What happens to a joke deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it fester in your mouth, reminding you that the gift of a great comedic mind comes with a curse: your friends, your family, and most people in the world will never be able to make you laugh? If you’re one of the funniest men alive, does it frustrate you when you shoot off a quip to the grocery-store checkout lady, and it goes over her head?
When asked that last question during a nationwide college conference call last Friday, Chris Rock paused for a moment, turned the situation around in his mind, and calmly replied, “No. I just buy my Mountain Dew and keep going.”
Rock—world-renowned stand-up comedian, movie star, and recent Academy Awards host—treated the college newspaper writers who were invited to the conference call much as he treated his hypothetical checkout lady. He was polite, but sounded as though he was somewhat reluctantly going through the motions of an everyday transaction.
In a way, the call really was an everyday sort of event for him—the 40-year-old celebrity is currently on publicity tours for two upcoming films that feature him prominently: the comedic football film “The Longest Yard” and the animated comedy “Madagascar,” both of which open on May 27.
This particular call was in support of “The Longest Yard,” which features Adam Sandler as a former football pro who, upon being imprisoned, is forced to lead a group of fellow inmates in a high-publicity football game against the prison’s guards. Rock plays the Caretaker, a fellow prisoner who offers Sandler support and comic relief. The film is a remake of a 1974 film of the same name, which featured Burt Reynolds in Sandler’s role and James Hampton as the Caretaker.
Rock described his time working on the film as an “overwhelmingly positive” experience. He consistently emphasized the joy of working with a cast that includes Sandler, James Cromwell, and Burt Reynolds himself. “I’d much rather work with an ensemble,” he says. “It’s just more fun, and kinda less work, actually.”
But one never got the impression that Rock was in any way lazy. Indeed, throughout the call, Rock was at his most animated and informative while fielding general questions about his career and the work involved in the comedic process.
He spoke of his approaches to acting and standup as one and the same. “People hire me to be me in a movie,” he admits, saying that he approached “The Longest Yard” by thinking, “What if Chris Rock was in jail?”
When asked about how his career affects his marriage, Rock says that he has “two wives. I have my real wife, who’s a lovely woman…and I have my ‘comedy wife,’ who’s this crazy bitch who won’t have sex with me.”
Rock is known for pushing the comedic envelope, but said that he tries to make sure his work isn’t affected by the words of critics. On the press storm that surrounded controversial comments he made in the weeks before his Academy Awards hosting slot, Rock had this to say: “Around Oscar time, I just stopped reading anything.”
Rock also briefly mentioned at least one place he’d like to see his career go in the future. He’d “definitely” like to direct another movie, as he did for 2003’s “Head of State.” In fact, he’s currently trying to organize a project that he describes as “kind of like a black ‘Ocean’s 11’-type thing,” with “maybe me and [Dave] Chappelle and Chris Tucker and [Eddie] Murphy.” He also describes fellow actor-comedian Chappelle’s television variety show as the best comedy program on the airwaves.
At a few points in the conversation, Rock expressed a surprising tone of somber self-reflection. In response to a question about what literary character most represents his “true self,” he quickly chooses Coalhouse Walker, from E. L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime,” because Walker is a “guy who got pushed too far and went a little bit crazy.” When asked what role he’s proudest of playing, Rock replies that it was drug addict Pookie in the 1991 drama, “New Jack City.”
But ultimately, Rock feels that he’s a comedian, first and foremost. “I’m not Bono,” he says. “I’m interested in saving Africa…but that’s probably not my act.” He says that his primary hope in life is that “people think I’m funny.”
And what about boring interviews with amateur college reporters? “No one pays you to do the movie,” Rock says at one point. “They pay you to sell the movie.” Sure enough, Rock did his duty on this particular call—selling the merits of the movie, sliding in a joke here and there, and walking away to enjoy his figurative Mountain Dew.