Oprah Talks to Chris Rock

photograph : Rob Howard Note: This interview appeared in the June 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

I will never forget the inaugural time I saw Chris Rock perform—I laughed so intemperate my side ache. As he paced the stage in a rhythm that has frequently made him seem angstrom much a call-and-response southern preacher as the complete comedian he is, he unflinchingly took on the most sensitive topics, making the audience break dance into rackety laugh with his own brew of wag, wisdom, and social comment. That night I did enough cracking up to final me a year.

Chris Rock is on a hustle. His talent has led him all the way from the tough streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to comedy ‘s center stage. The oldest of seven children, he credits his truck-driver church father and schoolteacher mother with giving him a potent work ethic and moral compass. As a male child, he was bussed from the black section of town to an all-white school, where he was taunted and regularly beaten up. In tenth grade he dropped out of high school, earned his GED, then worked leftover jobs—including busboy at Red Lobster and hospital orderly—while attending community college. But he ‘d always dreamed of a career in comedy, and in 1985 he got his first rupture. While waiting in the ticket wrinkle for Eddie Murphy ‘s stand-up display at Radio City Music Hall, he read a newspaper notice about an open-mike seance at a golf club called Catch a Rising Star. He auditioned and received such a hard response that he continued performing at the club.

In 1988 Rock landed a region in the blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. That role led to appearances on The Arsenio Hall Show, where Rock caught the attention of Lorne Michaels, executive manufacturer of Saturday Night Live. Michaels invited Rock to a mass hearing in 1990 and hired him as a featured player. In 1996, three years after he ‘d left SNL, he taped an HBO comedy extra that garnered him two Emmys. soon after, HBO signed him to host The Chris Rock Show, before he returned to host SNL in 1997. even as his stand-up career skyrocketed, Rock, now 37, appeared in movies such as New Jack City ( 1991 ), Nurse Betty ( 2000 ), and Down to Earth ( 2001 ). This summer he stars in Bad Company with Anthony Hopkins, and he ‘ll make his directorial debut future year with the drollery Head of State.

But what excites him most is his impend fatherhood. When I visited him at his function in lower Manhattan, a few miles from his home, he was beaming with the news that after five years of marriage he and his wife Malaak Compton-Rock—the executive conductor of a nonprofit organization organization—are expecting their inaugural child. We spent that Saturday good afternoon talking about everything from why comedy is his calling to the prospect of parenting—and the potent life sentence principle that sustains him during his most difficult moments.

Oprah: I ‘ve read that you were teased a lot in high school and used humor to deflect it. Were your school years traumatic ?

Chris: Yes. I ‘m over that now, but at the clock it was bad. School was my entire global.

Oprah: When did the tease begin ?

Chris: In second class. And it lasted until tenth grade—the year I left high gear school.

Oprah: That ‘s barbarous.

Chris: Yes, and when all you know is school, you think you ‘re going to know the people around you forever.

Oprah: When did you inaugural know you were funny ?

Chris: I did n’t know I was funny—I barely knew that people responded to me in a humorous way. Funny is only something that others know about you—you ca n’t be funny by yourself. I frequently hear people say, “ I always knew I was amusing. ” I want to say, “ You idiot—you did n’t know anything. ”

Oprah: But did n’t you know you had a gift for making people laugh ?

Chris: You entirely know that you ‘re smart because you ‘re around dense people from time to time ! That ‘s the moment when you say to yourself, “ Hey, I know a thing or two. ”

Oprah: So then you did know you had a talent ?

Chris: When I was about 6, I said to myself, “ Wait a minute—I ‘m dead serious, and everyone else is cracking up. ” I thought, “ I ‘ve got something here. Let me learn how to work it. ”

Oprah: And that you did.

Chris: Yes. By the time I was 7 or 8, I wanted to be a comedy writer. When I ‘d see the credits roll after a comedy show, I ‘d say to myself, “ I ‘m going to write for one of these shows one day. ”

Oprah: Who inspired you back then ?

Chris: Bill Cosby was the first comedian I was exposed to, because he does n’t curse. As a boy, I ‘d sneak to stay up and watch Cosby guest-host The Tonight Show. A fortune of people do n’t remember that he hosted that appearance back in the seventies—and he was a flair at it. He ‘d be smoking a cigar with his cool plaid suit on.

Oprah: Sitting in for Johnny Carson ?

Chris: Yes. Cosby was in rotation with David Brenner and a few others. He ‘d besides come on and do stand-up comedy from time to prison term.

Oprah: Were you actually studying Cosby or were you barely taking in everything ?

Chris: Both. But I never had the assurance to say I was going to be in front of the television camera as a comedian until I saw Eddie Murphy years later. After I left eminent educate and got my GED, I studied broadcast journalism for a year at a community college. Though part of me had always wanted to be a comedian, another separate of me had constantly wanted to be Bryant Gumbel or Dan Rather.

Oprah: Where is that part of you now ?

Chris: It ‘s gone. Broadcast journalism involves presenting other people ‘s words.

Oprah: You ‘re more than just funny—you take difficult subjects and make them entertaining. What gives you the chutzpa to delve into the hard material ?

Chris: I do n’t know ! I was raised on blame music—the beginning art form created by black people who were absolve to say anything they wanted. So the rap on those first NWA and Public Enemy records—the good tap, not the garbage—already contained much of what I ‘ve said.

Oprah: One of your funniest routines is about a black woman trying to use a maxed-out recognition tease that she prays wo n’t be rejected at the department storehouse.

Chris: Every time I see you, you request that fib like it ‘s a song or something. You ‘re like, “ Hey, Chris, can you do the one about the black womanhood in the department storehouse ? ”

Oprah: That ‘s because I have been that womanhood. Years ago when I first moved to Chicago, I was in a grocery store and the cashier actually took my tease away. I left there with my groceries sitting in the aisle. It was one of the most humiliate moments a homo being can ever experience.

Chris: The next most demeaning thing is when you do n’t have enough cash at the checkout and you ‘re trying to decide : Should I buy milk or toilet composition ?

Oprah: right !

Chris: My mother was the charwoman who had all the credit cards from stores that should n’t evening give credit cards. If a store is already soil cheap and has all its clothes in bins, why should it even have credit ?

Oprah: Part of your talent is taking those real-life moments that are n’t necessarily funny and making them humorous. How do you do that—are you always on the lookout for humor ?

Chris: Yes, and I get bore very easily. besides, when I take something that ‘s not so curious and find humor in it and put a new slant on it, then I ‘m not just a comedian—I ‘m a diarist.

Oprah: That ‘s the Bryant Gumbel in you coming out.

Chris: That ‘s how I contribute. That ‘s how I am an artist. To merely talk about something that ‘s funny is one thing, but there ‘s no real number artwork to that.

Oprah: When you ‘re out somewhere and you think of something humorous, do you stop and write it down or do you just catalog it in your head ?

Chris: I catalog it in a PalmPilot, or I call up my answer machine at home and tell a joke into it so I can remember it by and by.

Oprah: When you do a operation, you do n’t precisely get up there and stand—you haunt back and forth onstage. There ‘s a cycle to it.

Chris: I ‘m trying to give you your money ‘s worth. An entertainer ‘s repute as a live act is the most valuable thing he or she can have. If people know you give good shows, you ‘ll never be broke for the rest of your life. Your agent and director may even swindle you, but you ‘ll always make money. person like Patti LaBelle can go back on the road anytime, because we all know that Patti is going to throw down. She does n’t tied need a hit record.

Oprah: She can just sing “ You Are My acquaintance. ”

Chris: Yes ! then, early on in my career it was identical significant that I gain that reputation. I have n’t been on the road in two or three years, but when I say tickets are on sale, I know they ‘re going to be gone, even if my movie bombed or my television receiver show sucked. For years I ‘ve been laying the groundwork for my routine. My stylus is half knocker, half preacher. My grandfather was a preacher, and when I ‘m talking to an audience, I am doing the lapp thing he did—giving people a newly perspective on their lives.

Oprah: Do you believe everyone has a calling and that temper is yours ?

Chris: This is absolutely what I was put on earth to do—to make people laugh about things that were n’t thus funny story to begin with. That ‘s why I ‘m here.

Oprah: And now you ‘re preparing to take on another huge calling—fatherhood.

Chris: Our child is such a 9/11 pamper. I said to myself, “ The populace ‘s falling down, and what have I done with my life ? ” We ‘ve been married five years, but we ‘ve never planned anything—it has always been about today. After September 11, I said, “ It ‘s time. Let ‘s have a baby. ”

Oprah: So it was a conscious decision ?

Chris: Very conscious.

Oprah: Was marriage difficult for you in the begin ?

Chris: Yes. It ‘s hard working in the beneficent dictatorship of usher occupation and then coming home to a majority rule.

Oprah: So the early days were rocky ?

Chris: I would n’t say rocky—it was just life sentence. I had a draw going on back then, and I could n’t trust many people around me. I met therefore many people after I got rich and celebrated, and I learned that you ca n’t ultimately trust people unless they were your friends when you were broke.

Oprah: You think sol ?

Chris: Yes. If you ‘re break and I ‘m break, and you say, “ Let ‘s go hang out, ” then I know you very do want to hang out with me. There ‘s entirely trust in heavily times, and that ‘s the only time when you very know people. I mean no disrespect to my friends and sleep together ones, but it ‘s excessively easy to be my ally now.

Oprah: You do n’t have friends you knew before the fame and money ?

Chris: A few.

Oprah: sol now you ‘re having a pamper you can offer your love to.

Chris: Babies do n’t know who ‘s rich people and who ‘s poor. You love ’em and they ‘re happy.

Oprah: Would you prefer a son or a daughter ?

Chris: It does n’t matter. I ‘d prefer a female child actually. I think I ‘d be besides hard on a boy.

Oprah: What part of parenting are you most looking forward to ?

Chris: I ‘m looking forward to being happy around my kyd.

Oprah: I love that solution !

Chris: I ‘m besides looking advancing to not being tired around my child. My church father was tired a lot. I want to play ball with my child without having to grab my shoulder because I ‘m not physically fit. And I want to very teach my child and become his or her ally.

Oprah: Does the prospect of parenting frighten you at all ?

Chris: No.

Oprah: No ?

Chris: When you see my face, you know the only matter I ‘m doing is looking forward to it.

Oprah: That ‘s true. When you first base told me about the pamper, I could sense your joy and exhilaration. I ‘m always happy to see that in black parents because so many of our children came into the populace with no one anticipating our arrival. Have you thought of names ?

Chris: If it ‘s a girlfriend ? Holiday.

Oprah: Holiday Rock. Where did that come from ?

Chris: When I heard the song “ Holiday, ” I just thought, Yes, that ‘s it.

Oprah: What does your wife say about that ?

Chris: She ‘s picking out convention names, like Pam and Bob.

Oprah: I ‘m surely that having a child will soften you in places you would never have imagined. Do you enjoy being married now ?

Chris: Yes.

Oprah: Are you and your wife pretty domestic ?

Chris: Very domestic.

Oprah: What would you be doing on this Saturday afternoon if you were n’t sitting here with me ?

Chris: I ‘d be at dwelling watch DVDs, or I ‘d be at a basketball game.

Oprah: When you ‘re out all day, do you come home and spend the evening with your wife ?

Chris: Yes.

Oprah: I ‘d say that ‘s pretty domestic. What excites you in life ?

Chris: Art—I love music and paint. Seeing black people do well when they ‘re trying to do the right thing besides excites me. I was watching a sports prove on HBO, and a bunch of the reporters were black. They were n’t reporting on “ We Shall Overcome ” stuff, fair regular sports stories. As I was watching these guys, I had a big smile on my face. I love seeing black people do normal things, being judged as normal people.

Oprah: Is race always a partially of how you think ?

Chris: Yes. Just death week there were two football play-off games, and there were two black quarterbacks. I ‘m previous enough to remember when there were no black quarterbacks—there were no blacks on television receiver. I hope my son or daughter does n’t have to be a fixated on subspecies as I am, because he or she will grow up in free times. In 1972 I got bussed to a school where I was still one of the first bootleg kids.

Oprah: In 1972 ?

Chris: There were pickets with NIGGER, GO HOME signs. even deoxyadenosine monophosphate late as 1982, there were subspecies riots at my school.

Oprah: In fair a few years, you ‘ve already raised our expectations of comedy. Is there another accomplishment you ‘re striving for now ?

Chris: I want to build what you have : a post. You have a brand in the uplift business—I ‘m going to get you a little badge that says UPLIFTER. In that like means, I want my diagnose to be a brand in drollery. I hope my name stands for comedic excellence.

Oprah: That ‘s solid. How does the hierarchy in drollery compare with other areas of entertainment ?

Chris: Being a comedian is a lot like being an athlete. If you ‘re Carl Lewis and you ‘re the fastest, then no matter what you ‘re the fastest. person would actually have to cheat in order to take that away from you. You ca n’t fake comedy—it ‘s not like a movie, where a conductor can precisely cast a pretty face. No one wanted to give me my own show—they would much rather give a testify to some compact, big guy. No one wanted to give Roseanne a prove, either. But only in comedy can people like me and Roseanne win. For the most character, drollery is the only clean partially of show business.

Oprah: Is n’t that because humor crosses all lines ?

Chris: Yes, and people basically are n’t that racist. They want their laughs. If I make a white guy joke, he ‘s gon na come see me. He ‘s not gon na go see the white guy who does n’t make him laugh precisely because that ridicule is flannel. That ‘s why drollery is one of the few places in the worldly concern where you can absolutely transcend race. And you do n’t have to even try to cross over. Some of our biggest stars, like Redd Foxx and Bernie Mac, never crossed over.

Oprah: Do n’t you just love Bernie Mac ?

Chris: I love Bernie ! For years I ‘ve been pushing that guy forth. NBC, ABC, CBS—all of them lost out [ to Fox ]. Whenever person used to ask me who the next big thing was, I ‘d always say Bernie Mac.

Oprah: When I talked with Bernie, he said he would n’t ever undermine his culture or compromise any part of who he is just to do a situation comedy. And he has mastered that in a way few people have. His show is big because he plays himself.

Chris: He has wholly embraced his culture while besides using a classic comedy structure. He talks to the television camera in a way that ‘s no unlike from George Burns with Gracie Allen.

Oprah: Have n’t you been approached to do sitcoms ?

Chris: I get approached to do shows all the clock. There ‘s a batch of money in sitcoms, but I ‘ve never been the kind of ridicule who wanted to do one. I do n’t think people want to see me saying “ Honey, I ‘m base. ” It ‘s fair not my thing. But now that I have this pamper coming, who knows what will happen ?

Oprah: Why did you stop doing The Chris Rock Show ?

Chris: I truly wanted to do movies, and it ‘s unmanageable to do movies on the side. only if you ‘re Oprah can you say, “ I will shoot between July and September. ” And let me tell you—if I ‘m ever Oprah, I ‘m going to say, “ Can we shoot for one hour a day ? ” It probably sounds crazy, but I may finally go back to my appearance. I miss informing people and being an immediate part of the culture. I miss being able to do a whole slice on reparations. I miss the mix of having Adam Sandler on to sing some filthy song and then talking with Cornel West.

Oprah: We miss you, besides, Chris. not having your picture is a personnel casualty, because there ‘s no one else like you on television. So are you decidedly going back to the testify ?

Chris: If I can figure everything out. This future movie I ‘m filming is identical significant.

Oprah: You told me that about your last movie !

Chris: But I wrote and directed this one.

Oprah: Between 1998 and 2000 when I was trying to get you on my show, you had pulled way back. I ‘ve constantly appreciated how you explained it : “ I ‘m not doing anything because I ‘m tire of looking at myself, tired of hearing myself—and I do n’t want to burn out. ”

Chris: And I besides respect your picture. To go on your show means sitting in the like electric chair that Nelson Mandela sat in, and I do n’t want to waste the point.

Oprah: But were n’t you pulling back on a lot of things ?

Chris: You entirely have a finite amount of time on television. When that time comes, you should be cook. You can’t—

Oprah: Play with that.

Chris: Yes.

Oprah: So you take yourself and your career badly ?

Chris: It ‘s all I ‘ve got. right now, if we opened up the paper and looked in the desire ads, the jobs I ‘d be qualified for would pay minimal wage.

Oprah: What about the jobs you had before you became a successful comedian ?

Chris: You know what ? I do n’t remember them all. But I ‘ll tell you this : When person threw up, I was the guy who had to clean it up. And that was at every place I worked, whether I was a banal boy—

Oprah: Or a crimson Lobster busboy.

Chris: Oooh, boy—I could n’t even work at Red Lobster now. I ‘m allergic to shrimp !

Oprah: Red Lobster brings back such memories. My friends and I would constantly go there, like after the promenade.

Chris: At least you went to the promenade ! I ‘m the failure who served you while you were there. No promenade for me !

Oprah: thus when you first began making money, what did that base to you ?

Chris: In the begin, it actually equitable meant I could buy more food. I swear to you, I was like, “ Wow, I can get two slices now ! ” When you ‘ve been on a ghetto diet your stallion life, you ‘re just happy to get a big pop rather of a medium.

Oprah: Since those times, how has your vision for yourself taken shape—is there a life strategy or plan for Chris Rock ?

Chris: What is my vision for Chris Rock ? You mean you want me to talk about myself in the third person ?

Oprah: I know—does n’t it make you crazy when people refer to themselves as if they ‘re not sitting right there ?

Chris: That ‘s a surely sign person is going crazy—when he refers to himself in the third person, talks in first gear tones, and walks around wearing shades all day ! But anyhow, to answer your question, the only plan I have is to not do anything I do n’t want to do—and to never work fair for money. I besides want to constantly live below my means. That ‘s the overlord design. The rest will take manage of itself.

Oprah: You ‘ve got it !

Chris: If you live below your means, you can turn down gorge all the time.

Oprah: And if you live below your means long enough, you ‘ll never have to work for money again. I wish more entertainers would realize that.

Chris: I do, besides. I see guys who ca n’t make 10 percentage of what I make, and however they have four Bentleys, three houses, and four bodyguards.

Oprah: So that ‘s never going to happen to you ?

Chris: Never.

Oprah: Do you live pretty modestly ?

Chris: Yes. I just bought a theater following door to a doctor ‘s home—that ‘s not excessively rich. You know you ‘re rich when you have to drive for a one-half hour to get to your house once you ‘re on your property.

Oprah: In the coming years, what can the worldly concern expect from Chris Rock ?

Chris: Lots more jokes, I hope. The biggest question for me immediately is this : How do I mature while at the like time not allowing myself to be watered down ? Oprah, you ‘re going to save the world—but I ‘m all about the comedy !

Oprah: Do you approach life from a comedic point of view, or are you unplayful most of the meter ?

Chris: Both. I can see the humor in good about any site. After I lost my dad [ his father died in 1989 ], I realized that none of us should take things besides seriously, because everything except death works itself out. Everything. No matter what happens or how unmanageable things become, you will finally feel effective.

Oprah: sol does anything bother you ?

Chris: The ignorance of the educated pisses me off—the ignorance of the uneducated I barely feel deplorable for ….

Oprah: Does that ignorance include racism ?

Chris: Yes, all forms of ignorance. It besides bothers me that we do n’t live in a humble society. then many people seem to be on a apparitional kick these days, so they should know that no matter which of the apparitional textbook you read—the bible, the Koran, the Torah, whatever—there is one characteristic that is mentioned more than any other : humility. And however we live in a time of such braggadocio.

Oprah: Especially in entertainment.

Chris: The celebrities get up on stagecoach to thank God—and by the room, they ‘re wearing a $ 12,000 equip.

Oprah: So aside from that, do everyday circumstances ever get you down ?

Chris: I do n’t let ’em get me down !

Oprah: You do n’t ?

Chris: No. It has much been said that tomorrow is not guaranteed—and that ‘s genuine. But tomorrow is calm the safest bet in the populace.

Oprah: I call that sunrise faith—the belief that the sun is reasonably certain to show up tomorrow.

Chris: Is Michael Jordan gon na score ? We think he is, but he might not, yet we hush know that tomorrow will probably be here. You see, tomorrow is even more surely than Michael Jordan scoring. In fact, if there ‘s one thing I ‘ve learned, it is this : tomorrow is more sure than good about anything else in the integral world.

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