Chris Rock: The Rolling Stone Interview
Post-SNL, you kind of went into the Rocky training camp and made yourself into the kind of stand-up we know, right?
Here’s what happened: I bought a house, had a mortgage to pay, and I was just like, “Fuck trying to be famous. Let me just pay my bills and immerse myself in stand-up.” My goal was to be like George Wallace – or Richard Jeni or Bobby Slayton. Comedians know these guys. They’re not household names, but they’re amazing comedians. That was my goal. Not to be famous, but to be a working stand-up. Make a great living, get a couple of houses, put the kids through college. It got way bigger, but I just wanted to be one of those guys.
A comedian has to live in his head. All this comedy comes from a lonely place. When you’re surrounded by an entourage, you’re not living in your head.
And now, it sounds like your big challenge is trying to make your stand-up more personal.
As you get older, you got to find topics that aren’t reference-dependent. Did you ever watch Bill Cosby Himself? Richard Pryor’s Live in Concert is the best stand-up movie ever, but Cosby Himself – sometimes it’s even better. There’s not one reference in that thing that doesn’t play. People deal with emotions in music all the time, but comedians are always talking about what they see. But we seldom talk about what we feel. That’s the next thing for me. It’s not taking it up a notch, but how do I move forward artistically and not level out? Like we said earlier, what’s my “Can’t Always Get What You Want”? I just want to figure out more universal, deeper things.
Like the way Louis C.K. digs in?
Louie digs in, and I got to dig in a little more.
Louie co-wrote your last movie – did he have advice on this one?
“Make it more dramatic.” There’s a lot of jokes that we shot that we didn’t put in ’cause they made the movie too silly. That was the main thing: making sure the drama worked. And it worked – there’s more than enough comedy in the movie.
How closely do you follow politics?
I always had, like, a dumb-guy’s view of current events. Always kind of know a little bit of what’s going on. If I knew any more about current events, I probably wouldn’t talk about it. Do I really want to talk about Tim Geithner? No, I’d shoot myself in the head. I had to stop going on the Bill Maher show. Too smart. I’m on, like, the barbershop level. That motherfucker’s really talking about politics.
Today’s Election Day – are you voting?
Here’s the weird thing: My dad died on Election Day. The day George Bush Sr. was elected president. Me, my uncle and my brother were leaving the hospital the next day. We’d been up all night, basically trying to keep my father alive, so we didn’t know who won. It’s like a movie. Literally, on the ground there’s a paper with Bush. I’ll never forget my uncle was like, “Aw, shit, Bush won too.” Like his brother died, and to add insult to injury, Bush won, too. I’m always sad on Election Day, and then Obama gets elected and I’m like, “OK, let me give up this fucking thing of being sad on Election Day – gonna let that go.”
Do you have an assessment of Obama at this point in his term?
I think he’s done well – but it’s like, I don’t know who Tina Turner’s second husband was, but he was better than Ike. Right? Maybe he had faults, maybe he lost his job or whatever, but he was better than Ike.
What could Obama have done differently?
As bad as George W. Bush was, he revolutionized the presidency. He was the first president who only served the people that voted for him. He ran the country like a cable network; he only catered to his subscribers. Obama’s main fault is not realizing that’s kind of what people want. That whole trying-to-make-everybody-happy thing is done. People who voted for him want him to do what Bush did. And whoever’s the next president will do what Bush did.
You once said even Nostradamus couldn’t see the end of American racism.
We’re never going to see the end of racism per se. But Obama is like the polio vaccine of racism – people still get polio and die, but there is a vaccine. They don’t have to get it. And my kids, you know, it’s been 12 years now and there hasn’t been one racial incident in my mostly white neighborhood – not even a tiny one.
A good portion of their lives has been spent in the Obama era.
And not just Obama. Before him, the secretary of state was black. Even if you’re not seeing it intellectually, visually you see these things.
How does having daughters affect the way you think about women’s issues?
How does it affect the way I think about women? People always want to know what the world would be like if the country was run by women – just ask a black person. We live in a matriarchal society. You’ll go to a black church. They’ll say bad shit about men all the time. But you never hear, “Women need to step up.” No, it’s all, “You’re the greatest thing that ever walked the Earth.”
So women’s equality was always a given for you?
I’m from Bed-Stuy. In Bed-Stuy, the women do better than the men. My father drove a truck, my mother taught school. My mother had an easier life than my father. Any girl I dated had an easier life than me. They weren’t getting picked up by cops and thrown in lineups and shit like that. I don’t recall the girls being called nigger or any of that shit. Their stories aren’t my stories, and they were in the same school as me. I’m not saying shit doesn’t exist. I mean, I think it’s shitty that there’s no woman talk-show host on late-night TV – how Chelsea Handler does not get one of these jobs is beyond me. But when you’re talking to a black man – black women are over you, white women are over you.
To be fair, it doesn’t seem like there’s a black woman in line for the presidency at the moment.
Michelle Obama could be the next president if she wanted to be. You ever seen her speak? She could be married to her husband and denounce him at the same time – she’s that good: “My husband was good, but we’re going to do things a little differently this time.”
The director of the Broadway play you did a few years back said she thought you were sleepwalking through your life. What did you make of that?
The play taught me that I could work harder and that there was something to get out of working harder. I remember in school, once you realize you’re not going to be an A student, you realize that the A’s get treated differently, but B and D are all the same. There is no difference in the treatment of a B student and a D student. Nothing! So there might’ve been a little bit of that in my career – I’m OK, I’ll get work. When I got in the play, I was literally working with the best people in the world, and then with this movie, too, I was just like, “Oh, I can work at this speed. I can be an A student. There’s some good shit here in this A club.”