “I actually purposely stepped out of the limelight for a minute. I wanted people to understand I was a businessman and I didn’t need to be in front of the camera — I didn’t need to be ‘Wild N Out!’ I actually took a corporate job and was running a television company — all of that was on purpose, to grow as a man and see the other aspects of [the industry].
Now I’m jumping back into the game in a real way — jumping back into music, comedy, I just directed my first film for Lion’s Gate with Kevin Hart, Mike Epps, George Lopez and Katt Williams. But I had to take that time to grow as a husband and a father and a true executive and a businessman; without all of the accolades, without people questioning. I knew those things were going to come, but I knew it would make me a better person, a better man and a better entertainer.”
Part of Cannon’s re-emergence as an entertainer is relaunching a show that helped establish his persona and brand. The popular MTV series “Wild N Out” is coming back this summer, and Cannon is excited about revisiting the show that turned funnymen like Hart, Williams and Affion Crockett into household names. “I was on to so many other things, but every time I would go out, my Twitter, Facebook, they would be like, ‘Yo, when’s ‘Wild N Out’ coming back? That was my favorite show,’ ” he says. “They were creating campaigns online and it was just crazy. I remember sitting and talking with Kevin Hart and he was like ‘Why not? Let’s do it again.’ ”
“If you think about it, during the time, this was like our generation’s FOX’s ‘In Living Color’ or HBO’s ‘Def Comedy Jam,’ ” he continues. “You got the opportunity to see young comics in hip hop come together. This was the first time you’d see somebody say something raw and it was like ‘Wow they just gonna let that run?’ This generation didn’t really have that. I think people felt that connection.”
Making that connection is what matters most to Nick Cannon these days. He admits that the underlying factor in everything that he does is fun. He also says that parenthood has irrevocably changed how he views what he does.
“People are going to have opinions, but I learned a long time ago [that] what other people think about me is none of my business. Now being a father, it’s not about me, it’s about instilling values into the next generation — my children — and trying to get them to see life in a certain way.”
“The best thing about being Nick Cannon is my kids,” he adds. “Just waking up every day seeing them and living life through their eyes. It kinda just puts everything in the proper perspective.”
He then smirks before adding, “On the superficial level? I wouldn’t wanna be anybody else! I’ve been blessed with a great hand. … From being able to marry my wife to being surrounded by so many beautiful people before my marriage; I’ve seen every part of the world I could have ever wanted to see. And I feel like now my mission is to help others get that and help others achieve their happiness. It’s not about me anymore because I’ve done everything I could ever want to do.”