Tony Rock knows you think of him as Chris Rock’s little brother.
But he’s hoping after a slew of projects come out—including the revamping of “Showtime at the Apollo,” which kicks off next month on BET’s Centric—you’ll allow him to stand on his own footing.
It’s not that he minds that his big brother is among the world’s funniest and best-known standup comics and actors. He celebrates Chris Rock’s success alongside the rest of us. It’s just that 38-year-old Tony Rock has quite the funny bone himself. And if you give his brand of comedy a spin—you might like what you see.
EBONY.com caught up with Rock in his trailer on the set of BET’s “Reed Between The Lines." The second season of the original comedy will begin in 2013, but until then Rock’s busy hustling his healthy standup touring schedule.
We’ve all watched “Everybody Hates Chris.” Is everybody in your family funny?
Yes! I have seven brothers and sisters and they could all be standup comics!
So do you guys compete at the dinner table?
It’s a friendly competition; nobody’s trying to win. It’s just: ‘Hey, I’m funny too, man. I’ve got some stuff. So if you say something, I’m going to say something back.’
I would love to be at a Thanksgiving dinner table in the Rock household …
You know what’s crazy? I keep saying this—and I keep putting it off because I get busy—but I keep saying one year I’m gonna tape our Thanksgiving dinner or, like, our Christmas dinner and maybe put it on my website just for people to see how funny it really is, how much fun it really, really is. Now we have nieces and nephews, so it’s like, the younger version of my brother Andre, the younger version of Chris, the younger versions of my brothers and sisters are there. It’s almost like going back in time to see it all over again.
So was standup comedy something that just called to you?
I’ve wanted to do it since birth. I was on the school bus telling Richard Pryor jokes. I was sneaking, listening to Richard Pryor albums and would go to school the next day, tell all the jokes and get in trouble because I was cursing. I didn’t even know it was a job, I just thought, ‘This guy’s amazing and is really funny and I want to do whatever that is.’ When I found out it was a job and this guy gets paid for this and he’s famous and he travels the world, sign me up! My brothers saw my love for it and nurtured it. Then when my brother Chris started doing standup years before I did, he would let me hang out with him. So I was always in comedy clubs like how some people are always around music and they aspire to be rappers or singers, cause they’re parents always played music or they grew up in the church, I was always around comedy. I always tell people, my brother was Dr. Frankenstein and I was his Frankenstein, because he kinda put the plugs in me and, you know, it’s alive!
I’ve talked to your brother about this, so I’m really curious to hear what your answer is. As a standup comic—especially when you find success in other art forms like television and film—you never leave the stage. Why is that?
It’s just the freedom. For me, it’s my first love, so it’ll always be more special than anything else. I look at standup like it's what makes all of this possible, none of this happens without standup. And creatively, it’s the most fulfilling.
Does that mean that we might see the brothers touring one day?
Oh, I’m waiting on him. I’m ready to go when he’s ready to go.
Might that happen anytime soon?
Maybe 2013, ’14? For myself, I don’t want it to be a room full of Chris Rock fans and they go, ‘Oh, his brother’s on the show too. That’s kinda cool.’ I want it to be, ‘We’re Tony Rock fans over here! We’re Chris Rock fans over here! And the Chris Rock fans at the end are like, ‘Wow, now we’re fans of Tony!’ And the Tony Rock fans are like, ‘Now, we’re fans of Chris!’ Although it’s more lopsided in his favor, but that’s the way I look at it. And I think he’s waiting for it to be more Tony Rock than Chris Rock’s brother. And if that’s what he’s waiting for, I’m fine. I’m gonna be doing this for the rest of my life, so there’s no rush.
Who’s the funnier Rock brother?
I’m gonna say him, because he taught me how to box. So the trainer always knows a little more than the boxer. He might say me, because I’m more improv, off-the-cuff, quick witted.
What’s the most important thing that he taught you about this business?
To always be writing. Like always. Always write as much as you can; to read voraciously, because there’s always material in the written word even though people don’t see it. Never steal jokes. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. And stay the course.
And do you live by those rules?
Stay the course is the one I would tattoo that on my face if I could, because that just rings in my head every day, all day.
You have the new role on “Reed Between The Lines” coming, what else is on tap for Tony Rock?
I am the new host of Apollo Live! It’s the retooling, re-launching, rebirth of Showtime at the Apollo, executive produced by Jamie Foxx. That might be, if I had to say the biggest thing, that might be it right there.
James Brown, Michael Jackson, Jackson 5, Diana Ross, the Temptations, the O’Jays, the Commodores, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx have all stepped foot on that stage, have all been broke kids dreaming of performing at the Apollo and now Tony Rock is the guy that hosts the world’s first, longest-running, most acclaimed talent competition on the planet. If anything gets bigger than that, I can’t see it in the horizon. Not bad for a skinny kid from Brooklyn.