Chris Rock is ready to rock Broadway

As his standup act clearly demonstrates, Chris Rock has a special talent to startle and amuse. No wonder he's number five on Comedy Central's list of the top 100 standup comedians. Now, Rock is rocking Broadway. Harry Smith offers a Sunday profile:


He is brash. He is brilliant. And often a bonfire of profanity.

"When I'm talkin' to young comics, I tell 'em don't curse," said Chris Rock, in an interview with CBS' Harry Smith. "I swear, I tell them all the time. 'Cause the money's not in cursing, you know? I mean, I'm doin' fine, I got a big house, but Ray Romano would laugh at my house. Ray Romano would, like, 'Are you kiddin? You want me to live in that?'"

"Cause the real money is in clean?" asked Smith.

"The real money's in clean, babe, yeah," Rock said.

Fear not. Chris Rock, the master of standup comedy, is not cleaning up his act per se. But, for the next couple of months he will be appearing on Broadway in a play - using language his fans will find familiar.

Doing a play is a deliberate and risky move out of Rock's comfort zone.

"Now I realize how big Broadway is," Rock said. "In the last four months, I'm like, 'Wow, they don't just let anybody do this.'"

The play (called "The M**********r With the Hat") is a pitch-black dark comedy about five New Yorkers connected by lust and addiction.

"It's like 'Raging Bull' without the boxing, kinda," Rock said. "That's what it kinda is. It's a kind of real adult version of a 'Honeymooners' episode."

"Is there anything you've done that prepared you for this in any way, shape or form?" Smith asked.

"The closest I would come to this would be 'Saturday Night Live,'" he told Smith. "You know what's weird, too? I was kinda lookin' for the cue card guy the first week of rehearsal. I'm like, 'Surely they'll have cards at some point.' Surely Al Pacino's not just out there. There must be a monitor or somethin', a teleprompter somewhere, right? I mean, we'll learn it, yeah, but there's some - there's some backup, right?"

Rock, who plays Ralph D. - an amoral AA sponsor - says he welcomed the opportunity to be part of an ensemble.

"In a weird way, this is like the acting school I never got to go to," he said. "And I'm very interested in seeing how this affects the rest of my work, 'Cause in a weird way it feels like I knew nothing. It's like, I almost wanna buy back all my movies. It's like, 'I'm sorry, America! I didn't know what I was doing.'"

Rock's first movie? A bit part as the Playboy Mansion parking lot attendant in the 1987 Eddie Murphy blockbuster, "Beverly Hills Cop 2."

Rock idolized Murphy. He says Murphy was one of the first comics to play to people his own age. And in a crazy show business kind of way, it was Murphy who gave Rock his start.

"There's a story that says that you were in line to buy tickets for an Eddie Murphy show, like, at Radio City or something," said Smith.

"Yeah, true, true story," said Rock. "The line was so long, this is before - this is how old I am - you know, before Internet, before, you know, back when they had lines, right? And I'm on line and I'm reading the Times and I see an ad, you know, this thing for the comedy clubs. And I just had a little epiphany. I walked from Radio City to Catch a Rising Star and signed my name for audition night was that night.

"Been doin' standup ever since," he said.

If all humor is based in grievance, then Rock has never had a shortage of material. Irreverent, incorrect, and spot on - and rooted in experiences he had as a child: being bused out of his Brooklyn neighborhood to a predominantly white school.

His four comedy albums and five HBO specials once earned him the title of Entertainment Weekly's funniest man in America. But being funny has its limitations.

"When you're a comedian... people have an automatic opinion about you - especially if you use profanity in your work," said Rock. "Like, you don't curse at your kids, like 'Pass the MF cereal!' People think that's what you are sometimes."

So Rock sought to counter that by writing, producing and directing his own films - like the 2003 comedy "Head of State."

"'Head of State' shows you that there was once a point in the very recent past that the thought of a black man being president was funny!" he said. "To the point a company gave me millions of dollars to make a movie about it! - 'Black president: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!'"

And just five years later, President Barack Obama was elected.

Rock was also the creator, executive producer and narrator for the award-winning television show "Everybody Hates Chris," an autobiographical look at his teenage years, which is now in syndication and runs everywhere from Malaysia to Macedonia.

In 2005, Rock hosted the Oscars, to less than rave reviews. And since then, he's kept a somewhat lower profile. Rock, now 46, describes this time in his life as a "rebooting."

You gotta be really good to last, you really do," Rock said. "You're not gonna get by just on being popular. You really have to be good. So I'm really just trying to learn and get better.

"Being rich is not about havin' a lot of money," Rock continued. "Being rich is about having lots of options!"

For now, option one is eight shows a week on Broadway. And then ...

"I'm trying to be in position where I can do a lot of different things," he said. "And they all kind of funnel through comedy. I'm not getting super pretentious."

"You're not gonna do Shakespeare in the Park?" Smith asked.

"No, I'm thinking about doing Tyler Perry in the Park," Rock laughed. "How's that? Just tryin' to figure out which one."

  • Harry Smith

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