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Exclusive Interview: Chris Rock

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Posted January 23, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson

 

It's not often that we speak with a bona fide comic legend, but Chris Rock fits those shoes. You've seen Rock's starring roles in movies like New Jack City and Madagascar; his TV show, Everybody Hates Chris; or hosting the Academy Awards. But Rock is best known as one of the greatest stand up comics who has ever graced the Laugh Factory.

Rock's latest DVD, Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger is out now and proves that comedy is universal. The DVD was cut together from shows shot in three cities, London, New York and Johannesburg. As you'd expect, Rock's capacity crowds are way into his act, no matter what country they are from.  Rock and I chopped it up about the new DVD, The Nintendo Wii, and why there are no jokes about Barack Obama...

Stephen Johnson: Your new DVD features a stand-up show shot in three countries. Did you perform differently for each audience?

Chris Rock: No, but a lot of stuff we cut out of the Africa show is just like… ridiculous.  We already set up to do the whole three countries thing, but when we did the Africa show it was like “f*ck, this could be the whole special.”

SJ - The deluxe edition of the DVD is three discs, so you can watch each show, right? That's a great idea...

CR - Yeah, yeah. Just trying to stay in the business.

SJ - Does knowing that millions and millions of people all over the world are gonna see your act make it harder to write jokes?

CR - You never really think about it. I don’t go that far.  I’m just like hoping the 50 people that come to the Comic Strip laugh.  And that’s my main concern

SJ - So you’re writing jokes for 50 people at The Comic Strip and then performing them for the huge crowds you get in Africa and London. It must be a huge difference.

C – It's a difference but it’s -- You know a boxer spars in a gym, and it’s the same fight he’s having at Caesar’s Palace. It's the same. He’s throwing the same punches. You know if it don’t work at the gym, it’s not gonna work at Caesar’s Palace. If it doesn’t work at The Comic Strip, it’s not gonna work in Africa, or Europe, or Australia, or whatever

SJ - How does the material in these shows differ from past  HBO specials and the things that everyone knows you for?

CR –  I think Never Scared. I don’t wanna say. I don’t know, it was like a little long. I think that special was an hour and half. It wasn’t as tight as it could’ve been. I just wanted to make this one tighter. The topics on this one were a lot simpler.  Like I got real big topics in Never Scared – Affirmative Action and all that -- where Kill the Messenger is very simple. It’s almost as simple as Bring The Pain. It’s kind of a throwback. 

SJ - Do you think that the election of Barack Obama is going to change comedy at all? There doesn't seem to be too many jokes you can make about him.

C – Yeah, he is kind of like the Will Smith of presidents, you know.  There’s no Will Smith jokes either. Nor are there any Brad Pitt jokes.  There’s just some guys where jokes don’t stick.  What are you going to say about Brad Pitt?  “Oh yeah?  Well, you used to f*ck Jennifer Aniston and now you f*ck Angelina Jolie. And I bet you f*cked a lot of other hot chicks we don’t know about.”  It’s not really funny is it?

SJ - With Barack Obama, it’s not like guys are jealous of him because he seems like a really nice guy...

C – He seems like a really good guy.  It’s funny, I saw him hit a three the other day -- an NBA three -- then give a speech.  Well f*ck, whaddya gonna do about that?  What are you gonna say about that guy? He hit a three, man, with the cameras on! Like, I can hit a three in the gym -- you know few tries -- I could hit a 3. Cameras on?  Cameras on, hit a 3. 

SJ - Do you ever have bad shows anymore?  Or is that just kind of done for you?

C –  There are bad shows when I’m getting ready to go on tour.  But you know, once you get on tour, hopefully, you’ve been on stage a couple hundred times and all the kinks are worked out. I say to my good friend Anthony Kiedis, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they’re all home runs. Some go further than others, you know?  Or I go to a Chili Peppers show, and he’s talking about the show afterwards, and some nights, he’s crazy enough not to sing "Under the Bridge."  And he says, “Well that show wasn’t as good as the night before.” Well [the night before] you sang "Under the Bridge," mother f*cker. So you know they’re all home runs.

SJ - Do some people go to your shows expecting you to do the things they’re familiar with?

C – Nahh. That’s why shows grow, you know?  That’s why it’s grown since ’96 and hasn’t just leveled out.  Most comics do something really funny and they get big right about that time. Then it kind of levels out because they’re doing the same jokes and it gets incrementally smaller because it’s the same sh*t.  I’ve been very fortunate. I come up with new stuff. I wait. I try to wait for the world to change somewhat and I think people come to hear the new stuff.  It’s weird. Every tour I do, I say “OK, I’m gonna do an encore where I do some old stuff."  But I never do it, because I always have a two-hour show. Even when I go see Bill Cosby, it’s all new stuff.  He does the dentist bit at the end -- one old bit.  And Carlin used to do the same thing. All new, then close with one old bit.

SJ - It's like doing your hit song.

C – Nahhh, man. Jokes are about a surprise.  It’s like a murder mystery where nobody gets killed, you know?  Once you know the jokes, it’s hard.

SJ - You lead a really different life than most of the people in your audience obviously.

C – Really?

SJ - I would say so, I mean different than my life...

C – Well put it this way, do I have a bigger house than most of the people in the audience?  Yes.  But that’s about it, I got kids..I got a wife.

SJ - So that doesn’t make it harder to write jokes that people can relate to?

C – My kids go to school, a normal school, and I gotta pick them up, and my wife is mad at me for the same reasons everyone else’s…  You think my wife don’t complain?  Plus I worked before I did this.  That’s the good thing about this special too, is jokes about work and it’s a real blue-collar special. This is a NY Post special, where the last one was kind of NY Times.

SJ -  I don’t know if you’re familiar with our network at all, but we’re  focused on video games and technology and things like that.

C – ok

SJ - So do you play any video games?

C – NBA Live, a little Madden. Now, I’m on the Wii.

SJ - You like the Wii?

C – I like the Wii. The Wii’s cute. The Wii is like a throwback game, though.  We’re acting like this is new technology.  I remember games like this in malls. Like the kind of game you used to have to put fifty cents in instead of a quarter. They didn’t really take off that much, but I guess at your house it’s a whole other story. 

SJ - Have you ever done any voices in video games or appeared in any?

C – No, no not yet. Nobody’s called

SJ - A really popular genre of games right now is these Rock and Roll style games, like Guitar Hero. Do you think there could ever be a standup comedy game?

C -- I don’t know.  In China.. karaoke’s big over there, but they have jokey-oke, where people do routines of their favorite comedians.

 SJ - Really?

C – Yeah, and it's very popular. Think about the mousy girl in your office doing Dice Clay. It would be kinda funny. Or the cool guy doing Woody Allen, talking about not getting laid or stuff like that.

 SJ - Totally. Speaking of cool guys, you're pretty cool, but I imagine a lot of the people who watch our network and read our website are not particularly cool...

C – I’m a nerd to the bone, man.  Ha ha, please.

SJ - In what way do you think you’re a nerd?

C – You know, video games.  I didn’t get laid till I got famous, you know? Or, laid regularly anyway.

SJ - You seem so confident on stage.

C – Nahh..I mean, there’s a confidence, don’t get me wrong.  I have so much material when I’m on stage, too. That’s a reaction to being scared, you know? Just having all that ammunition when I’m up there. It's like, OK, the average comedian does an hour show, but I do two-hours..I’m just scared to f*cking death that I’m not gonna have enough sh*t, so I overpack.

SJ - I’m a big fan and I’ve seen you’re specials any number of times. That’s just the last thing that’s in my head is that “Oh that guy’s nervous”

C – Oh, man, but you know it’s good to be nervous. It’s good to always acknowledge how bad it can go. 

SJ - Even though it’s always home runs?

C – Well, yeah but it could be a f*ckin ground out to third, too.

SJ - Right on, so any pieces of advice for our readership and our viewership?

C – Go out there, have fun, get laid. Appreciate the girls. Whenever I’m talking to young kids, I say:  Yo, man, appreciate it. Have fun with it. Have fun with the girls, don’t just kick ‘em out.  And the girls, have fun with the guys.  Everybody, enjoy each other.

SJ - That’s a great way to end things man, thanks a lot!

Chris Rock's latest DVD, Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger, is out now at a DVD retailer near you.

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