Chris Rock Talks About Good Hair And His Stand Up Career
After a fitful start in stand-up in the mid-1980s, Brooklyn native Chris Rock rose swiftly through the comedy ranks to become the ‘Funniest Man in America’ (according to Time Magazine) and the Second Richest Comedian in America (according to Forbes Magazine - the first is Jerry Seinfeld). On TV he wrote and produced the award-winning Everybody Loves Chris, while his movie career has included knock-out supporting roles in Dogma and Lethal Weapon 4, plus co-starring roles in Bad Company, Madagascar and The Longest Yard. He recently segued into directing and producing with, respectively I Think I Love My Wife, and Death at a Funeral. His latest project is the comedy documentary Good Hair, a witty and provocative look at the personalities, the ideas and the self-image that informs America’s multi-billion dollar black hair industry.
Explain the genesis of Good Hair.
It was over 20 years ago, and I was in Atlanta and I stumbled across the Bronner Bros hair show. I thought straightaway that it was a movie, but back then they weren’t doing funny documentaries. There was no reality TV shows. No internet. It was another world. So you jump ahead to now, and my daughters are having hair issues, saying, ‘How come I don’t have good hair?’ meaning, hair like they see in the media, not African hair, and I start to think, ‘Hmmmm. Maybe I can do a movie about that hair show now?’
Was it easy or difficult to get the participants - from Nia Long to Salt n Pepa - involved?
I direct movies now, and I’ve got my own show, Everybody Hates Chris. So when a director calls, actors normally go, ‘OK! Must get on director’s good side!’ Plus a lot of the people in it I had relationships with prior to filming. A lot of them I’d known for a long time.
Was there anyone you tried and failed to get?
I tried to get Diana Ross, because a lot of people talked about Diana Ross on camera. But we had to cut it out in the end, because she didn’t want to do it, and it didn’t seem right to have them talking about her without her commenting on it. Plus, ye know, it’s a documentary, and you’re asking for people’s time, and you’re not paying them for it. Someone like Diana Ross has a right to stay in her house.
Was there anything you found difficult to watch during the process of shooting?
When it comes to kids you do go, ‘Wow! Are you nuts?’ The little girl in the chair with all that relaxant in her hair! [‘relaxant’ is sodium hydroxide, used to ‘soften’ thick black hair] And she wasn’t even crying. She’s had so much of it that she’s actually used to it. Her head has a high tolerance for burning. Stuff like that makes me go, ‘What!? Why are you putting that in a little girl’s hair?!’
Though you joke about Prince’s hair, did you have to be conscious about holding fire on the gags throughout?
Well, yes. Because the straighter you play it, the funnier it’ll be. If I try to joke it up, not only will it be less funny to watch, but the interviewees will close up. And you don’t want to hurt anyone. I knew people would all be sensitive about their hair. Point blank. So no one got hurt. Unless Prince is mad. But I haven’t spoken to him in a while.
There’s a crossover from the film to your stand-up routines, in that it speaks a lot about how men should ‘keep their women happy’ and about the economic underpinnings of all male-female relationships.
That’s because there is, fact, an economic basis for all male-female relationships. If a man doesn’t pay the bills, his wife will leave him. That’s pretty much a fact. Keeping your woman happy is a fact. If you have a daughter you want her to marry a guy who can take care of her. Love enters into the equation, but it’s better if she loves someone who can also take care of her.
Views like this have made your stage shows, occasionally, controversial. Do you deliberately try to provoke your audiences?
When I’m doing a show, I think a show where people are a little pissed off in the middle is a better show then a show where everybody’s just laughing mindlessly for a whole hour. I want them happy, I want them sad, and I want them clapping, and booing. That’s a show. That’s a journey.
What inspired your last tour, Kill The Messenger?
I just wanted to show that comedy can play the world. People have this belief that comedy is in the one place. I remember the first time I was in London, years ago, none of my albums were in the stores, and neither were those of any American comedians. And I remember thinking, ‘I’m still funny, even though I’m here, right?’ And it was the same thing back home, where I couldn’t find any Eddie Izzard stuff. So I just wanted to put an end to that sort of thinking and to show that it travels.
What’s next for you in stand-up?
Kill The Messenger was so big, the next one’s probably going to be pretty small.
How and when did your career begin?
I can tell you exactly. 11pm on February 11th, 1984 at the Catch a Rising Star comedy club in New York. I had been in line that day to see Eddie Murphy play at Radio City Music Hall. I was probably in the second block of a four block line, and I was reading the paper when I spotted a listings for comedy clubs in the arts and leisure section. I immediately got off that line and walked to the comedy club and signed up for audition night. I then had six or seven hours waiting in the comedy club line, and wrote down some jokes (“Miles Davis is so black, lightning bugs follow him in the day time!”). Stupid jokes. But I got some laughs and the owner said, ‘Hey, you passed. You can come back. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Is there another Eddie Murphy connection in there too?
Then later, Eddie saw me in the club, he thought that I was funny, and gave me a small part in Beverly Hills Cop 2. Although after that you really didn’t hear about me again for nearly 10 years. And when all is said and done I probably made about $2000 from being in Beverly Hills Cop 2. So it took me ten years to get a career going.
As a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, were you funny?
Yeah, I made guys on my block laugh. And it’s weird, because I remember that being funny was very important on my block. Much more important than being good at basketball. We really valued laughter. And I was not the funniest guy on my block by far, but I always competed.
How did being the oldest of seven children affect you?
Being the oldest, you realize that nothings about you. It’s all about the collective. In life we have to learn that things aren’t about us, but being the oldest you really know that it’s not about you. Your parents drill it into your head. You have to take care of your siblings and all that stuff. You learn quickly about how life works.
Your grandfather was a preacher. How much did his performance style influence you?
My delivery is straight from my grandfather. He preached and I watched him. I sound like him. That’s how I tell my jokes. The repetition and everything. If you could see a videotape of him preaching, you’d be like, ‘Wow! This old black guy is doing Chris Rock!’
At what point in your career did you feel you’d finally made it?
I dunno, but I guess playing the world relaxed me much more than having hit movies. It was like, ‘Woah! Wait a minute! I can work in other countries?’ Going to England, Australia and New Zealand! That’s the closest thing I’ve come to feeling that I’d really made it. A lot of musicians will tell you that you have highs and lows in your career and sometimes you have to go to another country to keep it going. But most comedians don’t have that option. So, for me, playing the world definitely relaxed me.
How did you feel when Time magazine called you The Funniest Man in America?
It was nice, but it doesn’t mean I’m funny. Many people who we thought were funny turned out not to be that funny. People are wrong about artists the whole time.
How long can you stay funny? Can you become the next Bob Hope?
Can I become the next Woody Allen? - that’s the real question. Can I keep it going like him? Woody Allen’s still making cutting edge f***ing movies. Vicky Christina Barcelona is as good as any movie that year. Show me the 25 year old that made a better movie that year! It’s as good as Paul Thomas Anderson’s last movie, or as Tarantino’s. And the guy is 74 years old!
Has fatherhood changed you?
Yes. I remember before I had kids I’d hear an athlete saying, ‘I’m retiring to spend more time with my kids!’ And I’d go, ‘Shut up! You just suck now! Don’t blame it on your kids!’ But now I understand wanting to spend more time with your kids. And it’s made me a little less tolerant. It’s made me less tolerant with adults. You spend all this time with your kids and they’re kids, and they don’t know everything. So when you meet adults and they’re stupid you can’t take it. It’s like, ‘What the f*** is wrong with you? I deal with a six year old that knows this shit!’
Do you regret slamming Jude Law at the 2005 Oscars?
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t say once that the guy couldn’t act. He’s a great actor. But I was making fun of the fact that he worked a lot. I would love an Oscars where somebody was talking about the eight movies I did. That would mean I just did eight movies. We were in the same restaurant once, a while after it, and I said, ‘Hi’ to him, and he kind of nodded like he didn’t know it was me. And then I sat down and he was looking over. But I was sitting with Courtney Love, and she can really scare people. She was like, ‘Erghhhhhhh, do you think he’s mad?!!’ He didn’t want to come over, because no one wants to f*** with Courtney.
What’s left to do?
I’m preparing a new documentary on the credit crisis called Credit is the Devil, and I’m working on a remake of the Akira Kurosawa movie High and Low for the director Mike Nichols. I’ll do some more concerts, and see where that takes me. And I hope to direct a little more too.
Are you happy?
I’m a generally happy guy, I guess. We’ve all got a little sadness in us. But happiness is not a state you’re supposed to be in all the time. Or else, what good would that be? You’d have no joy. And I’ve got joy. Just not all the time.
GOOD HAIR opens in Screen D’Olier Street and Light House on Friday 15th July. You can read our review here
Story by Mike | 09:00 | Friday 16th July 2010 | Movie
Chris Rock is a beeeeast! I watched Kill The Messenger and it was so funny! xPosted 15:12 | Sat 27th Nov 2010
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