Rock: Bring On Oscar 'Safety Net'

<B>Ed Bradley</B> Talks To Oscar Host About N----- Word, Minstrelsy

The Oscars are the most traditional of all the awards shows. But this year, by choosing Chris Rock, the Academy went for a really non-traditional host.
Rock is not afraid to offend or take on taboo subjects.

And Correspondent Ed Bradley found that out when he first met him seven years ago.

Back then, Rock was host of a weekly cable show, had written a book, and was just getting started in movies - as well as doing comedy specials for HBO. Since then, he has become one of our most popular comedians, with fans of every race and age.

And now, on the eve of the highest-profile gig he's done, 60 Minutes went back to take another look at Rock, who says he's a better comedian than when it first met him -- but his comedy is still as profane and uncut as ever.

60 Minutes stopped by a comedy club in Los Angeles, where Rock was getting in shape for Oscar night.

How will he be able to host the Oscars, and still be the same comedian that his fans know?

"I've been on TV and not cursed before. I've been on TV and been funny not cursing," says Rock. "As far as content is concerned, I will talk about the movies. I'm not really worried about it. I'm sure ABC might be more worried about it than me."

Will there be a time delay?

"I hope there's a time delay," says Rock. "It's a safety net. You know, you're a trapeze artist … you welcome the net."

Is he going to sing? "No, there will be no soft-shoe," he says. "There will be no tapping."

But there will be plenty of Rock's in-your-face comedy. Since he has been named Oscar host, there's been more buzz about him than the Oscar nominees.

"There is a rhythm to comedy. It's dah, dah-dah, dah-dah, joke. Dah, dah-dah, dah-dah, laugh. You know what I mean," says Rock. "The key is to not pay attention when you're getting laughs. 'Cause sometimes I'm getting laughs, but I'm not saying nothing. And if I'm not saying nothing, that's got to go."

Rock's routines are as much social commentary as comedy. And he finds humor in the most serious of subjects.

"You told us that, 'Sometimes I look at the HBO specials and I'm like, 'What was wrong with you?' The shows are funny, but there's a man in pain there. There's a cry for help.' What did you mean by that," asks Bradley.

"There's an underlying sadness, probably, to all those specials," says Rock. "And there's definitely a pain that I probably went through in childhood. I just found a way to, you know, put smiley faces on it."

Rock grew up in one of Brooklyn's toughest neighborhoods, Bedford Stuyvesant. 60 Minutes went back to the old neighborhood with him seven years ago.

"You saw everything growing up over here. I mean, you know, crack. Everybody's on crack. Crack is all over," says Rock. "Everybody's snatching chains or whatever. But just living on this block, people with parents and stuff, and we didn't get caught up in it."

Rock's father held down two jobs, and his mother was strict. Both parents came of age during the Civil Rights era, and they decided to bus their son to a white school out of the neighborhood.

"People from that era thought anything white was better, pretty much," says Rock. "It wasn't really a good experience. I was just getting called 'n-----' every day, and you'd get spit on and it's hard to make friends."

He said in his book that he wet the bed. "Yeah, I wet the bed until I was about, it could have been 13 years old," says Rock. "I was going through a lot of stress at school. Just, you know, every day, man, every single day, 'Shut up n-----.' You know, kids would beat you up every single day."

But at home, his mother raised Rock to believe he was better than everybody else. "My mother can be a ghetto snob," says Rock.

"She thought she was better than everybody else," says Bradley.

"Yes," says Rock.

And how does that play out in his comedy?

"I guess a routine like 'n------ and black people' is something a ghetto snob would write," says Rock.

This controversial routine on HBO's "Bring The Pain," made Rock a star back in 1996: "There's, like, a civil war going on with black people, and there's two sides. There's black people, and there's n------. And n------ have to go."

Why does he think it got so much attention?

"I think a lot of people were thinking in those terms and hadn't been able to say it. By the way, I've never done that joke again, ever, and I probably never will," says Rock. "'Cause some people that were racist thought they had license to say n-----. So, I'm done with that routine."

He's also been criticized by some for parodying black people. In The New Republic, Justin Driver wrote: "Chris Rock is attempting to shuck, jive, grin, shout and bulge his eyes all the way back to the days of minstrelsy. His act often legitimizes white racists' view of the world."

"Here's the thing. Comedians are verbal clowns, essentially. You know, I don't have a red nose on, and floppy shoes, but who am I kidding here? I'm still, you're still related to a clown," says Rock. "And the sad thing is, the black comedian has a weird responsibility and a weird line that we have to walk, that sometimes offends people like the guy you just quoted here."

When Bradley saw him over a month later, Rock was still thinking about his answer. "Here's the answer I want to say to this guy. Tell me one opportunity that was denied you because I told a joke. Just one. I will give you the money for the thing they wouldn't give you, because I told a joke."

Comedy has brought Rock opportunities and made him rich. But he doesn't have a bling-bling lifestyle. Offstage, he is quiet and reserved. He doesn't like crowds and he doesn't travel with an entourage.

"I figured out a long time ago that if you keep yourself isolated with a posse, you're not letting the real world get in. And if you don't let the real world get in, you're not going to be funny," says Rock. "And posse, you gotta pay all those guys, too. You gotta pay. That's all for show."

"But you're making a lot of money now," says Bradley.

"Yeah, so are you. You don't have a posse. You know, Donald Trump rolls pretty small, you know," says Rock.

How did Rock learn how to deal with money?

"I have such a fear of being a bad artist that I don't like to spend a lot of money. Because I don't ever want to have to go on tour, or have to do a movie because I'm paying off some third house," says Rock.

Rock, who's still finding his way to Hollywood, has two movies coming out later this year. He plays opposite Adam Sandler in a remake of the prison football movie, "The Longest Yard."

"Why has it been difficult for you to make the kind of breakthrough in film that Eddie Murphy did and Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey," asks Bradley.

"Maybe those guys are better than me. I'll go there," says Rock, who's clear he'd rather be known as a great comedian.

But his friend, Jerry Seinfeld, told Bradley that Rock is already there. "He [Seinfeld] said that you have the energy to do the hard work of comedy, the intelligence to perceive things that other people miss," Bradley tells Rock. "'In terms of instinct, he has tremendously long antenna. He knows a lot about the state of the world and the tone of the culture.'"

"It was all good. I'll take it," says Rock. "No, I'm an idiot. He has it all wrong."

Where does he get that energy from? "I've never been good at sports. I suck at everything. I don't really work out that much," says Rock. "But when I get on stage, I have tremendous energy."

And it shows. Rock said he's most comfortable on stage because he's in control. He swaggers and prowls, punctuating his routines with his infectious deep-throated laughs and evil grins as he does in a routine on Michael Jackson from "Never Scared": "I saw Michael on 60 Minutes. Ed Bradley tried his best. He gave Michael the easiest questions in the world, the easiest GED questions in the world, and Michael could not pass the test. It's like, 'Uh, Michael, would you let your children sleep in the bed of a 45-year-old man that's been accused of child molestation. 'Yes.' Ed Bradley looked at Michael Jackson as if he wanted to say, 'N------, is you crazy?' … Just answer the question, Michael. Just say you might be a little wrong."

"He's looking at jail, that's what he's looking at," says Rock. "That is not going to be fun when some big guy's going, 'Dance! Dance!' 'But I did your laundry.' 'I don't want my laundry done. I want you to dance! Right now!'"

And right now, Rock is at the top of his game, in comedy and at home. He and his wife, Malaak Compton, moved from Brooklyn to the New Jersey suburbs and they now have two young daughters.

"I always say about my daughters, they save me from my miserable self. They take me out," says Rock. "You know, a comedian, you could live in your head a lot. And you're writing and your doubting. But when I'm with my kids and my family, it's all about them."

Rock says it's all about becoming a man, something his father drilled into him as a kid back in Brooklyn. And as usual, Rock finds the funny in that process, too.

"I've made a smooth transition into adulthood. As even you've witnessed in the last few years," says Rock. "I'm a man. I'm going to be 40 years old. That's old."

"That's not old," says Bradley.

"OK. Here's how old 40 is. Forty is so old the only time I will ever be referred to as young again for the rest of my life is if I die at 40, or if I start sleeping with Cher," says Rock. "OK? Young man sleeping with Cher. Cher's got another young one. He's dead and he's 40, so young."

"You can use that at the Oscars," says Bradley.
  • Rebecca Leung

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