January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

JAMIE FOXX IS LOSING HIS BATTLE to stay awake. Maybe it’s because the lights are low in his spacious San Fernando Valley home, or that the leather couch Foxx is sprawled across is just too cushy to keep him from lapsing into blank stares between words. Even his dog Juice, angling for attention, can’t rouse him. Then, in the middle of a sentence, the 29-year-old comedian nods off. After a couple of seconds his eyes open wide. “I’m okay, man,” he says, gamely resuming the conversation.

Rude? Maybe a little. But Foxx can be forgiven his need for z’s. In addition to putting in 14-hour days starring in and coproducing The Jamie Foxx Show, one of the WB network’s higher-rated shows, he has just flown back from New York City, where he appeared on the Ricki Lake and Rosie O’Donnell shows to promote Booty Call, a movie comedy costarring Independence Day’s Vivica A. Fox, due Feb. 28. Plus he’s writing songs, sometimes until 2 a.m., to sing on his second album. His first, 1994’s Peep This, reached No. 12 on Billboard’s R&B charts. “As a comedian, as an actor, you’ve got to make things happen,” he says. “I want to have a lot of things in the air.”

Not bad for a guy who first stepped up to the mike at Los Angeles’s The Comedy Store just seven years ago on a girlfriend’s dare. Foxx won over the crowd with dead-on imitations of Mike Tyson and Bill Cosby. Heartened by his success, he dropped out of U.S. International University in San Diego, where he studied classical music, and in 1990 moved to L.A. He got a job at Thorn McAn but, frustrated with performing only occasionally, quit after six months. “I didn’t come all the way to L.A. to sell shoes,” he says. “I started doing comedy seven days a week.”

The risk paid off. After touring around the country, Foxx won the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition in 1991, which led to an audition that same year for In Living Color. He beat out 100 comics. “Without In Living Color, I don’t think I would exist now,” says Foxx of his big break. “People got to know me because of that show.” During his three-year run (he also appeared as Crazy George from 1993 to 1994 on the sitcom Roc), he introduced viewers to a character he had created in stand-up, Wanda the Ugly Woman. In return, he says, “Damon [Wayans] taught me the importance of having a little attitude. And Jim [Carrey] taught me goofiness.”

After the show was canceled, Foxx hit the road again. He played hundreds of stand-up gigs last year, priming audiences for a series that, at the time, existed only in his imagination. “I told everybody I was working on The Jamie Foxx Show,” he says, “and that when it came out, I wanted them to tune in.” The show’s premise—a singer from Texas moves to Hollywood to launch his career and ends up working in his family’s hotel—mirrors much of Foxx’s own life. Born Eric Bishop in Terrell, a small Texas town 31 miles east of Dallas, to Shaheed Abdulah, a stockbroker, and Louise Annette Dixon, a homemaker, Foxx was 7 months old when Mark and Estelle Talley, his mother’s parents, adopted him. “When my mom had me…she wasn’t ready for responsibility,” he says. “I’m not saying my parents are bad people.” Instead, Foxx, who now has two half sisters and a stepbrother, found support in his grandparents—Mark, a yardman (who died in 1985) and Estelle, now 87, a retired maid and nursery operator. He rarely saw his parents (who divorced when Foxx was about 6) and now speaks to his mother every few months. “Sometimes things don’t work out as they do at the Cleavers,” he says.

A disrupted home life didn’t keep Foxx from excelling at Terrell High School, where he earned good grades and played team quarterback. But music was his passion. He started piano lessons when he was 5 and at 15 entered a youth talent competition. “He was singing, and the women just moved to the front to be near him,” recalls childhood pal Chris Barron. “He had that magnetism.” He still lights up a room, says costar Garcelle Beauvais, who plays front-desk clerk Fancy. “We went out the other night, and women flocked to him.”

Even though he’s too busy building a career to have a steady, there is one woman’s name close to his heart—his own. Back in his scuffling days, Foxx relates, comics who ran club amateur nights wouldn’t call on him to perform because they were jealous of his talent: “I noticed they always picked girls. So I started handing in unisex names—like Stacey, Tracey and Jamie. One night they called out, ‘Jamie.’ I said ‘Yeah, that’s me, I’m Jamie Foxx.’ I loved my old name. But Eric Bishop was Clark Kent. And Jamie Foxx is Superman.”


MARC BALLON in Los Angeles

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