Chris Rock On The Funny Business Of Finding Success
How much funny family dysfunction can you pack into two days? Plenty, if you're Mingus and Marion (Chris Rock and Julie Delpy) an interracial, multinational Manhattan couple — each with kids from previous relationships — hosting Marion's family visiting from France. The film, 2 Days in New York, is a sequel to Delpy's 2007 film, 2 Days in Paris.
The film is just the latest of Rock's many projects — in addition to performing stand-up and recently starring in a Broadway production, Rock is currently producing the new FX comedy show Totally Biased. Rock grew up in Brooklyn, got his start in show business performing stand-up in Manhattan, and spent three years on Saturday Night Live. He's done five comedy specials for HBO and earned an Emmy for outstanding writing for his talk show, The Chris Rock Show. In 2005, he executive-produced and narrated the series Everybody Hates Chris.
He joins Fresh Air's Terry Gross for a conversation about his success in comedy, what it's like being a working dad, and why he's not bothered when he "offends" people in comedy clubs.
On how success and wealth have changed his comedy
"I wouldn't say 'reinvent,' but I've just allowed myself to grow and not get too caught up in who I was at 25, or 16, or 30. The audience knows I'm older, the audience knows I make money, so why ignore that? It's a delicate way, it's like how do I talk about this life and make it relate to everyone in the audience? So it's a fine line ... getting any joke in which you're rich to work is really hard, but you know, just because you're doing well in life doesn't mean you can't complain, too. That's basically it. Pretty girls have problems too."
On being a working father
"I'm fortunate. I grew up, two parents, my dad was really into it, so just by osmosis, I'm just really into it. I never really looked at it as a chore or whatever. When I hear people talk about juggling, or the sacrifices they make for their children, I look at them like they're crazy, because 'sacrifice' infers that there was something better to do than being with your children. And I've never been with my kids and gone, 'Man, I wish I was on my stage right now.' I've never been with my kids and gone, 'Man, it'd be so great if I was on a movie set right now.' But I've been doing a movie and wished that I was with my kids, I've been on tour and wished that I was with my kids. Being with my kids is the best, most fun thing, it's a privilege. It's not something I call a sacrifice."
On comedy clubs as 'first drafts' for big-name comedians
"I don't believe I can offend you in a comedy club. I don't believe I can offend you in a concert. A comedy club is a place where you work out material, you're trying material. Louis C.K., Tosh, any of these guys, it costs $80-$100 to see them. If you're in a club, and you pay $12, and a superstar comedian comes in there trying out his jokes — you know, that's like the first draft to a book, or a movie that's not cut, it's just not to be judged for the masses. This guy is trying out stuff. I think that's the deal that's made when you see a famous guy in one of these clubs."
On a tweet he posted on the Fourth of July that offended some people
"People have different fans, and on the Internet, everybody can say something, everybody gets a voice. And if people who aren't into you don't like something, what is that? I said this in The New York Times the other day: 'You can only offend me if you mean something to me. You can't break up with me if we didn't date.' So there's a lot of people proclaiming the breakup, but we didn't date, we didn't go out.
"Did I make the statement [in a tweet], 'Happy white people's Independence Day'? Well in 1776, on July 4th, that was white people's Independence Day, and if somebody has proof it wasn't, please let me know. Please, and I will write a retraction ... but I believe what I said was a true statement that happened to be funny to some people and offensive to others."
On what he learned from his grandfather
"I used to hang out with grandfather all the time because he used to pick me up from school sometimes, or drive me to my mother's, so I'd be with my grandfather a lot. I used to watch him write his sermons. He writes his sermons pretty much the same way I write my act — he would never write the exact sermon, he would always write the bullet points, whatever would hit him, and he'd write it while he was driving. And I probably come up with half of my stand-up when I'm driving. So l learned a lot from my granddad."