Chris Rock has been called many things, but few people would add lazy to that list. Lauded by critics, showered with awards, Rock is determined to remain one of this generation's strongest comedic voices. The Brooklyn-raised comedian has garnered two Emmys and a Grammy Award, been featured on the covers of countless national publications, and has seen his weekly HBO talk show become one of the network's highest-rated and most-discussed programs. Moreover, the summer of 1998 saw Rock co-star in two $100 million-grossing (and counting) films, "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Dr. Dolittle."
Next on the movie release slate for Rock are two features. "Dogma" is a Miramax project from acclaimed writer-director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy") that also stars Ben Affleck, Salma Hayek, Matt Damon and Linda Fiorentino. Scheduled for release in the fall of 1999, the film made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May. The recently completed "Nurse Betty," directed by Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men," "Your Friends and Neighbors"), casts Rock and Morgan Freeman as mob hitmen trying to kill a woman (Renee Zellwegger) who has supposedly witnessed one of their jobs. Rock's prominence in front of the cameras has opened doors for him behind the scenes as well: He serves as co-executive producer of the hit ABC sitcom "The Hughleys."
His expertise also extends to the print realm. Rock is developing The IIItop Journal, a new humor magazine based at Washington, D.C.'s Howard University. Modeled after the Harvard Lampoon, the quarterly publication will serve as a training ground for young, black comedy writers. The first issue is expected in 1999.
Rock's book debut, 1997's Rock This (Hyperion), graced both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. The volume focused on observation and reflection. "White people don't, know how to tell the difference between one black man and another," Rock explains in its pages. "They see two black men together and it's a crowd. A dangerous mob. To white people, even Ed Bradley and Bryant Gumbel waiting to cross the street is potentially scary."
Despite his constant diversification, however, Rock has not forsaken his television roots (his breakthrough came when he joined the, cast of "Saturday Night Live"). July 10 marks the premiere of "Bigger and Blacker," a new one-hour stand-up special that was taped for HBO at Harlem's fabled Apollo Theatre. A CD called Bigger and Blacker, featuring comedy bits previewed on the cable special along with song parodies, bows July 13. Produced by Rock and rap impresario Prince Paul, the disc also boasts cameos from Ice Cube, 01' Dirty Bastard, Biz Markie and Gerald Levert. Rock has showcased material from Bigger and Blacker as part of a national tour that began in May.
Rock began his triumphant run on HBO with 1994's "Chris Rock: Big Ass Jokes." Deemed "utterly anti-PC and utterly fearless" by the New York Post, it was awarded a CableACE Award. In 1996, he unveiled "Bring the Pain." It addressed such hot-button topics as race - perhaps most pointedly, the African-American community's divided response to O.J. Simpson - and struck a chord with viewers nationwide. The special was distinguished in 1997 with two Emmy Awards, one each for Best Writing and Outstanding Special.
New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch said of "Bring the Pain": "Rock pointedly satirized those black people who take pride in being ignorant, in 'keeping it real.' Rock also declared that there is 'a civil war going on out here' between civilized black people and the black street scum who terrorize their communities. Rock has no patience with the anarchic predators that we have seen celebrated in gangsta rap minstrelsy." Daily Variety remarked that "Like [Richard] Pryor, and even Lenny Bruce, Rock is an update of the comedians who supplied a clear mirror made all the more relevant through raw language and images." And Vanity Fair opined, "Rock has been a rough diamond of brilliance and clarity." The magazine called "Bring the Pain" "a hilarious bout of verbal shadowboxing that showed he could take an audience into areas they were afraid to go."
With this sort of acclaim, it's not surprising that "Bring the Pain" has seen life beyond HBO. DreamWorks Records released a home video (with additional footage), as well as a Grammy Award-winning CD called Roll With the New that presented musical bits and comedy sketches, some of which had first seen the light of day on "Bring the Pain." "Champagne," the single and video spawned by the disc, became playlist staples at radio and video outlets across the country, including MTV.
HBO's "The Chris Rock Show," meanwhile, will enjoy a fourth season. It was honored with a 1998 Emmy nomination for writing, and Washington Post television critic Tom Shales dubbed it "unfailingly funny." The program features interviews (with such disparate guests as the Reverend Al Sharpton, Puff Daddy, Johnnie Cochran, Jesse Jackson and Ed Bradley) interspersed with comedy bits and live music (The Artist, The Beastie Boys and Lenny Kravitz, to name a few).
Rock's comic tentacles have also extended to political commentary, with his off-the-cuff take on the 1996 election season finding a perfect home on Comedy Central's (now ABC's) acclaimed "Politically Incorrect." Rock served as the show's national campaign correspondent. As such, he logged humorous and sometimes sardonic reports about the primaries, the conventions and election night. His work on the show was recognized with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program.
Rock began his path to fame in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. He had two idols: boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and comedian Eddie Murphy. Realizing early on which of the two would provide the better career model, he reasoned, "I can't fight, so... " He thus began honing his skills on the comedy club circuit. His long-held dreams came true when he joined "Saturday Night Live" in 1989. During his three-year tenure on the show, Rock created several indelible characters, including Nat X of "The Nat X Show" and Onski from "I'm Chillin'." The 1993-94 television season also saw Rock make several guest appearances on Fox's "In Living Color."
He posted his feature film debut with "Beverly Hills Cop II," in which he shared screen time with Eddie Murphy. Rock went on to write, create, produce and star in the 1993 rap comedy "CB4" (Universal Pictures). A spoof of the hardcore rap world, "CB4" opened at #1. Other Rock film credits include the Wesley Snipes vehicle "New Jack City," which marked Rock's first dramatic role, that of a crack addict, and "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!" with Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Proving that you can go home again, Rock hosted "Saturday Night Live" in November 1996, scorching the audience with an opening monologue that set the tone for what has been called one of the show's most memorable episodes. Small challenge perhaps for "the funniest man in America."