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Fresh Air Comedy Week: Chris Rock on Rolling with the New.

Comedian Chris Rock. He got his start in show business performing stand-up routines in Manhattan. He spent three years on Saturday Night Live and appeared in a few films including the recent Beverly Hills Ninja. He also had a comedy and talk-show series, "The Chris Rock Show" on HBO. (REBROADCAST from 2/6/97)

14:02

Other segments from the episode on August 26, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 26, 1997: Interview with Chris Rock; Interview with Jon Lovitz; Interview with Martin Short; Interview with Steven Wright; Review of the film "The Full Monty."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 26, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Chris Rock
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's comedy week on FRESH AIR. Three of today's guests were once regulars on Saturday Night Live. Chris Rock got his start on the show and also worked on "In Living Color." He co-wrote and co-starred in the film "CB4," a satire of the rap world, and he appeared in the films "Beverly Hills Cop II," "Panther," and "New Jack City." His HBO late night variety show starts up again in September.

Rock appeared regularly on the program "Politically Incorrect" during the presidential campaign, as the show's campaign correspondent. His comedy is so politically incorrect that political and social commentators have weighed in with their opinions on it. You can hear why on his new CD "Roll With The New," adapted from his HBO special "Bring The Pain" which we talked about earlier this year.

Probably the most controversial part of...

LAUGHTER

... that's part of this? Cutting right to the chase -- is what you describe as the civil war between black people. In fact, let me play an excerpt of this sketch.

CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Oh, boy.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, CHRIS ROCK, IN STANDUP COMEDY PERFORMANCE)

Now, we got a lot of things -- there's a lot of racism going on in the world right now. Who's more racist? Black people or white people? Black people. You know why? 'Cause we hate black people, too.

LAUGHTER

Everything white people don't like about black people, black people really don't like about black people. There's some (expletive deleted) goin' on with black people right now. There's like the civil war going on with black people, and there's two sides. There's black people and there's niggers.

The niggers have got to go. Every time black people want to have a good time, 'ignant-ass niggers (expletive deleted) it up.

APPLAUSE

Can't do (expletive deleted). Can't do nothin'. Can't keep a disco open more than three weeks -- brand opening; brand closing. Can't go to a movie the first week it come out. Why? 'Cause niggers are shooting at the screen.

GROSS: What is the range of reaction, Chris Rock, that you've gotten to this sketch?

ROCK: Wow, you know what's weird?

GROSS: What?

ROCK: It's been nothing but positive reaction. This whole special -- the only negative reaction I've ever gotten from this special, and I'm not jumpin' on a bandwagon here trying to get, you know, famous, is Bill Cosby.

GROSS: What did he say?

ROCK: Well, he didn't say anything. He just wanted his -- in the beginning of the special, I have a bunch of old comedy album covers flashing. And these are just guys I grew up with and I really loved, and there's Bill Cosby and there's Woody Allen and there's Flip Wilson and Dick Gregory and Pete McMarkham (ph) and Eddie and Pryor. And they're just some of like my heroes. And he wanted his album removed, so I guess he didn't like the special.

But other than that, it's been nothing but good reaction.

GROSS: Were you thinking about particular experiences you had or particular people you know when you wrote this?

ROCK: Wait, again, it's like the "Hulk Syndrome." It's like -- I'm not really thinking about anything. I'm just interpreting. This is like, you know, everything I said in that routine, my mother said. My father said. I hear it in barber shops. It's not like I'm, you know -- it's not like I invented anything, you know.

GROSS: Help me out.

ROCK: This has been...

GROSS: Yeah.

ROCK: ... you know, these views have been out there forever. Just nobody said it.

GROSS: You know, I couldn't help but wonder, listening to it, if a white comic said exactly the same thing you said, it would have a completely different meaning, I think.

ROCK: Yes, it would. Why would a white comic want to say what I said, though? Why would that ever be -- in what context would that ever be necessary?

GROSS: So what's the difference between you saying it and a white comic saying it?

ROCK: I can say it. What's the difference between someone calling your kid an idiot and you calling your kid an idiot? It's a big difference -- it's a huge difference.

GROSS: Right. Do you have...

ROCK: Your kid knows what you mean when you say it. Your kid knows you just mean he's messing up. But when somebody else says it, boy, that's mean.

GROSS: Did you go through a radical black consciousness period when you were in your teens?

ROCK: No. No, you know, I didn't go through a rad -- I mean, when I was in my teens, that's like the '80s, so it's not exactly the most conscious decade or time. You know, I was bussed to school as a kid.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. From where to where?

ROCK: From Brooklyn -- Bed-Stuy Brooklyn -- to Garrison Beach, Brooklyn and to Bensonhurst. And you know, I was getting called "nigger" since I was like in the seventh -- you know, second grade. So I never -- I was always in tune with my blackness, you know, from the time I was, you know, in the second grade.

GROSS: Were there a lot of other people from your neighborhood who got bussed to Bensonhurst?

ROCK: There was -- there was like a contingent, about like five of us.

GROSS: Five? That's all?

ROCK: Yeah, wasn't, you know -- wasn't a -- from my, you know, when I say "the neighborhood," I'm just talking about like a block, like a two-block radius. You know, when you grow up like in a bad neighborhood, there's not a lot of venturing out. So, my neighborhood was like two blocks to me. Then the rest of the neighborhood, I didn't go anywhere 'cause anything could happen. My mother wasn't having it.

GROSS: So, how many African-American students would you say there were in the schools that you got bussed in?

ROCK: In the schools, OK, I was like the only black kid in my grade a couple of times.

GROSS: Wow. Mm-hmm.

ROCK: I was the only black boy, and then there were like two black girls -- two black girls, for like most of my grade school. And the girls had each other. I was kind of like by myself, and I would have -- you know, it's weird. Even though I would get, you know, beat up and, you know, all that other stuff, of course my best friend would end up being white in that same environment. Then he'd get beat up for being my friend.

And it's a weird circle of events.

GROSS: Now, I have a question about your voice. Your voice in your on-stage performances, when you're doing comedy, is much deeper, louder, and rougher than your voice in conversation, which is higher and lighter...

ROCK: Right.

GROSS: ... almost sweeter, if I could use that word.

ROCK: Well, thanks.

GROSS: And I always feel like, gee, are you not comfortable with that voice on stage? Do you feel like you need a harder-edged voice to do your comedy?

ROCK: Well, you know, it's -- the money's on the line. It's like people are paying $25. They want a performance. They want -- they don't want me, they want me to be better than me. I gotta look better than me. I gotta be taller, louder, funny. I gotta -- I have to be more.

So I mean, when you're on stage, it's kind of like being a woman, you know. It's like put on the makeup; do the hair. You know, nobody wants me. They want Chris Rock. They want -- I'm just Chris.

GROSS: So -- so you got to put on a personality on stage.

ROCK: Well, I gotta be bigger than I normally am. I mean, at the same token, I couldn't walk through life acting the way I act on stage.

GROSS: Well, right, without getting hit a lot, probably.

ROCK: Right. Exactly.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: You know, I meant to ask you: did you go to the Million Man March? You talk about it a little bit in your routine. Were you there?

ROCK: You know what? I didn't go.

GROSS: How come?

ROCK: I should have went.

GROSS: Did you think about going? Was it a decision to go or not to go?

ROCK: You know, first of all, the decision -- I mean, probably the main reason I didn't go 'cause I'm famous and I'd just...

GROSS: Right.

ROCK: I really don't ...

GROSS: Don't like being in big crowds when you're famous.

ROCK: I really don't feel like being in big crowds.

GROSS: Look! There's Chris Rock!

ROCK: Yeah, but there were a lot of other famous people there -- more famous than me. But I don't know, I didn't -- I mean, I support the Million Man March and all it stood for, I just -- the whole repenting thing was like a little weird to me, 'cause it was kind of -- the whole nation, a day of...

GROSS: Atoning?

ROCK: ... of tone -- a day of atoning. It was kind of, in a sense, you're saying: everybody's messed up. The whole race is -- their tone is like: hey, I'm not -- you know, and at the end, they had this big -- everybody, you know, raised one hand, "I will never hit a woman," "I will never steal," "I won't take drugs." And I haven't done any of those things.

And at the same time, I don't think I'm a superman. I don't think I should be exalted for it. So I kind of -- I don't know -- I felt out of, you know -- it was just a weird day for me.

GROSS: Actually you have something related to that that's very funny and -- in your performance, where you talk about people who brag "I'm so great, I've never hit a woman," you know.

ROCK: Yeah, I mean...

GROSS: "So great, I've never -- I take care of my child," and you say: Yeah, you're supposed to. I mean, that's just a given.

ROCK: Yeah, it's just -- our -- you know, a bunch of guys, "I'm gonna take care of my kids." OK. If that's what you need. I don't have any kids. I don't have any kids out of wedlock. I don't have any children. I don't know. Million Man March was a weird day for me -- a weird day, 'cause I was watching it on TV. I actually wish now I was there.

But at the same time, there were parts of it that I knew why I wasn't there, so...

GROSS: I have one last question for you. It might be...

ROCK: Really?

GROSS: ... yeah, might seem strange to you. Did being really skinny, do you think, affect who you became and how people thought of you, or you know, how you see yourself as a comic? Were you kind of scrawny as a kid?

ROCK: I'm scrawny now as a man.

LAUGHTER

Totally. Being skinny has affected every aspect of my life -- every decision I make; everything I put on. Put it this way: look at my standup. In my standup, I have twice as many -- I always say comedy, standup comedy and boxing are pretty much the same. You know, boxing is to sports what standup is to entertainment, 'cause there's just a guy out there by himself.

And I perform like a skinny boxer, where I don't have the ability -- I don't have the ability to knock you out, so I have twice -- I have -- you take my hour special and anybody else's hour special, I probably have twice as many jokes compact in it, 'cause I'm so in -- my size has me so insecure, I'm always working twice as hard.

So yeah, being skinny has totally affected me, and totally, totally, totally weirded me out.

GROSS: Though speaking of boxing...

ROCK: Men are crazy.

GROSS: ... did you get -- did people fight with you a lot when you were young and take advantage of your size?

ROCK: Totally, totally.

GROSS: Did you...

ROCK: And the only reason they don't do it now is 'cause I get -- you know, I'm me.

GROSS: Right. You're famous.

LAUGHTER

ROCK: That's the only reason.

GROSS: Did you learn to fight?

ROCK: When you're as small as I am, it doesn't really matter.

GROSS: Try martial arts or anything?

ROCK: You know, it's a big -- martial arts -- some big guy will just grab you and throw you down. What's the -- what's the point?

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well, did you try to cripple your opponent with comedy?

ROCK: Wow, I'm just -- you know, stayed out of environments and situations where fights may occur. No drinking. Like, I don't drink because I can't fight. Wherever it is alcohol's served, there's a bouncer 'cause people get out of hand. So I can't -- too little to be around guys that get out of hand.

So I can't drink. Poor -- woe is me.

LAUGHTER

I'm sure Woody and Spike think the same.

GROSS: Right, right. Well, that's true isn't it?

ROCK: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, you could have 'em on your show and talk about it -- a little self-help.

ROCK: Yeah. That's why I love Spike -- Brooklyn and skinny.

GROSS: Well, Chris Rock, I wish you really good luck with your new show.

ROCK: Thank you.

GROSS: And thanks a lot for talking with us.

ROCK: OK, no problem.

GROSS: Chris Rock, recorded earlier this year. His HBO series starts up again in September. His new CD is called Roll With The New.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "ROLL WITH THE NEW")

ROCK: Marion Barry at the Million Man March. How'd he get a ticket? It was a day of positivity. How'd he get it, man? Marion Barry at the Million March. You know what that means? That means that even in our finest hour, we had a crackhead on stage.

LAUGHTER

Man, boo if you want. You know I'm right. How the hell Marion Barry get his job back? Smoke crack, got his job back. How the hell that happen? I mean, if you get caught smoking crack at McDonald's, you can't get your job back. That's right. They not gonna trust you around the Happy Meals. They'll send your ass to Hardee's.

Smoke crack, got his job -- all I want to know is: Who was so bad -- who ran against him that they lost? Who was so bad they lost to a crackhead? What was they campaign like? Who was they on? Heroin?

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Chris Rock
High: Comedian Chris Rock. He got his start in show business performing stand-up comedy routines in Manhattan. He spent three years on "Saturday Night Live" and appeared in a few films, including the recent "Beverly Hills Ninja." He also had a comedy and talk-show series, "The Chris Rock Show," on HBO.
Spec: Music Industry; People; Chris Rock; Race Relations; Violence; Drugs
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Chris Rock
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 26, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082602np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Martin Short
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We continue our comedy week lineup with Martin Short. Short was a regular on the Canadian sketch comedy series "SCTV," then moved to Saturday Night Live. Americans were introduced to Short here and he was best-known for his characters like the nerd Ed Grimley and showbiz vet Jackie Rogers, Jr. and for his impressions of Katherine Hepburn and Jerry Lewis.

He's since starred in such films as "Three Amigos," "Innerspace," "Three Fugitives," "Clifford," "Father of the Bride," "Mars Attacks," and "A Simple Wish."

In 1989, Martin Short told me that when he was growing up, there was a lot of comedy at home.

MARTIN SHORT, ACTOR, COMEDIAN: Comedy was very normal in our family -- do jokes was to be normal. Insult each other was normal. It was -- an Irish family that could have bursts of anger and then be gone in one second. It's very interesting -- I was just -- I have this, like, opening of Christmas gifts from 1966 -- a tape that I put on when I was a kid.

And I heard it this year, you know. And I was amazed. It was like a mental family. It was like "nah nosh nosh argh" -- screaming and shouting. And then "ha, ha, ha, ha" -- laughing within the next second. No particular rhyme or reason to it.

And so, comedy was very normal.

GROSS: Let's talk about Jackie Rogers, Jr. -- a great character. This is this...

SHORT: It's very -- now let me say something...

GROSS: What?

SHORT: ... about you -- that you like Jackie is very revealing because, you know, there are two camps on Jackie. People either find him totally -- I mean, just hate him.

GROSS: Oh, really?

SHORT: Or they love him.

GROSS: Oh, I love him.

SHORT: The cast at SCTV, most of them didn't like Jackie.

GROSS: Really?

SHORT: Yeah, they thought it was just kind of grotesque. And we'd write these pieces -- Dick Besuchi (ph) and Paul Ferry (ph) and I would write these pieces. We'd take them in the read-through, and they just kind of died, but because the cast trusted me, they'd let me do it.

GROSS: Well, I like Jackie because he's so extravagant and so, so show-bizzy.

SHORT: Yes, he's also the most self-absorbed...

GROSS: Yes.

SHORT: ... character that I've ever done. I mean, in -- I did a special a couple of years ago.

GROSS: He's a lounge singer, for any of our listeners who don't know.

SHORT: Who's also albino...

GROSS: Yes.

SHORT: ... and cross-eyed...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHORT: ... has long white hair. And he once wrote a book based on life with his father, Jackie Rogers, Sr. and it's titled "Damn You, Daddy, Sir." Hrmph, hrmph, hrmph -- he has a bad laugh, too. That was the laugh -- hrmph, hrmph, hrmph. It's kind of your tongue -- it's like a little dog with a tongue through the teeth.

Anyway, Jackie's the most self-absorbed in -- especially a couple of years ago, I had him thrown out the window by kidnappers, and he fell through the air, smashed into the top of a truck, landed in the cage of a lion. And as he was getting up, looked at his hands and said: "gee, I never noticed what tiny hands I have." So it's like that kind of absorption that even that kind of terrible fate wouldn't affect him.

GROSS: I think it's fair to say that one of his anthems is: "She loves me."

SHORT: Yes. That was -- it was his Dad's song. You know: "she loves me, and to my amazement, I love how -- what the heck does that mean? Nah, yah, mah, yah, mah."

GROSS: That's a Sheldon Harneck (ph) song.

SHORT: Yeah.

GROSS: And he also wrote the lyrics for "Fiddler on the Roof" and this is from the show "She Loves Me." How did you -- I think Jack Jones had the hit of it. How did you choose that song -- the perfect showpiece for Jackie Rogers, Sr. and Jr.?

SHORT: I don't know. I used to go into the writers office at SCTV and I'd always be like "she loves me, and to my amazement" -- and they'd say: "You should do a piece on that." And this is 1982, and I kind of said: "well, I don't know if -- this is an old subject matter, you know, lounge singers.

But then I thought that I would do a short piece, a two-minute piece on Jack -- on the -- created this character Jackie Rogers, and if I had him die at the end of the piece, then it would be no problem repeating the turf.

So I -- it was -- I wrote a piece called "Jackie Rogers, Old Mother Nature, She Loves Me," which was supposedly something that had been done in '71 and Jackie Rogers had been killed while doing it. "Whilst" doing it, as Ed would say.

And they were finally releasing it, 11 years later. And at the end, I needed a -- you know, little circles -- someone to pop in and say, you know, watch the show. So I invented Jackie Rogers, Jr., who was a white-faced albino to pop in the circle and say, you know: "I miss my dad. I hope you won't. Thursdays at 11."

LAUGHTER

And...

GROSS: We talked about some of the characters that you created for sketch comedy. Let me ask you about one of the impressions that you did, and that's of Jerry Lewis.

I think you're really good at it because you know physical comedy and you can capture the kind of goofy aspects of Jerry Lewis. But you also get the kind of dark side, the bitter side, and the ego of the man. How do you rehearse to do him? What do you -- do you study him before doing him?

SHORT: I would start singing -- "Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed; gotta smile, hold notes, and shake -- can I tell you what a joy and a thrill and all good stuff" -- you know, you just kind of -- I -- often I would suck a lozenge, imaginary lozenge. I don't know why. It's not like he does a lozenge. But it's just an idea of, you know, an attitude.

And sometimes you just hear people. It's like music. You know, you hear and you just kind of get the placement...

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

SHORT: ... in the voice or the throat, and "naaa-sal" or Robin Williams -- "kind of like that, uh. You know, God that -- there's more back there" -- you know, so you just kind of play.

GROSS: Now, I've read about you that when you were young, you used to do an imaginary TV show in your room that would run on alternate weeks in your imagination with "The Andy Williams Show."

SHORT: Yes, it's -- that is very true and we were canceled too, finally, which is a tragedy. "Hullabaloo" (ph), I think, replaced us.

LAUGHTER

Yes, I used to -- it was 8:30 Mondays in my mind.

GROSS: Right.

SHORT: And we'd tape ahead. You know, we'd have shows in the can, and I'd type things up for TV Guide, you know, highlights -- "Marty will sing" -- and I would come out and I had a "Frank Sinatra at the Sands" album, so I used that as an applause record.

And then, you know, I'd use intros from albums. You know, when I have a guest, you know, my guest would be Tony Bennett and Tony would come out and do "forget your troubles, c'mon get happy, the Lord is waitin' to take your hand. I'd sing another song, I just don't remember the words" -- you know, and he'd be my guest.

And then I would, you know, sing with him -- you know, with the record, and then I'd go to the applause. And I'd, you know, piece it together, reel to reel.

And then I would take, you know, the Playboy of that month and do the interview -- Eldrige (ph) Cleaver or something. And then I'd sit and -- "you say that we're not moving fast enough" -- and you know, and I'd then read his part.

LAUGHTER

Then I'd end with a medley. And then someone would call "dinner," and I'd -- we'd tape later.

GROSS: Did you sit on a stool and sing like Perry and Andy used to?

SHORT: Oh, sure. Yeah. But sometimes, I'd just throw that stool aside and belt out a big final...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: 'Cause that's the kind of informal guy you are.

SHORT: There was no one restraining me.

GROSS: So, who were your sponsors?

SHORT: Bulova Watch was a biggie, and the Kraft people.

GROSS: They just...

SHORT: No cigarettes, even then.

GROSS: They did Perry Como.

SHORT: Yeah. Well, I know. They were very generous to help me out as well.

GROSS: Why, if you were doing an imaginary show would you have it alternate every other week with Andy Williams? Why not be on every other week...

SHORT: How could I do my films?

GROSS: ... on every week, I mean. What?

SHORT: How could I do my films?

GROSS: Oh, oh. Yes.

SHORT: Remember, I was directing...

GROSS: Yes, I see the problem.

SHORT: ... as well.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Now, when you were doing these shows, were they serious in your mind? Or were they parodies of the show? I mean, were you doing them for real? Or were...

SHORT: No, it was real. I had a fantasy world that wouldn't quit, you know. I mean, I was -- if I got on the back of a bus, I would -- I mean, if I got on a bus, I would go to the back of the bus where the windows were kind of oval shaped, you know? So that it would -- I'd have more of a sense of riding in a limousine. Do you know what I mean? It's like -- and if I looked out the window -- or I'd pretend I was, you know, on an airplane, taxiing off and fans would -- you know, this is a 10.

I was just intrigued by it. It wasn't something -- it wasn't like Rupert Pumpkin (ph) or wasn't it...

GROSS: Rupert Pupkin, yeah.

SHORT: Yeah, it wasn't that sick. You know, it was clearly a fun hobby. You know, it was fun and while other kids my age were protesting "you got to have a revolution" -- I was up in my room singing "Weather-wise, it's such a cuckoo day." You know.

But certainly, I -- in no way did it become something that I, you know, would answer to two different names.

GROSS: Did your imaginary show have a theme? A song?

SHORT: No, there would be a production number, you know, kind of opening which would be a scene where dancers come out and go "Marty, it's time for Marty" -- but I mean, that wasn't a real theme.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Oh, what a nut.

SHORT: Yeah. Sad, huh?

GROSS: Martin Short, recorded in 1989.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Martin Short
High: Former Saturday Night Live cast member Martin Short. Though he only spent one season with the show (1984), he left a lasting impression with his characters such as Ed Grimley, Jr., the cowlicked dork, and his impersonations of Katherine Hepburn and Jerry Lewis. Since then he's appeared in a number of films: "Father of the Bride," and "Father of the Bride 2" -- as a flamboyant party planner -- and "Mars Attacks." He also had a short-lived prime time TV show, "The Martin Short Show." His latest film is "A Simple Wish."
Spec: Media; Television; Martin Short
Please note, this is not the final feed of record.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Martin Short
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 26, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082603np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Full Monty
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: When the factories close and the blue collar jobs dry up, what's a guy to do? "The Full Monty" is a new British comedy that takes a look at changing gender roles brought on by the loss of traditional male jobs.

Our film critic John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: If you think Hollywood is liberal, just look at the British film industry. I've seen hundreds of English films since Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979 and I can't remember one that supported her, John Major, or the Conservative Party's policies.

In fact, the most inescapable theme of British filmmaking over the last 20 years has been how the Thatcherite embrace of the free market has shattered the lives of the working people.

Earlier this year, "Brassed Off" told the story of a group of coalminers who enter a brass band contest as a way of salvaging their dignity when their mine is shut down. Now comes The Full Monty, a populist comedy about laid-off steelworkers.

The scene is Sheffield, a once-booming Yorkshire city whose steel mills have been shut down, costing thousands of workers their jobs. One of these is the charming, slightly fishy Gaz (ph), played by Robert Carlisle (ph). Gaz is divorced and needs money in order to keep seeing his son. But he's not the only one hit hard by unemployment, whose toll is psychological as well as economic.

His pudgy pal Dave is having marital woes because he can no longer perform in bed. There seems to be no way out until one night, a group of Chippendale Dancers descend on Sheffield. Gaz sees the packed house and has a brainstorm. He and his friends should put on a strip show of their own -- not one of those acts where everybody's a bodybuilder or pretty boy, but where ordinary men uncover themselves.

For added publicity, Gaz announces that the men will strip buck naked. They'll do "the full Monty." And so, Gaz begins to organize the show, finding dancers, learning routines, and most difficult -- dealing with the resistance of others, as when he approaches his ex-foreman Gerald, a ballroom dancer.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE FULL MONTY")

ROBERT CARLISLE, ACTOR: Off to the office are we, (Unintelligible)?

ACTOR AS GERALD: As a matter of fact, yes I bloody am. Put that back. Put it back.

See that? Interview. In the bloody bag. May, I know him from Addison's (ph), and I could do the job standing on my head. And I won't have to look at your ugly mugs ever again.

CARLISLE: Come on, Gerald. We just need a bit of help?

GERALD: Well, I'm sorry pal. There's nothing I can do to help the likes of you. Nothing.

CARLISLE: Just want to know about dancing, that's all.

GERALD: Dancers 'ave coordination, skill, timing, fitness, and grace -- take a long hard look in the mirror. Now, I'm busy.

POWERS: In recent months, the press has been flooded with articles about Ewan McGregor (ph), the handsome young Scottish star of "Trainspotting" who's being touted for Hollywood superstardom. But the great Scottish actor to have emerged in the last few years is actually Robert Carlisle, who was also in Trainspotting, where he played the loutish psychopath Bigby (ph).

A small, lean man with the intensity of a Brando or DeNiro, Carlisle has a flair for genuinely scary characters. But he's also able to pull off a role like Gaz -- a likable, easy-going dude whose essential decency we never doubt for a second.

Without ever seeming saccharine, he exudes an endearing sweetness. This makes him ideal for The Full Monty, whose writer Simon Buffoy (ph) and director Peter Catanio (ph) give the action the crowd-pleasing warmth of a Depression-era movie from Warner Brothers.

While their desire to woo us keeps the story predictable -- it lacks the jaggedness or inspired lunacy found in Mike Lee (ph) and Ken Loach (ph) -- the movie's breeziness is thoroughly enjoyable. There's something intrinsically ridiculous about middle-aged men doing the "funky chicken," especially while peeling off their clothes.

But the humor is never mocking or cruel. Unlike a film such as "Fargo," in which characters are introduced just so the audience can snicker at their stupidity, The Full Monty casts a generous eye on its characters' foibles. You may laugh Gaz's scheming or at fat Dave's bumbling, but we respect their humanity.

We recognize that beneath all the comedy, their dance routines have a serious meaning. Here are steelworkers who feel emasculated at losing their jobs. Just to survive, these men strip themselves naked and offer themselves up to their community as objects of voyeuristic desire. To regain their sense of manhood, they play a role traditionally associated with women.

Although this switch in sex roles is presented humorously, it unleashes an incredible liberating energy. When Gaz and his mates finally bound on stage, the audience goes berserk, both on screen and in the movie theater.

The Full Monty is not a great movie, but it's something that most people may like better. It's the one film I've seen this year where audiences actually walk out giddy.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Dateline: John Powers; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Film Critic John Powers reviews "The Full Monty."
Spec: Movie Industry; Europe; England; Stripping; The Full Monty
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Full Monty
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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