Friends, including Lawrence, paid tribute to Ford following news of his death.
“We were friends way [before] the Martin show and I’m glad we were able to show true friendship on-screen,” Lawrence wrote on Instagram. “You brought a lot of love to the world and you will be greatly missed. God Bless to you and the family. Rest In Peace my brother.”
Ford appeared in all five seasons of the top-rated Fox sitcom, which became one of the first hit TV shows about a young black couple. The series, set in Detroit, was also embroiled in behind-the-scenes controversy and, at its peak, became a lightning rod in the debate over representation of blacks in media and whether the series played up offensive stereotypes. Much of the criticism centered around Lawrence’s depiction of ancillary characters, such as neighbors.
But the show retains a unique place within pop culture. Nearly two decades after it went off the air, “Martin” references will still get laughs. And among the best long-running jokes: the mystery over Tommy’s employment status.
Ford played Tommy Strawn, an affable best friend who was often the straight man to Lawrence’s jokes. Any time Strawn referred to his work — an office, co-workers, resumes — the other characters responded with seething frustration and skepticism, “You ain’t got no job!”
The mystery around Tommy’s employment was solved earlier this year, when Tisha Campbell-Martin (who played Gina on the show) revealed the origins to the gag on Bossip’s “Don’t Be Scared” podcast.
Writers on the show used to sit near the cast during lunch and overhear their conversations, Campbell-Martin said.
“Tommy was complaining, because you know Tommy is a Shakespearean actor, and Tommy was complaining, ‘You know, I don’t think they’re developing my character enough and no one knows what I do for a job, and they keep asking what I do, why are you always at Martin’s house, why is the door always open, why are you guys always there — do you even have a job?'” Campbell-Martin relayed. “So then they started putting it into the script — Tommy has no job — because he was complaining too much.”
But Tommy, indeed, did have a job. The first hint came during an episode in Season 1, and another during a Christmas episode, when Martin plays Santa Claus and is brought to address a group of children and memorably calls one of them “water head.”
“Tommy talks about [the child] being in the Boys and Girls Club,” Campbell-Martin explained. “He was a counselor at the Boys and Girls Club. That’s what he did for a living.”
While the no-job joke was born out of Ford’s complaints, he appeared to be good-natured about it years later. His official website’s URL is tommygotajob.com.
Ford first appeared in the 1989 film “Harlem Nights,” aside comedic legends Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. After “Martin,” he went on to appear in television shows such as “New York Undercover,” “The Parkers” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.”
More recently, Ford focused on behind-the-camera work, including directing and producing web and television shows, according to his website. He was also a motivational speaker and children’s book author.
As news spread that Ford was gravely ill, many of his former co-stars posted messages on social media, requesting prayers. TMZ reported that he died of a ruptured aneurysm in his abdomen.
Fellow comedians and other prominent pop-culture figures posted messages mourning his passing.
The world is going to greatly miss all the joy and laughter that you brought to it. Thinking of Tommy Ford’s family and friends today.— LLCOOLJ (@llcoolj) October 12, 2016
Rest n Peace Tommy Ford. Your spirit will be missed.— David Alan Grier (@davidalangrier) October 12, 2016
My condolences to the family of Thomas Mikel Ford. "Tommy" was an extremely funny & talented man. May he rest in power.— Jackée Harry (@JackeeHarry) October 12, 2016