August 9, 2012
Guest: Chris Rock
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. It's been about 15 years since Chris Rock has been on our show, so I'm really happy to have Chris Rock back. It's been a busy summer for him: Tonight is the premiere of the new FX comedy series he's producing called "Totally Biased," featuring comic W. Kamau Bell.
Rock has always been in two movies this summer, "Madagascar 3," he's the voice of Marty the Zebra; and "What to Expect When You're Expecting." His third movie opens this weekend, it's called "Two Days in New York." He stars opposite Julie Delpy, who wrote and directed the film. They play a couple living in the city. Each has a child from a previous relationship.
Things are going pretty smoothly for them until her father, sister and her sister's boyfriend arrive from France for a visit. Their behavior is so inappropriate and confounding that Delpy's character becomes a little unhinged - which leads to a lot of bickering with Rock. For example, in this scene, after a neighbor's complained about Delpy's visitors smoking pot in the elevator and about her young son spray painting the mailboxes, she gets into this argument with Rock.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TWO DAYS IN NEW YORK")
CHRIS ROCK: (As Mingus) Everything OK?
JULIE DELPY: (As Marion) Yeah, everything's OK, but I had a fight with that neighbor again. In the elevator, she attacked me. I had to - made up some story to get out of it. I mean, it was like horrible.
ROCK: (As Mingus) What was she mad about?
DELPY: (As Marion) The mailboxes again, believe it or not.
ROCK: (As Mingus) Well, maybe you shouldn't let Lulu paint 'em.
DELPY: (As Marion) It was an art project, and on top of it, I remind you it was Willow's idea.
ROCK: (As Mingus) Oh, so now it's Willow's fault?
DELPY: (As Marion) I'm not saying it's Willow's fault.
ROCK: (As Mingus) You just said it's Willow's fault.
DELPY: (As Marion) No, I'm saying it was her idea, OK, and she has a lot of ideas like that, doing funny things all the time.
ROCK: (As Mingus) She's a kid.
DELPY: (As Marion) It's OK. It's a nice project. It was nice. It's pretty. I have no problem with it. But she has a dark side. She's always having crazy ideas.
ROCK: (As Mingus) Dark, she's dark now?
DELPY: (As Marion) Come on, admit it. She's got a dark side, and I believe she's going to end up being Goth. I mean, she's borderline Goth.
ROCK: (As Mingus) Like a little black Goth girl?
DELPY: (As Marion) Yeah, maybe she'll be the first black Goth girl. I'm sorry, it probably has a lot to do with how (beep) up your relationship with your ex-wife was.
ROCK: (As Mingus) Wait a minute, how did we get there? I mean, you act like you and Jack were just perfect. I mean, you want to go back to Jack? That's what you want? You want the fighting and the bickering, that's what you want? Want me to call him?
DELPY: (As Marion) OK, who's the bickerer now?
ROCK: (As Mingus) Oh really?
DELPY: (As Marion) OK, keep it down. I don't want to fight in front of...
ROCK: (As Mingus) You don't want to fight? You come over here and fight.
DELPY: (As Marion) I love her to death. I'm just saying she has a few issues. It's great, maybe she'll be the next Francis Bacon. You recognize yourself that she's always watching those (beep) death show and all that.
ROCK: (As Mingus) Who's issues - who's got issues?
GROSS: That's a scene from the new movie "Two Days in New York," starring my guest Chris Rock and Julie Delpy. Chris Rock, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you back on the show.
ROCK: Thank you, great to be here.
GROSS: So how'd you get the part in this new film?
ROCK: How did I get this part? I don't know. I mean, she said she saw me in something. I believe Julie saw "Good Hair."
GROSS: Oh, your documentary about hair.
ROCK: Documentary about hair, and I met her at one of the screenings. And it's weird, some people see the movie, and they go wow, you know, hair's fascinating, whatever. And then some people actually go wow, you're a really good dad. And so when she saw that, I think it, you know, made me look like a grownup, and she thought I could do the part.
GROSS: So you host two public radio shows and one satellite radio show.
GROSS: In the movie. Have you ever heard a public radio show like the one you host?
ROCK: Probably not exactly like the one I host, but it's weird, I know people that do radio shows. So my character, I kind of based him on Elvis Mitchell a little bit.
GROSS: And he has a public radio show in which he interviews people in movies.
ROCK: Exactly, so it's a little Elvis Mitchell, a little Nelson George. Like Nelson's a good friend of mine, and he - when I met him, he used to write for The Voice. So I kind of like patterned it after those two guys.
GROSS: Which your character used to do.
ROCK: Which my character, yeah my character writes for The Voice and has a public radio show.
GROSS: Oh, he still writes for The Voice, OK.
ROCK: And he wears glasses. And he still writes for The Voice, yes.
GROSS: So are there parts that you wrote or changed for yourself in the film?
ROCK: No, the script was really, really amazing. I mean, there's some scenes were I talk to a cardboard cutout of President Obama that, you know, there's some ad-libbing there, but, I mean, Julie really, really wrote a great script.
GROSS: I want to play a clip from your HBO special from 2008, and it's a very funny bit about how even if you're a celebrity, if you're African-American, you're still facing racism. So here's the clip, and this is Chris Rock
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM "KILL THE MESSENGER")
ROCK: Even in my life there's some racism. People go really? Yeah, yeah, yes, in my life. I will give you an example how race affects my life, OK? I live in a place called Alpine, New Jersey, I live in Alpine, New Jersey, right. My house cost millions of dollars.
Don't hate the player, hate the game.
In my neighborhood, there are four black people - hundreds of houses, four black people. Who are these black people? Well, there's me, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Eddie Murphy, only black people in the whole neighborhood. So let's break it down, let's break it down.
Me, I'm a decent comedian, I'm all right.
Mary J. Blige, Mary J. Blige one of the greatest R&B singers to ever walk the earth. Jay-Z one of the greatest rappers to ever live. Eddie Murphy one of the funniest actors to ever, ever do it. Do you know what the white man that lives next door to me does for a living? He's a (beep) dentist.
He ain't the best dentist in the world. He ain't going to the Dental Hall of Fame. He don't get plaques for getting rid of plaque. He's just a yank-your-tooth-out dentist. See, the black man got to fly to get something the white man could walk to.
That's right, baby, I had to make miracles happen to get that house. I had to host the Oscars to get that house. And to this day, I don't even believe it's my house. That's why I keep a bag packed right by the door.
Just in case the white people that really own the place show up one day. Time to go, blackie. Hey, I knew this day would come. Good thing I'm packed.
GROSS: That's Chris Rock from his 2008 HBO comedy special "Kill the Messenger," which is also on DVD. You know, listening to that, which is really funny, made me think about your humor has had to change over the years now that you're a celebrity and wealthy and, you know, like privileged as opposed to when you were coming up, you know, from this, like working-class family.
You dropped out of high school when you were in 10th grade. You didn't exactly have a big leg up in the world. So have you had to, like, reinvent your comedy?
ROCK: I've - you know, I wouldn't say reinvent but, you know, just allow myself to grow and not get too caught up in, you know, who I was at 25 or, you know, 16 or, you know, 30. And, you know, the audience knows I'm older. The audience knows I make money. So why ignore that?
GROSS: Did it take you a while to catch up with that onstage?
ROCK: A little bit. It's - it's a delicate way. It's like how do I talk about this life and make it relate to everyone in the audience? So that's - it's a fine line. It's an art form just getting any rich joke - any joke in which you're rich - to work is really hard.
GROSS: Right, right because you've kind of automatically distances yourself from, like, everybody in the audience.
ROCK: Yes, you have automatically distanced yourself from everybody in the audience. But, you know, just because you're doing well in life doesn't mean you can't complain, too. That's basically it.
GROSS: There you go.
ROCK: Pretty girls have problems, too.
GROSS: So among the many things you've been doing lately, you were one of the people on Henry Louis Gates' public television series "African-American Lives," which explores people's family trees through the help of DNA, right? Or is just through research?
ROCK: Yes, yes. DNA, yes.
GROSS: Yeah, so one of the things you found out is that your great-great-grandfather served in the Civil War in the Union's Army of colored troops after spending 21 years as a slave. And of course you had no idea about that.
ROCK: No, I didn't, and then he went on to be, I believe, a senator or...
GROSS: Oh, really?
ROCK: Yeah, yeah, it was like he was really big in politics back then, and I knew nothing about any of that stuff. And, you know, most people in my family drive trucks or drive. I mean, I have a few preachers, but I had no idea that, you know, somebody in my family was, you know, politically active, you know.
And when you hear my comedy, you know, so when you do - the comedy I do, if you don't know your history, it just - it made me feel like a freak, like I'm this weirdo. But when I hear that oh, I've got this relative that did all this stuff, now it makes sense.
GROSS: Now when you were told this piece of history by Henry Louis Gates, you said to him that if you'd known earlier about this great-great-grandfather, it would have taken away the inevitability that you'd be nothing. Why did you feel it was inevitable that you'd be nothing?
ROCK: Well, I mean, when I say nothing, I didn't know I was going to reach these heights. I thought I would have - you know, I thought I'd be - I thought I'd, you know, work for FedEx or something. You know, when you come from greatness, people that come from greatness - I did not know I came from greatness, so I did not expect great things.
GROSS: You dropped out of high school in 10th grade. How did you spend your time afterwards?
ROCK: How did I spend my time afterwards? I was working, dealing with the mentally handicapped, bus boy several places, doing stand-up, a lot of stand-up.
GROSS: In 10th grade?
ROCK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, Eddie Murphy was from Brooklyn. I mean, he grew up in Long Island, but he actually was born in, you know, I guess until he was like five or something in Brooklyn, not too far from me. And he was only about, I don't know, four or five years older than me. So it was - you know, stand-up was big. Stand-up was like this weird thing that a lot of people my age were getting into.
GROSS: So Eddie Murphy helped launch your career...
ROCK: And that's after I'd dropped out, so maybe a year after I dropped out I was doing stand-up. Yeah, I met Eddie Murphy early on, well, not - I mean probably about two or three years in. And he put me in a movie. He gave me a little part in "Beverly Hills Cop 2," flew me off to L.A., first time I ever flew on a plane, first time I ever stayed in a hotel.
You know, but more importantly let me watch him and hang around. So I got - I was kind of like the kid in "Goodfellas." I was kind of like a Henry Hill existence, kind of like the kid in "A Bronx Tale" watching all the mobsters. So literally I was watching Eddie Murphy and watching Arsenio and watching Townsend and Keenan and all these guys do stuff early on and, you know, taking notes what to do, what not to do.
GROSS: Yeah, what were some of the not to dos?
ROCK: I mean, I don't want to go into it, but, you know, let's just say this: Certain behaviors you could only get away with with certain amounts of talent.
ROCK: And I know how much talent I have, and I know what I can get away with. And by the way, I don't want to be, you know, whatever, but I'm not, you know, judging anybody. But I learned that early on, hanging around those guys.
GROSS: So you now live in the same neighborhood as Eddie Murphy.
ROCK: I live - yeah, I live not too far from his house, but I think he's in L.A. most of the time. You know, I've been in Alpine eight years now, almost 10 years, as long as 10. So in those 10 years, Eddie's probably been around there 14 days in that time.
GROSS: Do you still have friends from the old neighborhood?
ROCK: Yeah, I definitely still have friends from the old neighborhood. But I'm like anybody. You know, when do you get around your old neighborhood? Twice a year, three times a year.
GROSS: Me, God I haven't been back for decades.
ROCK: You know, my father is buried not too far from my old neighborhood so, you know, I probably go to the cemetery about four times a year. And when I go to the cemetery, I make a swing through the old block to see what is out there.
GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Chris Rock, and he stars with Julie Delpy in the new movie "Two Days in New York."
ROCK: I hope they can guess it's me. I hope people are not: Is this Meryl Streep?
ROCK: They're not confusing me with someone else.
GROSS: So we actually need to take a short break here, so we'll be back in a few seconds. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Chris Rock, and he co-stars with Julie Delpy in the new movie "Two Days in New York," a comedy that she wrote and directed.
So I want to play another scene that relates to something we were talking about earlier, which is kind of like, you know, growing up and having this, like, new life that's so different from the one you grew up in. And this is a clip from Louis C.K.'s show "Louie," and I know you've written together a lot, especially earlier on.
ROCK: Actually I'm very proud of that now, not that I wasn't proud of it before, but Louis is doing so amazing.
GROSS: Yeah, it's such a great show. And last season, many of the episodes had guest comics, and it was about the lives of comics in a lot of ways, not just Louie's life as a comic. And so in - I want to play a clip. In this scene, after a performance, Louie got basically propositioned by one of the women in the audience, and he decides to take her up on it, and she drives her home in her car, and home ends up being much further from New York than he thought, it's all the way into Jersey.
And she gets there, and like her husband's waiting for them, and he's really excited, the husband, because he's - he wants a threesome, and that's why they brought Louie home. And so Louie just, like, get me out of here, and he - but he can't get out of there. He can't get out of where he is in Jersey because he doesn't even know where he is. He can't - doesn't even know what tell a cab driver.
So he calls you because you live in Jersey, and he makes you, in the middle of the night, come and pick him up, and you take him back to your house, and you're really annoyed with him, and your wife's even more annoyed with him. We'll hear her at the end of this scene.
So here you are with Louis C.K. right after you've taken him home.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "LOUIE")
LOUIS C.K.: (As Louie) Thank you.
ROCK: (As character) Thanks, babe.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Come to my house 2 o'clock in the morning.
ROCK: (As character) What are you doing, man?
C.K.: (As Louie) Doing what?
ROCK: (As character) What's your life? What are you doing? You're a father, Louie. Jumping into cars, messing around with swingers, this is 30-year-old (beep), it's not 40-year-old (beep). Come on, man, when are you gonna grow up? When are you gonna settle down?
C.K.: (As Louie) Settle down? I'm divorced.
ROCK: (As character) Yeah, well, you've still got to grow up. You got out of your marriage, good for you. But look at you, man. You're getting into cars with crazy people. You've got to take care of your kids in the morning. Where's this headed?
C.K.: (As Louie) I don't know.
ROCK: (As character) Well, you're 43. You should know.
C.K.: (As Louie) Well, where are you headed?
ROCK: (As character) Where am I headed? I ain't headed nowhere. I'm right here in my house with my wife, with my kids, for better or worse, worse most of the time. But I'm here, OK, I'm not in the wrong state calling up your wife, pissing people off, having you come and pick me up like some drunken teenager.
C.K.: (As Louie) OK, I feel appropriately (beep).
ROCK: (As character) Good.
C.K.: (As Louie) Yes, thank you, you're a lot better than I am.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Damn right he is. He's 10 times the man you are.
ROCK: (As character) Stop it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Don't tell me when I can talk.
ROCK: (As character) It's not your conversation.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) It is when it's in my house, and tell your fat friend that this is my house, not his.
GROSS: That's great. That's my guest Chris Rock with Louis C.K. on his show "Louie," and your wife must have been thrilled at this depiction.
ROCK: Yes, yes.
ROCK: Everything in that is kind of accurate except the wife. It's like it's almost our relationship.
GROSS: So you've had this conversation with Louis C.K.?
ROCK: I mean not that kind of conversation, but yeah, I'm a couple years older than Louis, so - like we - occasionally we flip who's going to be the adult today. Sometimes I'm giving him advice, sometimes he's giving me advice.
GROSS: Was it hard for you to figure out how to be, like, a family man and be a comic with a career at the same time and all the, you know, being on the road and so on?
ROCK: No, not really. I mean, I'm fortunate, I grew up two parents. My dad was really into it. You know, so I'm just by osmosis or whatever, I'm just really into it. I never really looked at it as a chore or whatever. When I hear people talk about juggling or the sacrifices they make for their children, I look at them like they're crazy because sacrifice infers that there was something better to do than the thing - than being with your children.
And I've never been on - I've never been with my kids and go man, I wish I was onstage right now. I've never been with my kids and go man, it would be so great if I was on a movie set right now. But I've been doing a movie and wished that I was with my kids. I've been on tour and wish I was with my kids. It's like being with my kids is like the best, most fun thing. You know, it's a privilege. It is not something I call a sacrifice.
GROSS: So how did you start working with Louis C.K.?
ROCK: We're just friends from stand-up. You know, we both worked around the same clubs, and it was just more of the - you know, a mutual association society. You have to like the person's humor in order to hang out. You know, every now and then, my wife will go how come you don't hang out with this person, I think he's a nice guy. And I'm like he's not that funny.
ROCK: So I hang out with people I think are funny. Yes, I'm a snob. But hey, I'll own it. So me and Louis, we kind of dig each other's humor. We dig each other's work ethic. And, you know, we're trying to, you know, trying to leave a mark.
GROSS: Chris Rock will be back in the second half of the show. He stars with Julie Delpy in the new movie "Two Days in New York." The comedy series he's producing, "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell," premieres tonight on FX. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Chris Rock. He stars opposite Julie Delpy in the new movie "Two Days in New York." The new comedy series he is producing, "Totally Biased" with W. Kamau Bell, premieres tonight on FX.
So one of the things for comics now is that like if you say something that someone in the audience doesn't like, it's going to be tweeted all over the place...
GROSS: ...in context or out of context. Some comics have really been getting into trouble for it. Some of them for good reason...
GROSS: ...others maybe not so much. But has that happened to you, where something that you've said has been tweeted and, you know...
ROCK: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: ...and you've gotten a lot of blowback from that?
ROCK: Yeah, a few times. I mean I never respond to it though. I just don't believe I can offend you in a comedy club. A comedy club is a place where you work out material, you're trying material. You know, Louis C.K., Tosh, any of these guys, it costs 80, 100 dollars to see them. If you're in a club, and you paid 12 bucks, and a superstar comedian comes in there trying out his jokes - you know, that's like the first draft to a book, or you know, a movie that's not cut. And by the way, I don't act like I'm offended by people. You know, when Don Imus made his statement, I didn't care. You never heard one thing from me. He can call women nappy headed ho's all he wants on his show, 'cause that's his audience and if that's what his audience wants, then fine. Now if he comes on "Soul Train" and says nappy headed ho's, there's a problem. Rush...
GROSS: A big problem.
ROCK: Right. Rush Limbaugh can say all the racist things he wants on his show. You know, I remember he said something pretty racist about Donovan McNabb on "Monday Night Football." I took offense to that. But you'll never hear me complain about anybody unless they're talking to me. See what I'm saying?
GROSS: Well, but that's the thing. Like when Daniel Tosh...
ROCK: How's that?
GROSS: Well, blurry. Because like when Daniel Tosh tells say like a rape joke or has a rape rejoinder to a heckler in his audience, it's kind of like doing a, you know, a nappy hair joke on "Soul Train" because there's women in the audience. It's like...
ROCK: Yeah, but Daniel Tosh has told probably 50 rape jokes, by the way. And he's told racist jokes. And he's told, I guarantee you, if they get the tape, there are four or five really cruel jokes that guy told that that woman did not respond to, OK? So yeah, rape's not funny. I'm not here to defend a rape joke. I'm just here, like if you're going to be upset, be upset. And if you're really upset, don't go to a comedy club. Don't go to a place that has blue humor 'cause, you know, people joke about stuff all the time. Hey, I talk about O.J., everybody laughs. That's a joke about two people being murdered, brutally murdered and a guy got away. So you can claim, you know, that someone is against the line in anything, but if you're not claiming it on everything, you really should be quite.
GROSS: On July 4th you tweeted...
ROCK: How's that?
GROSS: That's good. So on July 4th you tweeted...
GROSS: ...happy white people's Independence Day. The slaves weren't free, but I'm sure they enjoy the fireworks.
GROSS: So that's pretty funny but you got blowback from that, didn't you?
ROCK: I got blowback from it but not from people that are into me.
ROCK: You know, that's the thing. It's like your Terry Gross. Do you really...
GROSS: Yes, I am.
ROCK: You're Terry Gross and you have the following. And do you really care what Justin Bieber fans think about you?
GROSS: I, I...
ROCK: Not really.
ROCK: Really. I mean honestly.
GROSS: I don't think they think about me.
ROCK: Is that really going to - and I'm just saying, people have different fans...
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
ROCK: And, you know, on the Internet everybody can say something.
GROSS: Yeah, but that's the...
ROCK: Everybody gets a voice and, you know what? And it's great.
GROSS: That's the thing with tweets now, though, it goes to all these other audiences that would never know what you said.
GROSS: Would never care what you said.
ROCK: And if people aren't into you, you know, don't like something, I mean what is that? I said this in the Times the other day - you can only offend me if you mean something to me. You can't break up with me if we didn't date, OK?
ROCK: There's a lot of people proclaiming the breakup, but, dude, you know, hey, we didn't date, we didn't go out.
You know what I mean? So I mean, yeah. Did I make the statement happy white people's Independence Day? Well in 1776, on July 4th, that was white people's Independence Day, and if somebody has proof that it wasn't, please let me know.
ROCK: Please, I will write a retraction and apologize to everyone else independently. But I believe what I said was a true statement.
GROSS: So here's a really big question in terms of crossing the line. Like you've hosted the Oscars, you've hosted of the Comedy Awards on Comedy Central, and part of what audiences love is, you know, when you kind of dish people who are in the audience and dish some of the big celebrities. And, of course, like the celebrities don't necessarily like it. The producers of the show sometimes don't like it. So like you hosted the Oscars once.
ROCK: Yeah. Once. Once.
GROSS: So did you get feedback like, oh, there's things you really shouldn't have said on that?
ROCK: I don't know, a couple of Jude Law jokes, and that's kind of it. I don't remember anything else people were like upset about. But you know, I was on the Oscars this year, presented, went fine.
GROSS: Oh, that was like a real high point of the show. In fact, we have a clip of that. You were very funny. You were presenting the award for best animated feature.
ROCK: Animated. Yes.
GROSS: And this is what you had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF OSCARS TELECAST)
ROCK: Now, I love animation. I love animation because in the world of animation you could be anything you want to be. If you're a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you're a short wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you're a white man, you could play an Arabian Prince. And if you're black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra.
ROCK: Now, I - can't play white. My god. Now, I hate when people go on TV and tell you how hard it is to do animation. It's like, oh Jay, it's such hard work. It's so hard doing animation, getting into character. No, no, no. UPS is hard work, OK? Stripping wood is hard work. I've done some animation and here's how easy it is. The easiest job in the world. I go in a booth and I go, what's the line? And the guy goes, it's time to go to the store. And then I go, it's time to go to the store.
And - you like that? Or we could move - OK. And then I go, what's the next line? The guy goes, it's getting dark outside. It's getting dark outside.
And then they gave me $1 million.
ROCK: Here are the nominees for best animated feature film.
GROSS: That's really great.
ROCK: It's true.
GROSS: I really appreciated, as a member of the audience, that you put time into actually presenting something funny when you are on stage and not just, you know, reading something.
ROCK: Well, you're in front of the largest audience, non-Super Bowl audience, that you are ever going to get and, you know, as a friend of mine once told me, you know, your time in show business is not infinite, it's finite, and you've got to make the most of it because one day they're just not going to want you. So try to be funny every time.
GROSS: But they do give you a script, don't they, when you do an animated feature?
ROCK: They do give you script and you do - well, different people are hired for different things. Some people are hired to read the script. And then some people, like me, are hired to embellish the script and add a little bit of you into the script. "Madagascar III," big movie, and the big thing is this Afro circus song. (Singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, Afro. (Speaking) Total ad lib...
GROSS: Oh really?
ROCK: ...that turned out to be - yeah - total ad lib. That turned out to be, you know, the whole - pretty much the second half of the movie is based on an ad lib. So when you hire a comedian, you kind of hire them to, you know, riff a little bit. So I'm sure, you know, me or Eddie Murphy or Mike Myers or, you know, Ben or whatever, when you hire a funny guy, you know, you want him to riff. When you hire, you know, Daniel Day Lewis, you go, hey, stick to the script.
GROSS: My guest is Chris Rock. He co-stars in the new movie "Two Days in New York." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Chris Rock, and he costars with Julie Delpy in the new movie "Two Days in New York," a comedy that she wrote and directed.
Recently you were on Broadway. You made your Broadway debut in "The (Blank) with the Hat." Or...
GROSS: ..."The Mother with the Hat."
ROCK: "Mother with the Hat."
GROSS: Yes. So what was different for you about being on a Broadway stage compared to, you know, anything you'd ever done before?
ROCK: I mean it's the hardest thing I've ever done. I mean the difference is you're working with people and - A) you're working with somebody else's lines. I mean when I perform I write my standup so I'm doing my lines. You're working with somebody else's lines that wants them done precisely. So when you do a play every night, when you're done, or every time you're done, you come in the next day there's a list of how many lines you got wrong. And...
ROCK: Yeah. So, yeah, everybody else would have a, you know, like one page, two page. Mine's would look like The New York Times Sunday Edition.
ROCK: So there's that pressure. Then you have the pressure to the other actors to always hit your marks, and every - you just have this pressure to everybody, where in standup everybody just has to move where I move and, you know, whatever I do, if I want to tell the jokes on stage, it's fine. If I want to walk off stage and jump in the fifth row, it's fine. But here I'm in the play. I am - and when I do standup, I am the play.
GROSS: So were you miked for the show or did you have to project your voice differently than you're used to?
ROCK: Here's the thing. It was - we did, I guess, six, eight weeks of rehearsal, which is hard, but on the other hand, if you gave me 10 hours a day for eight weeks, I could probably take out a pancreas too. You know what I mean?
ROCK: You know, 10 hours a day, six weeks, you can do anything, right? Once we got to the stage, and don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy once we got to the stage. But once we got to the stage, then my standup thing kind of took effect. And there were skills I had, there were advantages I had over everybody else in the cast. For instance, you know, the place was, I don't know, 1,100 seats. Well, I'm used to playing whatever, five, 10 times that. Everybody else lost their voice during the play at some point and had to have a specialist come in, and that's any play. I could do a thousand seats without a mic because I'm used to playing such big houses. And I'm used to having no one else on stage. So I'm used to being on stage for an hour and 40, almost two hours by myself without a break, without an intermission or anything. So to have all the other actors, I was probably working, just word-wise, probably I'm going to say 35, 40 percent of what I would do as a standup, physically.
GROSS: So it was a fun experience finally?
ROCK: It was an amazing experience and I can't wait to do it again.
ROCK: I can't wait. I read any play they send to me. And I would love, I could make a living just doing that. I like it that much.
GROSS: So you mentioned earlier...
ROCK: I like I feel like Broderick.
GROSS: Like Broderick
ROCK: I feel like Matthew Broderick.
GROSS: Oh, Matthew Broderick. Oh.
ROCK: This is, hey, if I could sing and dance, my god.
GROSS: Can you?
ROCK: Not yet, but, you know, for the right play I'll bust out the tap shoes. Hey, six weeks, who can't learn to sing and dance in six weeks?
GROSS: So you mentioned earlier that there were preachers in your family. Like how far down the family tree?
ROCK: My grandfather, my great-grandfather, and I believe even his great-grandfather. So preachers.
GROSS: A grandfather that you knew?
ROCK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I used to hang out with my grandfather all the time. Because he used to have to pick me up from school sometimes or, you know, drive me to my mothers' or whatever, but - so I would be with my grandfather a lot. I used to watch him write his sermons. He writes his sermons pretty much the same way I write my act. He would never write the exact sermon. He'd always write the bullet points, whatever would hit him, and he would write it when he was driving. And I probably come up with half of my standup when I'm driving. So yeah, I learned a lot from my granddad.
GROSS: So what was his preaching style like?
ROCK: His preaching, it's weird, it's not a lot different than my style on stage. And he let things move him and he, you know, he never locked into, you know, exact words, and he tried to, you know, to bring a little Bible but also try to bring in something that is happening to people today; that way the Bible went down a little bit smoother, if you can relate it to their lives. No, he was a pretty good preacher. He was great.
GROSS: And what about his vocal style?
ROCK: His vocal style was - echhh - like, like, you know, old-time black preacher. And the Lord said! You know, so I take what he said and turn it down a little bit, but you know...
GROSS: Was he a really different person at the pulpit than he was...
ROCK: Oh, he was totally different. He was totally kind of a womanizer. I'm not a womanizer. And he would curse all the time...
ROCK: Yeah. Yeah. He cursed all the time. It was amazing. I mean I've met a bunch, I've met lots of preachers that curse all the time. Some of your favorite, most famous preachers that have been on your show curse all the time.
GROSS: That's funny, you know, because so many comics are, like, taken to task by some people for cursing and, like, your grandfather, a preacher, cursed around you all the time. So you got introduced to it by a man of God at an early age.
ROCK: Yes, I did, by a man of God, and my dad. My dad would only curse at work. He wouldn't curse around the house. My mother would get mad and curse in the house, but not a lot. But when she was really mad, she'd let one fly.
GROSS: And was religion, like, a real part of your life?
ROCK: No. It was - I mean, I got to watch - when you grow up with a preacher, it's almost like- it's like seeing a magician stuff the rabbit in his side jacket. Like, I knew all the tricks.
GROSS: Did your grandfather think of it as tricks?
ROCK: I don't think he thought of it as tricks, but every job becomes a job, and you figure out shortcuts and you figure out, you know, ways around things. I mean, I could watch a preacher now - I watch, what's that guy? Joel Orsteen?
ROCK: Osteen. I watch him a lot. I watch TD Jakes. I watch - and I can see when they're preaching, and I can see when they're - you know, there's tricks - when they're kind of losing the crowd and have to go to something. I can tell when they make audibles and have to go to something else so they can get the crowd back.
GROSS: So are you watching them for performance reasons?
ROCK: A little bit. Half of it for performance reasons and half of it just because I like a good sermon, and you always looking - A, a good sermon's always great, and, B, you know, these guys, they're always - they have this task of coming up with a new - with new material every week.
ROCK: I like how a preacher can talk about one thing for an hour and 10 minutes. I keep trying to figure out how I can do that in stand-up. So, how I can, like, OK, how can I just be funny about, you know, jealousy? You know, a preacher will pick a topic and they'll run with it for the whole sermon, like, and, you know, take you on a ride talking about literally one thing. And I just love that style. So I'm always - I've always been trying to figure out how do I do that in stand-up.
GROSS: So before you have to leave us, I want to hear about the...
ROCK: Before I have to leave you.
GROSS: Yeah. I want to hear about the new show that you're producing...
GROSS: ..."Totally Biased," which is going to be on the FX network starting tonight, actually.
ROCK: It's a guy named W. Kamau Bell. The show is called "Totally Biased." I would say it's kind of a cross between Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, but black and with a lot more jokes. And those guys have jokes, but it's a lot of funny stuff. And, you know, he's kind of political. He's from the Bay area and, you know, it's going to be pretty funny. I mean, if you've liked other things I've produced - you know, "Everybody Hates Chris," or, you know, whatever - then I think you're going to like this.
GROSS: And why do you like producing? You know...
ROCK: It's not the - I mean, I think producing is like a calling. It's not, like, something - I'm not, like, Jerry Bruckheimer or something...
ROCK: ...you know, something, you know, like, I'm here to produce. I mean, just occasionally, you know, you see somebody, and you just want to help them. And I saw this guy, and I thought with a little help, he could have a television show. And, you know, and people did that for me. So why not, you know, if I don't help this smart black guy, who's going to help him? So there you go.
GROSS: OK. Well, great. Thank you so much for coming back on the show. I really appreciate it.
ROCK: Any time. Can't wait. Let's do it again.
GROSS: Chris Rock stars with Julie Delpy in the new movie "Two Days in New York." It opens in New York tomorrow, with other cities to follow in the coming weeks. The comedy series that Chris Rock is producing, "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell," premiers tonight on FX.
The 60th anniversary edition of the classic musical "Singin' in the Rain" has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz has a review. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: "Singin' in the Rain," the 1952 Hollywood musical on most lists of best American musicals, has turned 60. To celebrate, a new edition has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, and a newly restored print was released in theaters for a night in July and returns August 22nd. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has been to the movies, and he's been watching at home.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN")
GENE KELLY: (as Don) (Singing) I'm singin' in the rain, just singin' in the rain. What a glorious feeling. I'm happy again. I'm laughing at clouds, so dark up above. The sun's in my heart, and I'm ready for love. Let the storm...
LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: Hollywood is often at its best when it's making fun of itself. And few movies are funnier or more fun than "Singin' in the Rain," a broadly satirical musical comedy about the transition from silent movies to sound. Gene Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, stars as the stuntman-turned-matinee-idol who falls in love with adorable Debbie Reynolds. He even gets to parody his own swashbuckling in MGM's Technicolor "Three Musketeers."
Donald O'Connor is Kelly's wisecracking sidekick and exhilarating dance partner, and the sublimely hilarious Jean Hagen got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Lina Lamont, the silent screen goddess whose glamorous looks hide her vocal and mental shrillness.
"Singin' in the Rain" wasn't a huge hit when it opened, but it's now regarded as one of the best Hollywood musicals of all time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN")
KELLY: (as Don) Hey, I think it'll work.
DEBBIE REYNOLDS: (as Kathy) Of course.
DONALD O'CONNOR: (as Cosmo) It's a cinch. You know, it may be crazy but we're going to do it. "The Dueling Cavalier" is now a musical.
KELLY: (as Don) Hot dog.
REYNOLDS: (as Kathy) Hallelujah!
KELLY: (as Don) Whoopee. Fellas, I feel this is my lucky day, March 23rd.
O'CONNOR: (as Cosmo) Oh, no. Your lucky day's the 24th.
KELLY: (as Don) What do you mean, the 24th?
O'CONNOR: (as Cosmo) It's 1:30 already. It's morning.
REYNOLDS: (as Kathy) Yes. And what a lovely morning. (Singing) Good morning.
KELLY: (as Don) (Singing) Good morning. We've talked the whole night through.
REYNOLDS: (as Kathy) (Singing) Good morning.
GENE KELLY AND DONALD O'CONNOR: (as Cosmo) (Singing) Good morning to you.
GENE KELLY, DEBBIE REYNOLDS, DONALD O'CONNOR: (as Don, Kathy, Cosmo) (Singing) Good morning. Good morning. It's great to stay up late. Good morning, good morning to you.
SCHWARTZ: The idea for the movie came from Arthur Freed, the head of the MGM unit that, beginning in 1939 and for more than two decades, produced a string of legendary musicals, both adapted from Broadway shows and original scores. Two of these, "An American in Paris" and "Gigi," won Best Picture Academy Awards.
"Singin' in the Rain," is in some ways Freed's tribute to himself. He came to Hollywood as a songwriter, most often teamed with composer Herb Nacio Brown. In 1929, they wrote the title song for the first Oscar-winning sound film, "The Broadway Melody." Freed wanted to make a musical that would use their old hit songs, "Broadway Melody," "You Were Meant For Me," "You Are My Lucky Star," and of course, "Singin' in the Rain."
Among the delights of the new home video release - along with a collectible umbrella - are clips of the songs as they originally appeared. For example, there's Cliff Edwards, also known as Ukulele Ike and the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's "Pinocchio" - singing in an onstage downpour in the "Hollywood Revue" of 1929.
(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE SHOW, "HOLLYWOOD REVUE")
CLIFF EDWARDS: (singing) Why am I happy and why do I sing? Why does December seem sunny as spring? Why do I get up each morning to start happy and head up with joy in my heart? Why is each new task a trifle to do? Because I'm living a life full of you. I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling. I'm happy again. I'm laughing at clouds so dark up above. The sun's in my heart, and I'm ready for love.
SCHWARTZ: Freed got Broadway's Betty Comden and Adolph Green to create a screenplay to provide a dramatic context for these songs. They also wrote the lyrics for a tongue-twister called "Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses" for the scene in which Kelly is getting diction lessons for his new sound film.
Some of the backstage lore is almost as good as the film itself. The plot of "Singin' in the Rain" hinges on Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen's squeaky voice for the new sound movie, but in that movie's spoken dialogue, it's the lovely voice of the real Jean Hagen that we hear. And though Debbie Reynolds' tap dancing looks terrific, Kelly evidently didn't like the way it sounded and dubbed in his own tapping for the soundtrack.
Of course, the way "Singin' in the Rain" makes fun of silent movies has little to do with the masterpieces of silent film, some of the most profoundly moving and beautiful and intentionally hilarious films ever made. But as sheer comic entertainment, "Singin' in the Rain" doesn't have a dull moment.
I went to the public screening, and on the big screen, the dazzling new print makes clearly visible little details I never noticed at home. And it was great to be rolling in the aisles along with the rest of the audience, many of whom must've been discovering for the first time how much fun you could have at a 60-year-old movie.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix. He reviewed the 60th anniversary edition of "Singin' in the Rain." It's on DVD and Blu-ray, and returns to theaters for one night on August 22nd.
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