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Chris Rock Isn’t Laughing

The f#*cking uncomfortable truths that drive America’s master comic

Chris RockChris Rock

Chris Rock during his 'No Apologies Tour' in 2008.

GV Cruz/WireImage

Here in the Time of Rock, wherein Christopher Julius Rock III rules again as he has ruled before, but only more so — international sweep! colossal forums! better transportation! — promptness counts for much. “There’s no such thing as early,” Rock himself will tell you, just as his late heroic father often impressed upon him under threat of belt strap. “There’s on time and late. I’m always on time.”

Unsurprisingly, then, he has made it a point to be on time for his Time, which is a very good thing for a dire populace that suddenly seeks racial clarity with historic fervor (no mortal, of course, sifts matters of class and skin divide with sharper acuity than Rock, who is black but sometimes employs the term “a fine mocha” because he is just that precise.) Moreover, he concedes that seizing this seismic American Moment is probably a very good thing for himself as well, what with his nobly intended film career in chronic flux and no particularly daring roles to entice: “Eh, you know, so you read a couple of scripts, and it was like, naahhh —— hit the road, hit the road. Plus, it’s the election year. It was like, come on, man! This is the time! Black guy runnin’ for president against a woman —— it’s tailor-made for me.”

Because he is a listener first and foremost, the sharp clarion call of a nation — and also that of his savvy accountants — could not es­cape his attention. And so, for months now, he has begun dispensing fresh sa­lient insight across the continent and also across the ocean, forcing jaws to plummet and beliefs to jangle in his fiery wake. From town to town, at carefully plotted stopovers (with some tickets scalped for hundreds of dollars apiece), his itinerant wisdom has echoed not un­like rolling thunder, depending on the acoustics provided.

For instance: “Bush has fucked up so bad,” he will posit to any and all con­gregants in braying loops of oratory, “that he’s made it hard for a white man to run for president. ‘Gimme anything but another white man, please! Black man, white woman, giraffe, anything!’ A white man’s had that job for hundreds of years — and one guy fucked it up for all of ya!” And: “Each candidate tells you how humble they are. No, you’re not humble! Do you know how big your ego has to be to say you wanna be president of the United States? Do you know how much Puff Daddy juice you have to drink? How many Kanye injections you have to take?”

And: “I actually think America is ready for a woman president. But does it have to be that woman?… She’s gonna work in the office where her husband got blow jobs?! There ain’t enough redecorating in the world she can do to change that!… There’s one thing Hillary Clinton’s better at than everybody else, and one thing only —— and that’s forgiveness! Hill­ary Clinton is the greatest forgiver in the history of the world. Even Jesus knows: ‘You really good at forgiveness. I mean, I talk the talk, but you walk the walk!’ “

And: “Barack Obama — he’s a black man with two black names! Barack. Obama. He doesn’t let his blackness sneak up on you. As soon as you hear Barack Obama you wonder, ‘Does he have a spear?’… He’s so cool, too, man. I don’t think he realizes he’s a black candidate! When you’re the only black guy doing some­thing, people expect you to take it up a notch. If you’re the only black playing basketball with a bunch of white guys — they expect you to dunk!… Barack has a handicap the other candidates don’t have: Barack Obama has a black wife. And I don’t think a black woman can be first lady of the United States. Yeah, I said it! A black woman can be president, no problem. First lady? Can’t do it. You know why? Because a black woman cannot play the background of a relationship. Just imagine telling your black wife that you’re president? ‘Honey, I did it! I won! I’m the president.’ ‘No, we the president! And I want my girlfriends in the Cabinet! I want Kiki to be secre­tary of state! She can fight!'”

These, of course, are mere droplets from ninety-plus minutes of Never Be­fore Heard meticulously honed societal meanderings —— topics ad infinitum tra­versing war, politics, pharmaceuticals, Roger Clemens, real estate, ejaculation, love, fatness, the energy crisis, Anna Nicole Smith, gender discord, women gone missing, debt, careerism, entertain­ment gossip, SAT scores, gayness, racial correctness (“Now they’re trying to get rid of the word nigger, my beloved nig­ger.…”), Britney Spears and beyond — sprung from the ever-swirling Rock reservoir of dyspepsia, which has been damming up since the airing of his fourth HBO concert special, Never Scared, in 2004.

“After I tape a special, I go to sleep for three years,” says Rock, meaning all material amassed for the broadcast is forever purged and discarded on-camera, so that the new can begin percolat­ing while the universe dependably roils forth. And what would roil and erupt during this latest respite has awoken Rock to a world all but screaming out for his interpretive prowess.

“I think there was kind of a new hunger for him,” notes trusted confidant Jerry Seinfeld. “Like the Wheel of Fortune, there’s this wheel of culture that turns around and around, and it sometimes lines up with a person at a certain point in their work. You can just feel it, and it’s always excit­ing to watch happen. Chris has been there before, and now it seems to be his moment all over again, you know?”

Or as Rock’s friend Bill Stephney, the re­vered Public Enemy music impresario, puts it, “The times compel him, and he processes it as only he can. His mind and eyes should be donated to science. He doesn’t really know the gravity of his own power. It’s sort of like the Olympics with him: Every handful of years, there’s a Chris Rock moment. And we just hap­pen to be in that hot zone, which has maybe never been hotter.”

Here in the Time of Rock, Rock sleeps little. Largely, this is be­cause sleep means little to him, although he will tell you, “I know of every sleep aid known to man: Advil, Tylenol PM, Lunesta, melatonin —— and Ambien is fuckin’ great!” Thus, there is a sort of permanent grogginess about him, a somnambulant eye-of-storm calm familiar to all who dwell in his private midst. Personally, I believe this is the way he conserves the energy he must summon in order to shock mankind with the irrefutable truths and bemused brimstone he unleashes. (When spotlit, according to writing cohort Jeff Stilson, he becomes “Chris Rock times one thousand.”)

He knows, after all, there is much to do on his life mission, even as mortality taunts him at every turn. “Forty-three’s only young if you die at forty-three,” he told me, pensive as can be, when I first encountered him in Chi­cago, where his No Apologies concert tour had pitched tent for four sold-out nights. He had, in fact, turned forty-three one week earlier, and celebrated by attending the Broadway produc­tion of The Little Mermaid with cher­ished daughters Lola, 5, and Zahra, 3, and his glamorous wife of eleven years, Malaak Compton Rock, currently on view as a celebrity philanthropist judge on Oprah’s Big Give reality program.

Oprah, whose universal empowerment headquarters are also located in Chi­cago, factors often in the life of Rock; when he hosted the Academy Awards in 2005, he regularly sought eye contact with her in the audience for quick fixes of unconditional support. (“Oprah’s here,” he said during one pause that night from the stage. “Oprah is so rich I saw John Kerry proposing to her just an hour ago.” Oprah laughed; Kerry, of course, had fallen hard to George W. Bush at election three months earlier.) The Rocks also attended the unveiling of Oprah’s South African school for girls at the dawn of 2007 as well as the exclusive star-glutted benefit gala she threw for Barack Obama last September at her sprawling Montecito, California, hideaway: “People were basically there to see Oprah’s house,” he says. “And I’ve got a feeling none of us did. I’ve got a feeling we were all at the guesthouse.”

You should therefore know that Rock, when I found him, was ensconced at Chicago’s Peninsula hotel, preferred accommodation for guests of The Oprah Winfrey Show, whose panelists that same week included Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, who had been sharing ho­tel elevators not only with Rock but also with Will Ferrell (on his own film-promotion rounds). Which is to say: Ameri­can Comedy itself had momentarily pulsed inside one luxurious vacuum —— a coincidental nexus, with room service and views of Lake Michigan! “And we never made time for a Justice League of America meeting,” Rock lamented to me, referring of course to the hallowed society of superheroes.

Which calls to mind this pertinent Rock nugget —— vis-á-vis his aforementioned serenely under­stated offstage comportment —— which he once shared with David Rensin, co-au­thor of his best Selling 1997 comic mem­oir Rock This! “I don’t want to waste my powers. If Superman flew around all the time, he might not be able to save Lois when it counted. You’ve got to walk sometimes.”

This, at very least, would indicate that Rock does begin to under­stand the gravity of his own powers, and also possibly explain why the itiner­ary printed in his official No Apologies tour booklet lists engagements slated for Krypton and Gotham City. For what it’s worth, the same booklet implies that he will return late next month to Madison Square Garden (where he dazzled some 20,000 New Year’s Eve revelers), fol­lowing a stopover performance on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Rock walks whenever possible — a badge of native New York honor (famously raised in Brook­lyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neigh­borhood/ghetto; currently a resident of Alpine, New Jersey, twenty minutes by speeding Rockmobile from his Up­per West Side office) —— and now he was walking amid the sumptuous Peninsula Sunday-brunch buffet tables in search of food he would barely consume. “I never finish anything,” he confessed, meaning meals, and in this case meaning a chorizo omelet and sushi and fruit.

Preternaturally legume-slim, Rock is also lank and much taller than his obstreperous come­dy persona suggests (five feet eleven un­der whichever omnipresent jaunty cap). That he lent perfect antic voice to a mos­quito named Mooseblood in Seinfeld’s animated Bee Movie last year (and, alas, that of the Lil’ Penny Hardaway pup­pet in a decade-old Nike ad campaign) confirms the dichotomy. Conversely, however, his scrappy warmth did nicely imbue a zebra in the 2005 blockbuster Madagascar, which grossed more than $500 million worldwide and was by far Rock’s largest single exposure to the human race, despite being computer-generated. (He took that job, inciden­tally, because “Shrek came out and Eddie [Murphy] told me what he was makin’.”)

Anyway, on this day and on two others I spent with him in different provinces, he wore a navy crew-neck sweater and navy sweatpants, the civilian uniform he favors most devotedly —— possibly (but probably not) to compensate for the fact “I am not blue-black,” as he approximated his tint of flesh on the recent PBS Henry Louis Gates Jr. genealogical series, Afri­can American Lives 2, wherein he learned that his ancestry was twenty percent white European. “Wow,” he blurted to Gates in that particular installment, “I’m horrible at sports, so maybe that explains that. My jump shot is horrible!”

As goes irony, Europe and various lands beyond have lately stoked Rock’s waking dreamscape, in that he has long wished to become exported trade. Be­cause he has ceaselessly been proclaimed the Funniest Man Alive since his 1996 landmark Bring the Pain stand-up special, there comes for him a niggling respon­sibility to go be Funny in other places where people are also Alive but don’t get HBO or his extraordinarily fine CW network coming-of-age series, Everybody Hates Chris (produced and narrated three seasons running by Rock) or film releases such as CB4, Pootie Tang, Down to Earth, Nurse Betty and last year’s I Think I Love My Wife, his headstrong auteur remake of Eric Rohmer’s French New Wave curiosity Chloe in the Afternoon.

“He’s really on some ‘I wanna ex­pand my world’ campaign,” says culture critic and Rock confrere Nelson George. “There are imposed parameters to what an African-American artist can and can’t do in Europe. Certainly for a co­median. But he always believed once he opened that door and really pushed the envelope, and really trusted his gut, he’d find himself a whole new audience, and a whole new confidence.”

Thus, Rock being Rock (i.e., an unstoppable juggernaut born to topple all limitations), he began forcing the idea of foreign conquest in January by “officially” launching this tour with several dates scattered in and around London, where ticket demand instantly exceeded available housing. “I sold out in a day!” Rock told me, incredu­lous but also with eyes dancing merrily.

“I’ve been talking about trying this for years,” he said on this February Sunday, soaring with the kind of validation that tends to impregnate the Time of Rock. “My old management —— you’d tell some­body you’re a black comedian and you want to play London, they said, ‘How about we book four more Detroit dates instead?’ If you’re gonna be in the movie business, or any business nowadays, you have to establish yourself worldwide. They didn’t release my last movie over there, which pissed me off to the point where I’m like, ‘You know what? You’re all wrong. I’m going over there, and I’m gonna make a name for myself.’ And now dates from other countries keep coming in! Never been done! I’m doin’ Australia! I’m doin’ South Africa! New Zealand! So I’m really spreadin’ my comedic wings this year. I’m mixin’ it up!”

Selected Moments in and from the Time of Rock:

There had been a mix-up with the cranberry juice Rock ordered at brunch that afternoon, and you may take from this what you wish: The waiter placed a glass of straw-yellow liquid in front of him, and Rock stared at it and was having none of it. “Um, this is cranberry juice?” he asked, whereupon the waiter scooped it away and returned with a glass of appropriately red liquid, reporting, “That was white cranberry; this is regular.” Said Rock, “Oh, it was white cran! I never even heard of that.” (Who has?) Nevertheless, the whiteness had discomfited him and he rejected it reflexively. Ancient profundity may lurk in subtext here. But probably not. Any­way, he then asked the waiter (who was whiter than the white cran, which, after all, was yellow) for a separate glass of ice and added with overwhelming benefi­cence, “Pretty please? Sugar on top?”

Rock addresses women of certain maturity as “ma’am.” For example: “How you doin’, ma’am?” he said to a diminu­tive white-haired matron whose face abruptly hovered beside him. “I just think you’re wonderful,” she enthused in a stream of platitudes to which Rock returned four thank-yous and two you-take-cares before he receded, almost tortoiselike, into an occluded maw without shifting an inch; it is a phenomenon he eventually summons up in the presence of all chatty strangers. Which is to say, he excels at going away while never quite leaving.

He is just that shy, and he is also just this shy: Days earlier in Baltimore, he bolted from the stage forty-five min­utes into his performance (dependably the halfway mark), bidding the audi­ence good night and thus inciting mass confusion until he reappeared four minutes later to deliver the full remain­der of his electric torrent, but never revealing what had happened. “I was backstage throwin’ up,” he now told me, with measured chagrin. “Joyner took me to Hooters for crab legs that day,” he explained, referring to Mario Joyner, the fine, buoyant comic who opens all shows for Rock. “I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it through the last half after I came back, so why waste time talkin’ to the audience about it? I just wanted to give them their money’s worth. The weird thing was, it was one of the great shows I did on this tour.”

An unusual if well turned out Cau­casian fellow, thirtyish and a self-described “huge fan,” sat at the next table with his laptop open, eavesdrop­ping unabashedly on our conversation, occasionally interjecting his own ca­sual thoughts as they occurred to him. “I remember your joke about how there could never be a black vice president,” he offered at one point. “That now looks like maybe a possibility. Do you think Hillary’s actually wondering about that and is scared?” (Distilled version of bizarrely referenced joke, which Rock retired after his 1996 Bring the Pain broadcast: “You ain’t nevvvvver gonna see no black vice president. Not while the president’s white. You know why? ‘Cause some black guy would just kill the president, that’s why! Shit, I’d do it.”)

As this was weeks prior to Senator Clinton’s very premature postulation about enlisting Senator Obama as a running mate, Rock’s face creased with puzzlement. “Uh, looks like — uh, could be.…” he stammered. Eavesdropper guy, backpedaling: “Well, she’s prob­ably more scared that she won’t win the nomination at all, right?”

Rock (to me): “Where were we?”

Ten days hence, we were en route to Philadelphia from stately Rock manor — modern, rambling, warmly mono­chromatic —— tucked smartly amid the fresh-moneyed monoliths of Alpine, New Jersey, which was designated as eighth in Most Expensive Zip Codes by Forbes in 2005, three years af­ter the Rocks (then expecting stork) transplanted from their Brooklyn carriage house.

“My property taxes are actually cheaper on this house than on my Brooklyn house,” he said, somewhat brightly; Rock famously hates taxes, as early material has made clear: “You don’t ‘pay’ taxes,” one rant began. “The government takes them from you!” As with escapees of child­hood urban blight, he can only blanch at the splendor of his fortunate re-move, which was necessitated, he swears, for sake of family security and better schooling. “But,” he grumped softly, “this is overkill.” Engulfed in puffed parka, he was hunkered into the back seat of a hired black Cadillac Escalade SUV (driver in front; Rock’s keen young personal assistant/white shadow Doug Miller in deep rear), which purred its way out of the frozen enclave.

Rock had returned home two nights earlier, after a week in Los Angeles toiling at his comic documen­tary project, Good Hair, an explorato­ry romp through the culture of Negro tonsorial vanity, which he aims to unveil at the Toronto Film Festival in September, practically concurrent with the targeted HBO broadcast of the No Apologies concert special. “Yes, I do multitask,” he said ruefully. “It makes my agents and representa­tion mad, ’cause I have artsy taste: ‘Hey, could you multitask an action movie?’ But instead it’s like, ‘I got a big idea —— a documentary on hair!’ It will either be a big hit, or ‘What the fuck was he thinking? Why won’t he flip over a car? Why won’t he just team up with a white guy and catch a bad guy? What’s wrong with Chris Rock?'”

Piled next to him were untouched copies of that day’s New York papers, on top of which was the tabloid Post, its front page splashed with the instantly infamous photo of Obama wearing a turban and tribal Kenyan robes (in­imitable headline: BUM WRAP). “Very bizarre,” Rock said, mordantly drinking it in. “That’s the way the whole rest of the campaign is gonna be. Next week it’s going to be him hugging O.J. Then: Swift Boat guys with water­melons.…”

Whenever onstage, Rock remains bipartisan in his hectoring of all candidates and Homo sapiens in general (per his comic credo, he boasts a Democratic heart with a Republi­can wallet). But in March of last year, during a surprise address on Saturday Nigh Live, his personal inclinations rang forth unmistakably: “I predict that Barack Obama will not only be the Democratic nominee for president, [but he’ll] be the next president of the United States, OK? And for those doubters out there who keep askin’, ‘Is America ready for a black president?’ I say, ‘Why not? We just had a retarded one!'”

Later, in No­vember, he introduced Obama from the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater at a boisterous rally after suggesting that President Bush had doused the wildfires of Southern California with the leftover floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina: “White people burnin’? He’s there quick! Black people drownin’? No time!” And before last month’s Su­per Tuesday, voters in New York state received automated phone calls from a Robo-Rock urging Obama upon them: “For the first time in my life, I am inspired by a leader who puts prin­ciples ahead of polls and unites all of us around a common purpose.…”

You may as well know, meanwhile, that the un-robotic Rock possesses the actual Obama personal phone number, which he was instructed to dial early on in the primary hoopla. “Well, he reached out to me,” Rock said sheepishly, as we sped along the I-95 highway. He paused a contemplative moment, then added, “I wonder if he did this to a bunch of other comedians, too. Once you know somebody, you do go easier on them. It’s common sense, you know?”

Rock himself was elected the na­tion’s first black president back in 2003, although he campaigned un­der the name Mays Gilliam and took power by way of a fanciful box-office embarrassment called Head of State. Co-written and directed by Rock, it was the tale of a noble patsy (hapless but caring Ninth Ward alderman for the District of Columbia) who over­came all odds to enchant the body politic, then installed Bernie Mac as vice president. From the final moments of Rock’s director’s commentary on the DVD: “Hey, I won! There you go. You know, there was actually a lot of talk about maybe he should lose. But I don’t know if I’m gonna see a black president in my lifetime. So it would be kinda shitty if I had a chance to see one, in a fantasy world, and didn’t take it.”

Ac­cording to Rock, Senator Obama has never mentioned the film to him, nor has Rock dared to broach the topic. “I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen it used against him,” he says. “I haven’t seen anybody try to pull clips” of the State House electric-slide dance scene.… (For what it’s worth, Rock happens to prize the 1998 science-fic­tion epic Deep Impact if only because Morgan Freeman occupied the Oval Office therein with unquestioned entitlement: “He’s a black guy, and no one said shit.”)

True Rock Lore reminds us that, as the boy dreamer of Bed-Stuy, Rock did in fact aspire to hold the highest office in the land. “I really did want to be pres­ident,” he would echo to me. “If you’re a kid, you want to get the best job, the one that gets a lot of attention.” (Richard Nixon, alas, was his primary reference point.) His mother, however, assured him that certain murder awaited that dream. Plus, the fact that Malcolm X was assassinated two weeks after Rock entered life has always hung grimly in his head space.

Still, he was overcome to recently learn — again, courtesy of Henry Louis Gates’ PBS roots excava­tion —— that his great-great-grandfather Julius Caesar Tinghman, former slave, had not only served as a corporal in the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War but, at age twenty-seven, was elected to the South Carolina state legislature in 1872. “I’m gonna cry,” said Rock, pud­dling up on camera. “Until I lucked into a comedy club at age twenty, just on a whim, I assumed I would pick up things for white people for the rest of my life. If I’d known this, it would have taken away the inevitability that I was gonna be nothin’.”

As blow the winds of whim and fate and inevitability, one resonant Head of State footnote did emerge. And it would feel not unlike a nomination for the highest office in the land of the business of dreams (controlled by white men). Chris Rock was elected in 2005 to host the Oscars. And despite quaking Old Guard trepidation (how many “motherfuckers” might he hurl up into the satellite beams?), he strode onto the stage welcomed merely by a standing ovation (unheard of for a host!). “Sit yo’ asses down!” he began, exuberance personified. (Avers friend Bill Stephney, “He is very much stand-up’s Obama.”)

Upon videotape review now of the ceremony that unspooled, including his notorious mock admoni­tion to overzealous filmmakers (“If you want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law — wait!”), Rock commanded the night as entertainingly as any host who never broke into song or was not named Johnny Carson.

“They always write that it went badly, but show me the jokes that didn’t work,” Rock had instructed, knowing that I would find none. “The house was actually pulling for me,” he said, still a bit incredulous. “So much weird concern.…” More­over, how can you not relish, even now, his masterful introduction for Hollywood conscience-bearer ad nau­seam Tim Robbins: “When our next presenter is not dazzling us with his acting ability, he’s boring us to death with his politics!”

Sexual politics consume Rock more than any other kind, if you want to know the truth. It is his most dangerous professional (and occasionally personal) destina­tion. (He hangs easily, for instance, in the company of Courtney Love and Madonna.) Indeed, on all performance nights, Rock unleashes requisite waves of uncomfortable gender dissection (“Every married man I know gets the same lazy-ass blow job. It’s like three licks and ‘Is it hard? Put it in. I gotta fold these clothes!'”). “Those awkward Rock moments,” as his writing partner Ali LeRoi calls them, “in which, if you’re sitting with a loved one, you have to pretend that you have no idea what he’s talkin’ about.”

Because all important comedy mir­rors Life itself (with some exaggerated refraction), who then could not regularly fear for the state of the Rock marital union? For instance, backstage one night, the effusive HBO vice president Nancy Geller congratulated her star on his wife’s appearance that week on the cover of TV Guide (with Oprah and Big Give mates). Then Geller said, “Malaak’s a good sport, let me tell you something! [His] stand-up for the last special, you ran amok on her!” Rock twinkled: “Not her! I have my Real Wife and my Com­edy Wife!” (Comics, by the way, have used this ploy to dig out since the ep­och of the juggler fool.)

Last March, he turned up on Real Time With Bill Ma­her to promote I Think I Love My Wife (whose very title threatens connubial bliss), with Rock starring as the uncer­tain husband who flirts with infidelity. Whereupon Maher asked, “By the way, how does your wife like the movie?” To which Rock responded, cheerily squirming, “Hahaaaa! My wife’s got a movie comin’ out called I Think These Aren’t Your Kids.

Not long before that, tabloids buzzed with rumors of a Rock divorce filing, which never came to bear, but there have been other bumps certainly, including a documented brief separation early on in their marriage. The un­gainly byproduct of that intermezzo just resurfaced as part of the illegal-wire­tapping tribulations of Hol­lywood private detective Anthony Pellicano, whom Rock hired three years later to help quash allegations from one Monica Zsibrita, who falsely claimed that he had fathered her child dur­ing a nonconsensual one-night stand at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The case was dropped two blood tests later. (“I’ll take some more if I have to,” Rock told me, calmly. “I actually hired him to do something legal. My lawyer knew there was no way in the world she could afford this. So we kind of hired Pellicano to find out where the money was com­ing from. That was it. Everything else — they tried to insinuate.”)

Rock had encamped in the Cradle of Liberty, a.k.a. Phila­delphia, for three nights of no apologizing, and ghosts of our Freedom’s Forefathers could not help but rustle with awe (if you go in for that sort of thing). It was, after all, Thomas Jefferson who said, “In mat­ters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Rock (no fan of Jefferson, what with the slaves and the raping, et al.) now stood like himself, when not sitting, in his Rittenhouse hotel suite while studying CNN coverage of the elec­toral thrash. Lately, this is all he does wherever he may be, unless he’s home in New Jersey, indulging his little girls in whatever they may request. To that end, after his first two nights of Phila­delphia shows, he would immediately commute via chauffeured Escalade back to Alpine (ninety minutes in mid­night traffic), so as to rise and make them oatmeal and get their day start­ed, while his wife was off on Oprah business. “I love it!” he exclaimed. “Nothin’ I’d rather do!”

Meanwhile, here in the plush transience of Room 920, William Jefferson Clinton was onscreen stumping for his wife at yet another rally, which brought to mind that it was Rock who helped popularize the notion, which he now claims to regret, that Clinton was our first black president. (“You know why I like Clinton?” went the routine, which predated matters Monica. “Because he’s got real problems, like you and me: He’s running out of money, his wife’s a pain in the ass, all his friends are going to jail. I know Bill Clinton. I am Bill Clinton!”)

“I’ve had good times with that guy,” Rock said fondly, citing dinners they’ve shared at the Beverly Hills home of rich Clinton stalwart Ron Burkle. “He’s one of the guys. He can hold court! Very charismatic. Every time I’ve ever talked to him, he always mentions books, books, books — I’m like, damn, how do you find time to read all these books?”

As such, the presidential thrusts of Mrs. Clinton have, per bad poetics, put Rock in a hard place. “I never really dis­liked her until she started running for president,” he said woefully. “I can’t un­derstand her campaign.” From his on­stage perspective, he has seen a shift to­ward Obama within the span of weeks — “I’m tellin’ you, this whole Everybody Loves Barack thing is kinda new” — in audiences that very often are up to two-thirds white. (“White people have the disposable income,” he theorizes. “But the more shows you do in any town, the blacker it gets.”)

Still, his Hillary hunks have elicited a certain yowling assent since the get-go: “They like to tell you how much experience she has,” he re­minds crowds. “You know, being mar­ried to somebody doesn’t give you ex­perience at their job. I’ve been with my wife for eleven years. If she got up on the stage here right now, y’all wouldn’t laugh at all!”

He continued to wrestle with this conundrum, while on the sofa surveying text messages an hour be­fore leaving for his first Philadelphian conquest. “You are exposed to things!” he suddenly blurted, as though finding uranium. “You have exposure, you don’t have experience. Perhaps you can sit there while they’re having a Cabinet meeting, but you can also walk away from it. That’s the difference! The pres­ident can’t walk away from it. You can go, ‘Hey, you guys deal with this.’ I’ve had exposure to a ton of drug dealers. I’ve been in the room with fucking piles of money and coke and lactose while they’re cutting this shit together. But I know nothing about dealing drugs.” He began furiously tapping out a text, his lip curled in a sly grin. “I’m sending it to them right now.” To whom, I asked. “To Barack’s writers,” he replied. Such is the spectrum of acquaintances in the Rock cosmos, and also how his unique life adventures in professional show business can productively intermingle!

Anyway, onstage later that evening, a newly familiar riff debuted vis-á-vis Exposure versus Experience. The laughs it drew were a bit spotty, though, and he would keep tinkering. The road for Rock, in the Time of Rock, after all, had now gotten only as long and as wide as the planet itself.

In This Article: Chris Rock, Coverwall


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