Chris Rock earns his comedy stripes

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      LOS ANGELES—It’s not easy being Chris Rock. People have expectations. Like most comedians, he is expected to be funny all the time. But it gets worse. He is expected to be funny through profanity. In an L.A. interview room, he says that he feels the pressure to be profane in the most unlikely places.

      “I don’t really curse that much off-stage,” he says. “When I go out onto a stage, it’s weird, because suddenly it’s ”˜Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.’ I do it because I know it’s what the people want. I have tried to write some jokes without fuck, but no one wants that. Even when I am at gymnastics with my daughter, people comment that they find it weird that I’m not cursing, as though I would be cursing at gymnastics. As if I would say, ”˜Somersault, motherfucker.’ But that is what they expect from me.”

      Rock’s latest movie is profanity-free, which makes sense because it’s the animated feature Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. The sequel to the popular 2005 film about a group of New York zoo animals that journeys to Madagascar opens Friday (November 7). In it, Rock again plays a zebra, Marty, who joins his three best friends—a lion named Alex (Ben Stiller), a hippo named Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer)—as they leave Madagascar in an effort to get home to New York. Instead of flying home, they end up in their native land, Africa, where Marty discovers that he is less than unique. In fact, every zebra in the herd is exactly the same.

      Rock says that although he liked the first film, he thinks the sequel is an improvement. “I think this is a better movie than the first one,” he says, “because we know the characters. When we started out on the first film, we said, ”˜Let’s just make a great story,’ but the first one felt like a pilot. Sometimes the pilot is clunky because you have to get all these people into the story, introduce a number of characters, and get across all this information. But now we are just doing episodes.”

      One of the key elements in Rock’s comedy act has been political humour, and although he admits to being a big fan of Barack Obama’s, he says that he feels that he can be just as funny when dealing with politicians he supports as those he doesn’t admire. He says that he can’t imagine doing an act in which he doesn’t make fun of the president, and he says that if anyone thinks he will leave Obama alone, they haven’t been paying attention.

      “You always have to make fun of the president, no matter who it is, if you’re a comedian,” he says. “That doesn’t stop—or at least it certainly shouldn’t stop—because he’s a black president. You can’t say, ”˜I can’t tell jokes about this guy.’ I loved Bill Clinton, but when he slipped, I was right there. If Obama slips, I will take him out right away. Right away!”

      Rock has a surprising confession, considering that he gets up on-stage on his own on a regular basis doing what some people would consider to be the toughest job in show business. He says that the only time he has been truly frightened as a performer was the one time he tried to go on-stage and act with other actors.

      “I did a one-act play for charity a while ago,” he says. “I have never been so scared. I found that acting on the stage is very hard. We rehearsed it in one day and performed it once that night, so it wasn’t even a real play. I did discover, though, that it’s different from doing standup, because if you mess up in standup it’s your own words, so no one knows you messed up. When you are acting on-stage, there are other actors, so there is much more pressure.”

      He has never felt pressured to take to the stage and do his standup act. “I try to take breaks because I don’t want to be the guy who is always doing gigs. There is a staleness to that. I think that if you’re in Vegas every week, after a while everyone knows ”˜that guy’ is going to be there. I took a long break after my wife had our second child. It was almost like I had gotten all the jokes I could get out of that guy, and I said, ”˜Let me go and be another guy and see if I can get some jokes out of him.’ ”