Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Philosopher King: Chris Rock tells it like it is (circa 1994)

Chris Rock tells it like it is

Comedian discusses O.J., racism and his departure from 'In Living Color'

By Steve Hammer
NUVO Newsweekly
August 1994

Chris Rock's life hasn't always been easy. A product of busing while growing up in Brooklyn, Rock was often beaten by the poorer white kids -- "white toxic waste" -- at his school. "Nothing a white man with a penny hates more than a nigger with a nickel," he jokes.

Discovered at age 18 by Eddie Murphy, the Brooklyn native has gone on to a stand-up comedy career as well as acclaimed roles in films such as New Jack City, Boomerang, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and Beverly Hills Cop II.

Last year, he left Saturday Night Live, where he had been a cast member for three years, and joined the cast of the now-canceled Fox show In Living Color. In 1993 he also co-wrote and produced CB-4, a mock rap-music documentary, with his partner, Village Voice writer Nelson George. His latest project, an HBO special called Big Ass Jokes, was universally praised by critics.

Last week, from a hotel room in St. Louis, Rock talked with NUVO about Saturday Night Live, his films, his stand-up career and growing up black in an all-white school. We began by asking him about his recent appearance on David Letterman's show.

When you were on Letterman a couple of weeks ago, you really killed. I've never seen anyone doing stand-up kill like that on his show. Then a couple nights later, you were on Conan and it didn't seem to work.

It's a different crowd. One crowd is happy to see Letterman. The other's mad [laughs] that they're not seeing Letterman.

Would you ever do Saturday Night Live again?

Under the right circumstances. If I could show up and do it and go home, you know? The bad thing about SNL was that I was only going to be in one thing, my one black sketch or whatever, but I had to be there all week to do that. So that meant no movies, no stand-up. It was this insane effort for one thing.

I could never understand why they didn't use you more.

It's weird. Black people always think there's this conspiracy. [Outraged voice] "They were trying to hold you back!" But [at SNL] they just didn't know. You know? I would come up with these ideas, and they just wouldn't get them. It was a weird time. But I went to In Living Color so I could be funny.

The death of 'In Living Color'

What happened to In Living Color, bottom-line?

Bottom line, the Wayans left and it really fell apart. And they tried to - it really sounds bad - but they tried to integrate the show. They tried to make it mainstream. But people liked the show because it was black. White people did not tune into In Living Color to see a Ross Perot impression. The black stuff that white people tend to like is usually really black.

Jesse Jackson said Fox should be sued because it canceled Roc and In Living Color, two black comedies. What do you make of that?

Jesse Jackson is out of his mind.

But if the suit went through and they brought the show back -

I guess I'd have a job again. With Living Color they actually have a beef, because the ratings - you could look at the ratings this week. Living Color has a decent rating for a Fox show. Why they dropped it, I don't know.

But the other show? I support black art, but - it still has to be funny, you know? I don't think white people watch a show because there's an Irish guy on it or a Jewish guy on it. [Mimicking white voice] "Let's watch it! It's not funny!"

I think Jesse needs to watch those shows again. Is [Roc star and ex-con] Charles Dutton funny? Huh? At the end of the day, no. He's not. Charles Dutton is not as funny as Martin Lawrence. Charles Dutton is off the air; Martin is on.

Now, I got nothing against Charles Dutton... but let's be truthful here. Is that show as funny as Living Single? No! If Roc was funny, it would be on the air. It's a sitcom. Situation comedy.


I'm just on my Roc rant today. But Charles Dutton is always preaching. How can you say someone has a negative image? (Shouting) YOU'RE A MURDERER!

Busing and racism

In your act, you talk a lot about being bused to white schools. Indianapolis went through a lot of heavy stuff when I was in high school in the 80s. People were going crazy. You went through the same thing.

People protested. It was insane. We're talking the 70s. People with picket signs. "Nigger Go Home" and stuff. You'd swear it was in the 50s, but it was the 70s.

A lot of black comedians talk about racism. I do that too, but I really know white people. In my life I've experienced racism. I don't think most black people really experience blatant, blatant racism. I mean, the average brother has not been called "nigger." The average brother has not been chased down a block by a bunch of white people with bats and gotten the shit beat out of him Ñ and at the same time had white friends, because you're in a white school.

The average black person feels the effect of racism, which is a shitty job and where you live, if you live in the projects. All these things are the effects of racism, you know what I mean, but they're not actual in-your-face racism.

Are you happy with the way CB-4 turned out? Or would you want to go back and re-shoot or re-edit it or whatever?

You want to re-shoot and re-edit everything. Dustin Hoffman wants to re-edit Rain Man. As if CB-4's anywhere near that. CB-4 is not as good as the credits in Rain Man.

But I like CB-4 . CB-4 is about kids being hard that don't have to be. We know the phenomenon of, you know, the ghetto, and what the ghetto will do to you. But there's even a bigger phenomenon of kids who are not from the ghetto getting into trouble. They're black kids with no excuse. What's that about?

In CB-4, under the jokes and the Big-Ass Biscuits and stuff, is a little basic message of "be yourself." And the stupidity of hardness. Brothers are always trying to be hard.

I grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. But I grew up in, like, the nicest block in the ghetto. I really grew up on a nice block. It was still Bed-Stuy, it was still three blocks from the projects and all that, but I really have to admit my block was really nice. I can't front.

And the bad thing is... it's like all my friends still ended up on drugs, sitting in jail and whatnot. It's like, Why? It seems odd. And it's everywhere I go. The Surgeon General's son is a coke dealer or whatever. It's ridiculous. There's so much of that going on. And that really concerns me. Not that I don't care about people, who are, you know, in the lower thing...

Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor

Your last HBO show got some really great reviews.

The HBO show really hit a nerve with people. I'm very grateful. It's the thing I'm most proud of. It's the one thing I wouldn't re-edit.

One of the reviews of it compared you to Cosby.

"Cosby with cussing." That's what someone said about the HBO special. [As Cosby] Russell, that motherfuckerÉ Actually I don't curse that much in my act.

I like Bill Cosby. I have to give it up for Bill Cosby. He's one of the greatest comedians to have ever lived. He's like in the top three.

I think he's not quite as good as Richard, but what he does, he does well. I mean, he's really incredible. This guy, Bill Cosby, has like 10 comedy albums that are all hysterical and totally different. He's one of the few guys who actually reinvents himself.

Even more so than Pryor?

All of Richard's stuff is basically about the same. It's racism and sex, for the most part, and some drug stuff and family stuff in there. White people and pussy. That's the basic topic. Cosby is like, "I'm going to tell ghost stories. I'm gonna talk about Moses." He's got a whole album where he just talks about his brother Russell.

Cosby is the only comedian I ever saw grow up. He went from, you know, talking about being a kid to talking about having kids.

Cosby's my man now. Actually got to talk to him on the phone recently. We got to kick it for the first time.

What was that like?

You definitely feel like you're talking to your father, no matter what. He's the only comedian I ever talked to that I felt like I was talking to a grown man, you know what I mean?

I mean, everyone else I talk to I kind of feel like Ñ when I see Robin Williams, I'm like "Hey, how you doing, Robin?" Like I'm on his level, even though I'm not. I call him Mr. Cosby.

On O.J. Simpson

Have you followed the O.J. Simpson case much?

[Pause] I hope he didn't do it. You hope and you pray that he didn't do it. But it looks bad. Did the cops set him up? Unlikely. But stranger things have happened. Lesser-known people, people who have nothing, have been set up. Every year, people are getting out of jail for shit they didn't do, where the guy spent 20 years in jail for nothing. I don't know; I don't want to put him in jail on DNA. [Silence]

Uh, shifting gears as much as possibleÉ

O.J.! [Laughing] Messing with those white girls! You see what happens? I predicted it! I said it on HBO!

Tell me about The Calm-Down Guy.

It's my next flick. It's a romantic comedy. It's a big departure from CB-4, but, you know... Woody Allen did Take the Money and Run before he did Annie Hall. The basic premise is: women love bad men until something bad happens. And then they go out with the Calm-Down Guy. Me. Hopefully we're going to begin filming in late October with Reggie Hudlin and Universal.

Will there ever be a CB-4 reunion? Like Spinal Tap got back together?

There's not going to be a sequel to CB-4, but I am going to do another film about an R&B group called G-Spot. I'm definitely going to do that after Calm-Down Guy.. It might even have the same cast as CB-4, the same guys in the group.

R&B is ridiculous right now. All these groups sing a cappella now, all these nasty lyrics. R. Kelly, Jodeci, everybody's wearing the same stuff. They use the same dancers in the videos.

Gangsta rap puts him to sleep

So what kind of stuff do you prefer? What do you listen to when you're on the road?

Rap. Eric B & Rakim. Anybody that can write. Old Stevie Wonder stuff. I'm a lyric guy.

Do you listen much to Dr. Dre and Snoop?

A little bit. I get into it when I'm riding in my truck. It's driving music. But lyrically it puts me to sleep. How many times can you listen to "Bitches Ain't Shit"? You have a real problem [laughs] if you can keep listening to that.

What else do you listen to?

I like the Tribe. [Ice] Cube doesn't go as far out there as Dre and those guys. But Cube will drop a little science on you every now and then. I do love De La Soul. I think they're very underrated. Me and those guys are pretty cool.

I like Dre. I like Snoop. I definitely have the albums. They're definitely in rotation, but uh... I'm not for censorship or any of that stuff. But I think if you listen to good stuff, if you listen to good writers and you read good books, you're going to write good stuff. You listen to bullshit, you're going to write bullshit.

What do you have to say to the people of Indianapolis?

Come out to the show. Don't kill your wife and her boyfriend.

Steve Hammer
E-mail: shammer@nuvo.net
Web: http://www.nuvo.net/hammer/

SOURCE - http://www.nuvo.net/hammer/int/rock.html


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