A lot of comics have good reason to be envious of Tyler Perry: From Flip Wilson to Jamie Foxx, men have been dressing up as women for laughs forever, but only Perry has turned a gun-toting grandma character into a multimillion dollar franchise. While Martin Lawrence entertained/offended many with the sight gag of a young black man putting on a crazy wig, a droopy pair of fake boobs, and pretending to be the shit-talking senior citizen Big Momma, Perry perfected that schtick with Madea. But Perry actually hasn’t made out as sweetly as it seems—without comic drag, his projects tend to fall flat. Perry’s latest undertaking is the play Laugh to Keep From Crying, at the Warner Theatre this week. Although the recession-themed musical is timely and includes a cast of his regulars, it doesn’t have Madea. And whenever Perry produces a movie or play that doesn’t involve him wearing a muu-muu (Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married?), the results are lackluster. So even though Foxx didn’t make a fortune playing Wanda and Lawrence’s portly matriatch will never match Madea’s sales figures—the actors can take comfort in the fact that their careers don’t live or die by a housedress.

TYLER PERRY’S LAUGH TO KEEP FROM CRYING RUNS TO OCT. 18 AT THE WARNER THEATRE, 1299 PENNSYLVANIA AVE. NW. $49–60. (202) 783-4000.