Even on a cold day, Chris Rock doesn't need a warm-up act to get going, sitting on the patio of his New Jersey home.
"Let me just start by saying, you clearly take COVID very seriously," said "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King, "because we're sitting out here as human popsicles — nobody's complaining!"
Pointing out the crew, Rock said, "I'm just sayin', it's like, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, like, 15 people, in your house? Come on. I don't know that guy.
"What's your name?" he asked one man behind the scenes.
"Lazarus could get us all killed, Gayle!"
The house is off-limits, but everything else for the divorced 55-year-old is wide open.
King asked, "You're single ..."
"I'm single. We're all single, Gayle," Rock laughed. "You and I should just get married. It's, like, we like to travel!
"My friends that are in bad relationships are happier in COVID than my friends that are single."
"Absolutely," Rock said. "They're like, 'I hate her, but damn, I'm happy she's here!'"
Being happy is more than a punchline for the comedian, writer and director. It's a process ... a personal one that he has no problem taking public.
In the past, he's admitted to adultery and being addicted to porn. A candid conversation about self-help should not come as a surprise.
When asked if he went to therapy before the pandemic, Rock replied, "I did, but I really jumped into it after COVID. And I'm still doing it. So, I do about seven hours a week."
"Like, every day you're doing something ...?"
"But they say about therapy, it only works if you're prepared to tell the truth," said King.
"You have to tell the truth."
"What is the hardest truth for you?"
"Sometimes I wasn't kind," said Rock, "and sometimes I wasn't listening, and sometimes I was selfish. It's ultimately, you know, who do you wanna be?"
"And what is the answer? What have you learned about yourself?"
"On the outside it looks like I'm, like, this daring person. But boy, can I play it safe! And yeah, I need to, like, you know, jump in the pool little bit, you know what I mean?"
And jump he did, both figuratively and literally. "I learned to swim this year, Gayle."
"You had never swam? Why? Afraid?"
"No. I'd try. 'Cause I grew up in the 'hood and, you know, you can't swim in a fire hydrant. And there was something in my head that said, 'If I can learn to swim I can do anything. If I can conquer this, in my 50s, I can do anything.'"
Was he nervous? "Yeah," he replied. "You almost drown a lot!"
King asked, "When you look at your life — we're standing here with the swimming pool, and it's a beautiful house, beautifully landscaped — how old were you when you dropped out of high school? What grade were you in?"
"I was probably in the tenth grade," he said.
And his game plan? "My game plan was to keep working at Red Lobster, get my truck driver's license and kind of drive a truck like my dad," he said. "And honestly, Gayle, if you would have offered me in, like 1989, '90, right before I got on 'Saturday Night Live,' if you would have offered me a job that paid $10, $12 an hour, I would have never told another joke in my life."
"SNL" changed his life, and 30 years later, he is considered one of the greatest comedians of all-time.
On January 12 his special: "Total Blackout: The Tambourine (Extended Cut)" premieres on Netflix:
"Here's the thing: I know it's hard being cop, I know that s***'s dangerous. I know it is, OK? But some jobs can't have 'bad apples,' OK? Some jobs everybody got to be good. Like, pilots!"
Rock said, "Some jobs you have to be totally accountable, you have to have zero tolerance for any shenanigans. Most of my dealings with the police are good but, yes, there's a percentage that's like ... had a cop couple years ago just, like, 'What are you drivin' around here for?' What did he say? He said, 'You don't live around here, do you?' And I'm looking at him like, 'No, you don't live around here!'"
Rock's career began in comedy, but lately it's taken a more dramatic turn. He's drawing raves for his portrayal of crime boss Loy Cannon in the FX series "Fargo."
Rock said, "That was a part I probably — not only was I not a good enough actor maybe ten, 15 years ago, I didn't have the gravitas. I haven't lived the life, you know what I mean? But now, you know, I've lived a life. And I can use those things in, you know, in my acting. I can use actual pain, I can use actual loss."
King asked, "Would you like more serious roles? Is that what you want?"
"I would like more serious roles. Yeah. I just wanna be in good stuff. You know, hey, comedy's great. Comedy's been good to me!"
Much of his comedy comes from honesty, and the pain he felt as a child growing up in Brooklyn.
King asked, "You still feel damage by the bullying you had as a kid?"
"I do, but I forgive ... [because] it made me who I am. I'm also, like, people get better, and people change. So, I mean, right now we're going through this thing where we're punishing people for thinking and feeling and saying things 20, 30 years ago. You know how easy it would be for me in one of my specials to, like, name a name or show a picture and go, 'This person called me n***** in fourth grade' and ruin someone's life? I'm gonna assume all my bullies are better people [now]. I'm gonna hope to, pray to God, and I'm gonna hope that what they did to me shames them on some level, and they teach their kids better."
"That's your wish for them?"
"That's my wish for them."
Making peace with the past, and eager to roll up his sleeve for a COVID-free future. "Yes, there is a vaccine. Can't wait!" he said.
"I was gonna ask you, there was some trepidation among many people in the Black community in particular about taking the vaccine," said King.
"Let me put it this way: Do I take Tylenol when I get a headache? Yes. Do I know what's in Tylenol? I don't know what's in Tylenol, Gayle! I just know my headache's gone!" he laughed. "Do I know what's in a Big Mac, Gayle? No. I just know it's delicious!"
"Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese ..." she helpfully offered.
"I don't know what's in that sauce!" he laughed.
A good laugh. A new chapter. And a calmer way of life.
King asked, "Can you say that you're in a happy place now?"
"I'm in an optimistic place," he replied.
"Are you happy?"
"I'm happy, Gayle," he said. "I'm happy you're here. We're gonna travel together, because we're both single!"
For more info:
- "Chris Rock, Total Blackout: The Tambourine (Extended Cut)" coming soon to Netflix
- "Fargo: Season 4" (FX)
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Mike Levine.