He’s played every kind of character from Pookie to a U.S. president, but Chris Rock hasn’t always delivered a lesson-driven, anecdotal type of humor on the big screen … until now. The comedian, 49, has a new film, Top Five (in theaters now), that follows a day in the life of a fictional, newly sober comedic actor struggling to redefine his career after starring in an iconic franchise about a talking bear.
This flick isn’t solely chuckleworthy. It’s insightful, and just inappropriate enough to be hilarious. Plus, by skewering fame, social media and reality shows, it’s delightfully topical. EBONY talks to the A-lister, who wrote and directed the project, about its origin, Black Hollywood and, of course, his undying mission of keeping his little girls off the pole.
EBONY: How did Top Five come to be?
Chris Rock: I was working on Grown Ups 2 and I just felt like I didn’t have enough to do in the movie, frankly. I wanted to do a film that felt like my stand-up. I realized there hadn’t been a movie about a comedian in a long time. So I sat down, and this is what I ended up with.
EBONY: Why did you want to do a project that felt like stand-up?
CR: I’ve done a bunch of movies; some are hits and some are not. In stand-up, I can pretty much be whatever I want and people kind of come with me. I took that approach with the movie. I’m not going to worry about offending anybody. I just want to do something that makes my friends and me laugh, and if it works, great. I’m not trying to get it to the biggest audience per se. I’m just trying to do something really personal.
EBONY: There are tons of stars in this film. How did you get so many people to sign on?
CR: I just called them. I’m a big proponent of bothering people. People pitch me all the time for favors. I’ve done how many movies with Adam Sandler? So he just paid back the favor. And I always wanted to direct Cedric the Entertainer. He just cracks me up. A lot of it is also karma—if you’re nice to people, sometimes, it comes back.
EBONY: Since we’re on the subject of comedy, you received fairly mixed reviews after your monologue on Saturday Night Live late last year. How would you describe your stand-up style?
CR: I just do me. I’m political like the guy at the barbershop. I’m not political like Jon Stewart. But I try to be political so that everybody can get into it. I listen to what other comedians are doing, but I don’t want to sound like any of them.
EBONY: Is finding and creating work still hard at this phase of your career?
CR: It’s stressful. I’m not stressing financially but once you’re poor, you’re always poor in a sense. Once you’ve lived it, it’s kind of always in the back of your mind because you know what it is. You don’t forget sharing a meal. It’s hard enough staying in show business for three years; I’m almost at 30 years at this point. It’s easier to get on; the hard part is to maintain. Nobody stays famous forever.
EBONY: What’s next for you?
CR: Right now, I’m writing another movie. I’m always looking for the next thing. Maybe I’ll do some stand-up if something works out with my kids’ schedule.
EBONY: In addition to working with established talent, you also get to connect with rising stars. Most recently, in 2012 you introduced the world to W. Kamau Bell by producing his provocative FX show, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. Who else do you think has a voice that needs to be heard?
CR: Well, I’ve got to say my brother Tony Rock, or else my mother would punch me. I also like Hannibal Buress. Jerrod Carmichael is really funny, and then there are some cats that never get their due. I think Donald D. C. Curry and Tommy Davidson are hysterical. And Leslie Jones is getting ready to set the world on fire.
EBONY: Are you helping any of these folks?
CR: I hate to say “helping” because it almost implies that they’re not as good as they are, but I make it a point to be supportive. For example, when Saturday Night Live was going through that whole “looking for a Black woman thing,” I gave them Leslie Jones’ name and said, “If you’re looking for funny, you’re going to like her.”
EBONY: Let’s talk about Hollywood in general. In an episode of Real Husbands of Hollywood, you joke about being Black famous vs. having mainstream fame. Where does your power lie?
CR: I don’t see myself as powerful; I see myself as an artist trying to create and bring something to people every year that they can trust. Hopefully, after people see the trailer for Top Five, they will trust me. If you liked The Chris Rock Show and Everybody Hates Chris, you’ll say, “OK, Chris is doing his thing. Let’s check out what he’s done now.”
EBONY: You once said it’s your job as a dad to keep your little girls off the stripper pole. They are tweens now (Lola, 12 and Zahra, 10). What are you trying to instill in them to make sure they have healthy self-esteem?
CR: My kids have very healthy self-esteem. I’m actually trying to instill some humility in them. I’m still a nerd in their eyes. My jokes aren’t funny to them. One of my daughters told me the other day, “Kevin Hart is funnier than you, Daddy.” I told her, “Does Kevin Hart make you pancakes?”
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