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Oscar Host Chris Rock

Rock will host the 2005 Academy Awards, airing Sunday. The comedian spent time on the cast of Saturday Night Live and In Living Color, and his comedy TV specials include last year's Chris Rock: Never Scared and Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker. This interview was originally broadcast on Feb. 6, 1997.

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Other segments from the episode on February 25, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 25, 2005: Interview with David Milch; Interview with James McDaniel; Interview with Bill Clark and David Milch; Interview with Chris Rock; Review of the film …

Transcript

DATE February 25, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: David Milch discusses his career and his TV series
"Deadwood"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from "NYPD Blue")

Unidentified Man #1: Baldwin.

Mr. HENRY SIMMONS: (As Detective Baldwin Jones) Yeah?

Unidentified Man #1: I think I'm going to put in my papers.

Mr. SIMMONS: Are you serious?

Unidentified Man #1: I think it's time.

BIANCULLI: That's one of many heartfelt goodbyes we've heard on "NYPD Blue"
as the 12-year-old ABC police drama comes to an end. Next Tuesday, ABC
presents the finale of the show that pushed the envelope for broadcast TV
dramas. On today's FRESH AIR, we'll hear from some of the talent in front of
and behind the cameras at "NYPD Blue." We'll visit with Dennis Franz, who as
Andy Sipowicz was the only cast member to star in the entire run of the show.
James McDaniel, who played Andy's first boss, and real-life Detective Bill
Clark, a creative consultant and executive producer on the series. And we'll
begin today's show by talking with the co-creator of "NYPD Blue," David Milch.

Milch and his collaborator Steven Bochco, who already had shaken up the cop
show genre with the gritty "Hill Street Blues," planned "NYPD Blue" as a way
to make the adult TV drama even more adult by pushing the acceptable standards
on language, violence, even nudity. When it launched, some ABC affiliates
refused to air it. But when the show became an instant hit, the complaints
stopped and "NYPD Blue" began its long, successful, influential run.

Terry spoke with David Milch last year, just after the launch of his latest
controversial series, the HBO western "Deadwood." She asked him about the
early days of "NYPD Blue" and how it was received when it began.

Mr. DAVID MILCH (TV Producer/Writer): "NYPD Blue" almost didn't go on the
air. It was delayed for over a year. The network refused to let it go
forward. And once the network committed, more than one-third of the ABC
affiliates refused to air the program. So I'm--I am quite familiar with the
imposition of other people's ideas of what it--was proper to portray. And I
had to--you know, there was the subject of long negotiation between Steven
Bochco and the ABC censors about how many obscenities could be used in what
combination, what the--I mean, it was--those were negotiations from which I
was excluded early on, because my participation tended not to be constructive,
you know? I kind of respond apocalyptically to that kind of stuff, and so I
was disinvited from the conversations.

GROSS: I want to get back to something we were talking about before, which is
language, you know, and there were restrictions on the language you could use
on "Hill Street" and "NYPD Blue." I'm sure you assumed that these characters
would be using a lot more profanity and obscenity if they weren't restricted,
so how do you get around that? What kind of language could you give them that
implies that they'd be using saltier language if allowed, but this will take
the place of it?

Mr. MILCH: Yeah. I always found that stuff a little silly, because I can
make up words which are much more obscene, because words derive their meaning
from the context in which they're used. And so I remember the censors
wouldn't let--there was, I think, in "NYPD Blue" the first year or something,
Sipowicz was doing an interrogation, and he was confronting a witness with the
fact that the witness could not have been where he said he was, or he was a
suspect. And he says, `So you're saying that you spent Christmas Eve rubbing
up and down against Doris Ayello(ph),' or something like that. And they said,
`No, you can't say "rubbing up and down."' So I wrote, `So you say you spent
Christmas Eve in close proximity to Doris Ayello's goonyah(ph)?' Now there is
no such word.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MILCH: And yet, because of the context, it is a much more vivid image.
And that's the point. What's crucial is that they portray the sensibility
and, to a large extent, the fears of the character. In the instance of cops,
the inability to use obscenity was not so crucial, because the culture of cops
can be portrayed. The obscenity is not of the essence of the cops' character.
It's simply a way of releasing a certain amount of tension. Now racial
epithets are a different thing. For me, the ability to use racial epithets
was crucial in "NYPD Blue," because so much of the cop's experience has to do
with racism, either the racism that afflicts him or the racism that's
institutional. And so I felt deeply a need to be able to use racial epithets
where I felt no need whatsoever to use an obscenity, because it was not of the
essence of the character's experience.

GROSS: And what were you up against in terms of using racial epithets?

Mr. MILCH: They said, `Don't use them.' And I said, `Well, we're going to
use them.' And as the ratings went up and the affiliates--you know, we get
back to the old subject of commerce. One-third of the ABC affiliates refused
to run the show. Well, after the show was on the air for a couple of weeks,
and it was clear that it was getting good ratings and that people had come to
experience beyond whatever titillation they thought they were going to find,
something that they wanted to come back to on a weekly basis, having to do
with the rendering of a particular world, then the affiliates began to pick it
up. And as the network started to make money, they began to take a little
more dialectical view of what our ambitions were, Steven's and mine, and to
see virtue where before they had seen only vice. And finally, with the proper
amount of piety and fanfare, you know, they began to allow us to use certain
locutions about race that they had forbidden hitherto.

GROSS: Does this include, I'll go with, the N-word?

Mr. MILCH: Yes. Yeah, specifically the N-word, and specifically the fact
that Sipowicz, as a racist, would use that word. And it was of the essence of
that character's woundedness and the distortion of perspective that had come
from his early experiences that he be able to use that word, and that the
character who was his partner could then have the opportunity to say, `I can't
work with you if you're going to speak that way.'

GROSS: So where did the objections come from once you started using the word?

Mr. MILCH: From the bosses at the network.

GROSS: What about from viewers? Did you get any objections from them?

Mr. MILCH: You know, I don't read that stuff. No...

GROSS: Right, because you don't want to be affected by it.

Mr. MILCH: Yeah. I mean, the network will say, `Well, you can't put it on
the air,' but we finally found a way around that as time went on. We just
didn't let them have the scripts until after the show was shot.

GROSS: Was that effective?

Mr. MILCH: Well, yeah, it's effective if you're making them money.

GROSS: I got to know, how do you make up a word like `goonyah'?

Mr. MILCH: You know, it's--I don't know. That's my racket.

GROSS: So, I mean, what are some of the things you think about when you have
to make up, like, a phony expletive or body part or, you know...

Mr. MILCH: Yeah, that thinking is invariably the enemy of action. And I
don't think. I mean, I don't outline my shows. I just sort of try and let it
happen.

GROSS: Right. OK.

Mr. MILCH: And so I improvise that stuff on the spur of the moment.

BIANCULLI: David Milch, co-creator of NYPD Blue," speaking with Terry Gross
last year. His new series, "Deadwood," begins its second season a week from
Sunday.

We'll hear from two stars of "NYPD Blue," Dennis Franz and James McDaniel,
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: James McDaniel discusses his role on "NYPD Blue"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

When "NYPD Blue" began, Andy Sipowicz was a cop loaded with baggage. He was
an alcoholic, a loose cannon and, at least initially, a racist. His first
boss, an African-American lieutenant named Arthur Fancy, was inches away from
firing Sipowicz, but the two came to understand, teach and even embrace one
another as part of the series' ongoing examination of race and redemption.
James McDaniel played Lieutenant Fancy and played him with as much volatility
as David Franz played Sipowicz, as in this scene in which the two are arguing
about Andy's on-the-job use of the N-word.

(Soundbite from "NYPD Blue")

Mr. JAMES McDANIEL (As Lieutenant Arthur Fancy): Would have been smarter for
you to go home when the shift ended.

Mr. DENNIS FRANZ (As Andy Sipowicz): If you're going after me, you bring
charges or let Kwasi do it because I want a chance to answer them in front of
somebody besides you.

Mr. McDANIEL: Yeah, this is about me, Andy. I'm the racist.

Mr. FRANZ: I've said that word, I've thought it plenty, but I've never used
it on the job till your hump pal put us on that road.

Mr. McDANIEL: This isn't about a word, Andy, or your impure thoughts. This
is about you making this case harder to work.

Mr. FRANZ: Not about you being black, huh? Not about giving some back to me?

Mr. McDANIEL: It's about what I say it's about.

Mr. FRANZ: Then say it. Part of what it's about is watching me sweat.

Mr. McDANIEL: Well, a hell of a lot went down today, so I'd have to check my
note, but I thought I'd spend some of that time trying to save your sorry ass.

Mr. FRANZ: Give me a break.

Mr. McDANIEL: No, I'm not going to take you out, Andy. I move you out, my
white bosses, they send me a little message. They send me another one just
like you, but maybe that one can't do the job like you can.

Mr. FRANZ: Jeez, thanks a lot, boss.

Mr. McDANIEL: If you go, it'll be somebody like Kwasi or like that reporter.
I've been dealing with white cops like you ever since the academy. I could
manage you with my eyes closed. Now maybe you can't handle a black man being
your boss.

Mr. FRANZ: I can handle it. I've been covering you three and a half years
except when you get so tied up in your brother, brother crap, you won't let us
work the streets. That's when you get yourself in trouble.

Unidentified Man #2: Hello. We got a report of a person shot near the Housen
Street projects. Want me to handle it?

Mr. FRANZ: Was it a homicide?

Unidentified Man #2: I don't know.

Mr. FRANZ: That teen-age girl, the eyewitness, isn't she in those projects?

Mr. McDANIEL: Yeah, I think we got them out, though.

Mr. FRANZ: Sylvia was involved there.

Mr. McDANIEL: Check it out.

Mr. FRANZ: You want me to check it out?

Mr. McDANIEL: Yeah.

Sipowicz will handle it.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Did this scene and the whole episode lead to discussions about race off
camera?

Mr. McDANIEL: Well, I mean, we discussed race a lot anyway, you know, or we
kind of used to, you know, especially me and Dennis, you know, because we come
from two very different backgrounds. So, you know, we talk about race. It's
a part of our dialogue. I mean, we spend a lot of time together.

GROSS: After having played a cop yourself for several years, what do you
think of cops now? Do you find yourself relating to the cops or what?

Mr. McDANIEL: No, I--you know, I keep it simple. I relate to people. You
know, there's good cops and there's bad cops.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. McDANIEL: And, you know, bad cops make bad policy and vice versa. You
know, I get just as exasperated by cops now as I ever did, you know? I mean,
you know, I drive an expensive car. It's not unusual for me to be pulled over
twice on the way home on any given evening, you know, because my windows are
slightly tinted. I mean, we know what that's about. So I--you know, I just
take it kind of a person at a time, you know, knowing that it's human nature.
Some--there are some good guys and there are some bad guys. I just start
talking to them and start asking him why he's doing this. And I try to get
into his psychology so that when he--when we finally separate, he thinks about
it a little bit. It was kind of an unusual experience.

GROSS: What kind of reactions have you gotten after talking with the cops who
pull you over?

Mr. McDANIEL: Well, LA cops are tough because they have this veneer that's
very unlike New York cops, whereby they try to act like perfect human beings.
`Hello, sir. How are you?' You know, `We're just about to shoot you, but
have a nice day.' You know, they go through some type of training for that.
I don't know what it is. You know, it's like smile and hate you at the same
time, you know? LA--New York cops, if they don't like you, you know, they
make no bones about it. It's like, `I don't like you, buddy. Right now,
right here, let's go.' Does that answer your question?

GROSS: Yeah. Now is there anything you've been able to use on "NYPD Blue"
from your experiences, from your encounters with cops who've pulled you over?

Mr. McDANIEL: Well, you know, if I was a street cop, there definitely would
be. I--my approach would be to play one of those guys because, you know, that
goes straight across race lines too. You know, I mean, because I've had that
experience. That's why I say it's not necessarily a racial thing because I've
had that experience with black cops too. And they do that
hail-fellow-well-met type behavior just as good as anybody else. So, you
know, if I was a street cop, I would probably play one of those guys. You
know, I don't like just, you know, regular old heros, you know, just, you
know, da, da, da, Dudley Do-Right, here he comes. I would play one of those
kind of guys, try to find the humanity in there some place.

BIANCULLI: James McDaniel, speaking with Terry Gross in 1996.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Bill Clark and David Milch discusses Clark's work on
the TV series "NYPD Blue"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

We're continuing our salute to "NYPD Blue," which leaves the air next week
after 12 years on ABC. Here's a scene from the second season of the show.
Bobby Simone, played by Jimmy Smits, and Andy Sipowicz, played by Dennis
Franz, are questioning a man who had his wallet and his pants stolen. It fit
into a case involving men with prostitutes who are held up by pimps, only this
guy insisted he wasn't with a prostitute.

(Soundbite of "NYPD Blue")

Mr. JIMMY SMITS: (As Detective Bobby Simone) I mentioned to Mr. White this
pattern we've been working on where a prostitute gets into the car and points
the john to some romantic parking lot off of South Street and then a
hard-working pimp shows up and sticks a gun in his face; how we got two
detectives on the street right now trying to put a stop to this because
somebody got shot. But he can't help us with that because this case is
unrelated. This is a whole separate phenomenon here because there's no
prostitute involved. Right, Mr. White?

"Mr. WHITE": I told you what happened.

Mr. SMITS: Mr. White told me what happened, so he can't be of help on this
pattern that we've been working on where we got these two cops out on the
street busting their ass. I'm feeling kind of bad now 'cause I thought Mr.
White might be lying.

Mr. DENNIS FRANZ: (As Detective Andy Sipowicz) Well, maybe being in a strange
police station he just can't remember right. Maybe he needs more familiar
surroundings.

Mr. SMITS: Could that be, Mr. White?

Mr. FRANZ: Try taking him over to his house and talking it out with his wife
in the room and see if maybe that might jog his memory.

"Mr. WHITE": Wait.

Mr. SMITS: No, no, no. I think we should do that.

"Mr. WHITE": All right. All right. All right.

BIANCULLI: Bill Clark is a retired New York detective who advised and is now
an executive producer of "NYPD Blue." Clark's famous real-life investigations
included the Son of Sam and the Zodiac murders. Terry spoke with Bill Clark
in 1995 in a conversation joined by series co-creator David Milch.

TERRY GROSS, host:

On "NYPD Blue," when the cops are interrogating a suspect, they try to
convince the suspect that the suspect doesn't want to have a lawyer, at least
not yet. Why do the cops want to make sure on "NYPD Blue" that the suspect
doesn't have a lawyer until they're done talking?

Mr. BILL CLARK (Retired New York Detective): Yeah, I think people seem to
think that the lawyer just comes in to kind of referee the interrogations so
that nobody lays a hand on him and he's not intimidated. Well, the reality is
if an attorney enters a room, if he allows the suspect to confess, he is then
going to be sued for malpractice. So he is not going to allow him to answer
any of your questions, so effectively, the interrogation is shut down the
minute that he calls for an attorney. So we work very hard to keep him out of
there so that we don't shut down what, in most cases, is the single-biggest
piece of evidence against the guy, which is the confession.

GROSS: Though on the show, the cops are always trying to make it seem like
it's going to be a better deal for the suspect if he talks to the cops before
the lawyer comes.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah, that's the biggest lie we ever tell. I mean, it's--most
times...

Mr. DAVID MILCH (Co-creator, "NYPD Blue"): You suspects out there, Bill
doesn't mean it.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Most times when a guy sits into that interview room, if he
doesn't confess then a great deal of time he'll wind up either walking back
out a free man or it'll be at trial a big piece of evidence against him if he
does. I'll give you an example of something--it's not my favorite subject,
but the O.J. Simpson case. I think one of the mistakes that was made in that
case was there so much evidence against O.J. Simpson--physical evidence; I've
never seen so much circumstantial evidence in any case--that rather than get
the confession, they did a brief 30-minute interview with him and let him go.
Now with all of the so-called inconsistencies and mishandling and anything
else that was brought out in trial, if there had been a confession from O.J.
Simpson, he would have been convicted. There was no way that they jury could
have looked past that. And that's the lesson that a detective learns very
early in his career, is with a confession, it's easier for you on the stand
'cause they're not going to beat you up as hard because they know there's a
confession that they've got to deal with. And to me, that's the single
biggest thing I've always worked for.

GROSS: So what are some of the things that a cop might tell a suspect to get
the suspect to not make that phone call to the lawyer?

Mr. CLARK: Well, one of the things is you tell the guy, `Listen, you know,
you're the guy that's going to do the time, not the attorney. He's looking to
come in here for money and he doesn't care about your welfare, you know. This
is the time to make the deal. It's going to help you. You can explain why
you did it, the motives behind it, you know. We know you didn't mean this; it
was an accident-type thing and, you know, something had to drive you to commit
this act.'

I had a case very similar to the Simpson case a week or two before that, and a
man and woman stabbed brutally--the woman was stabbed about 30 times; the man
about 60, a trail of blood leaving the scene. I had the guy in about three
days later--excuse me--and I told him, I says, `Listen, you know, this is a
vicious crime here and this is horrible.' I says, `You don't--something had
to push you over the edge to do this. You don't want to go in as a crazy man
and just a vicious murderer. Something had to do it.' And he explained it
away that it was a jealousy thing and he just--he lost control. He had done a
few years in jail and he realized when he cut the first guy, that he had blew
it and he was going to go back. And he just lost control and he just stabbed
out of frustration.

GROSS: Now, Bill, would you ever make promises to suspects that you couldn't
really keep in order to help get a confession?

Mr. CLARK: Well, legally you can't make promises that you can't keep. You
can lie to him about things, but you know, as far as time served and stuff
like--you know, time that he'd do in jail and stuff like that, you can't do.
But as far as evidence that I have against him, that I have co-defendants that
have flipped and stuff like that, I've lied, you know, many, many times.

Mr. MILCH: That's legal. You have to understand that, that the legal test is
you may mislead a suspect so long as the way you mislead him would not make an
innocent man confess. In other words, you can't say, `I have your wife in the
next room, and unless you confess, I'm going to beat her,' because then an
innocent man might confess. But you are able to say, `Your running mates have
confessed.' You are able to say, you know, `We've got evidence from the
scene. We recovered the gun,' so long as--because an innocent man would know
that wasn't true.

GROSS: Bill, you retired from the New York City police, from your job as a
detective, during the second season of "NYPD Blue." While you were still
working as a detective and consulting with the series, was there a new degree
of--well, almost self-consciousness, that entered your work? Would you be
reporting on a case and in the back of your mind see it as an episode?

Mr. CLARK: No. I mean, I did my job as I saw it. I never really thought
when--if a case went down while I was doing it, that this would be a good
episode, no. I...

Mr. MILCH: Billy is not someone who is comfortable with that kind of irony
or distance when he's working as a detective.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MILCH: He takes that very, very seriously. And I know from speaking with
him about cases that he was working on all during the period when he was still
an active detective, that--but you know, if you're a good detective, so much
of that coincides with being a good storyteller, because what you're trying to
do is sort of extrapolate a whole world or a whole personality from pieces of
information. And so when Billy would talk about the cases he was working on,
he didn't really need to rephrase for my purposes because just Billy being
Billy in the way--I think I say in the book, you know, when Billy would work
on cases, you could--you'd watch him get sick over the cases. They would just
occupy his whole being. And when a case wasn't going well, he would be
miserable and you couldn't talk to him. And so he was like the most beautiful
sort of prism for both the case and for a cop reacting to the case.

BIANCULLI: David Milch and Bill Clark, speaking with Terry Gross in 1995.

"NYPD Blue" ends next week after a 12-year run on ABC.

Coming up, this Sunday's Oscar's host, Chris Rock. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Chris Rock discusses growing up in Brooklyn and how he
got started in comedy
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Chris Rock got his start on "Saturday Night Live" and the sketch comedy series
"In Living Color." Then he got his own late-night variety show on HBO. He's
also starred in several films. On Sunday, Rock will host the Oscars. At
first, the academy and the network expressed concern about whether Rock would
be able to curb his profanity, but they ought to be more worried about his
willingness to say things that most people, even most comics, avoid. His new
comedy album called "Never Scared" illustrates that perfectly. Here's a bit
about Michael Jackson recorded last year in Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of "Never Scared")

Mr. CHRIS ROCK (Comedian): What the hell is wrong with Michael? Another kid?
Another kid? I thought it was "Groundhog's Day" when I heard this (censored).

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ROCK: Another kid? Get the (censored) out of here! Yo, that's how much
we love Michael. We love Michael so much, we let the first kid slide.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: It's like, `Come on, man. The man made "Billie Jean." Leave him
alone.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: I am done. I love Michael Jackson my whole life, I've been his
biggest fan, but I'm (censored) done. I'm done! I saw Michael on "60
Minutes," I couldn't take that (censored). Ed Bradley tried his best to make
Michael look like a mammal...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: ...just somebody that drank water and breathed air. Right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: He gave Michael the easiest questions in the world, the easiest GED
questions in the world, and Michael could not pass the test. It's, like,
(Imitating Bradley) `Oh, Michael, do you think it's proper for a 45-year-old
man to sleep in a bed with 13-year-old boys?'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: (Imitating Jackson) `Yes.'

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ROCK: (Imitating Bradley) `OK, OK, let me rephrase that.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: (Imitating Bradley) `Michael, would you let your children sleep in
the bed of a 45-year-old man that's been accused of child molestation?'
(Imitating Jackson) `Yes.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: Ed Bradley looked at Michael Jackson like he wanted to say,
`Nigger, is you crazy?'

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ROCK: Like, he wanted to take the "60 Minutes" clock and push the
(censored) forward, say, `Get the (censored) off my show.' (Imitating
Jackson) `I thought you said it was 60 minutes?' `It's 10 minutes. Get out
of here!'

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Chris Rock, from his new CD "Never Scared." Terry Gross spoke
with him in 1997.

TERRY GROSS, host:

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

Mr. 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?

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

GROSS: Weren't there a lot of other people from your neighborhood who got
bused to Bensonhurst?

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

GROSS: Five? That's all?

Mr. ROCK: Yeah, it wasn't--you know, it wasn't--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 because 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 bused to?

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

GROSS: Wow. Uh-huh.

Mr. ROCK: I was the only black boy, and then there were, like, two black
girls, three black girls for, like, most of my grade school. And the girls
had each other; I was kind of, like, by myself.

GROSS: So you think that contributed to your being a comedian because you
were so alienated?

Mr. ROCK: Yeah, I was alienated and I had nothing else to do. You know, I
always loved comedy. You know, I had nothing to fall back on. I have no real
skills. You know, if I picked up a paper right now and, you know, went
through the want-ads, there's nothing I could get that would pay me more than
minimum wage. So I love comedy, got into it, was a little twisted. You know,
my schooling had twisted me somewhat and it really helped me out.

I mean, most--I would say probably today, most black people--not most black
people, but a lot of black people, you don't really experience racism hands
on. You always--like my brothers who didn't get bused to school, like, maybe
experienced the effects of racism, you know, living in a bad neighborhood.
You know, you can't get the cabs, you know, bad jobs, all that stuff, but very
few people get that, especially in the North, that, `Hey, nigger,' you know,
that in-your-face, everyday--you know, there's not a lot of guys my age that
have been through what I've been through.

GROSS: How did you get your first comedy break?

Mr. ROCK: How did I get my first comedy break? I was discovered by Eddie
Murphy at the Comic Strip in New York about--Ooh--about eight years ago now.
And he saw my act, liked what I was doing and put me in this HBO special
called the "Uptown Comedy Express." It was me, Robert Townsend, Arsenio Hall,
Marsha Warfield and Barry Sobel. And this aired--it aired about eight years
ago.

GROSS: It must have been pretty exciting for you because Eddie Murphy was one
of the people you really wanted to emulate.

Mr. ROCK: Yeah. Eddie Murphy was an idol of mine. I wouldn't say--I never
really wanted to emulate his work, per se. Like, I love his work, but I sort
of always wanted to do some other thing. I just--I idolized him as a
personality more so than anything else.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROCK: Like, `Wow, it's a young guy doing it,' more so than the actual
art-art part of it. But it's, you know--if I had to pattern myself after
anybody, it's more of a Sam Kinison thing.

GROSS: What qualities of his? That in-your-face quality?

Mr. ROCK: That in-your-face shock, things that are said every day but are
never said onstage quality. I don't know. I just don't remember Sam Kinison
when I was coming up was like the only guy that sounded new. Everybody else
was kind of doing different versions of other guys, and Kinison was, like,
totally new. I mean, even Eddie did Pryor. Pryor kind of did Cosby. And,
you know, Jerry Seinfeld did Robert Klein. Everybody kind of did somebody.
And Sam--I don't know of anybody that sounds like Sam Kinison.

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

Mr. ROCK: Right.

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

Mr. ROCK: Oh.

GROSS: And I almost 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?

Mr. ROCK: Well, you know, it's--the money's on the line. It's like people
are paying 25 bucks and they want a performance. They want--they don't want
me; they want me to be better than me. I got to look better than me. I got
to be taller, louder, funny. I got to--I have to be more. 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 you got to put on a personality on stage?

Mr. ROCK: Well, I got to 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.

Mr. ROCK: Right. Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did being really skinny, you think, affect who you became and how
people thought of you or, you know, how you see yourself as a comic?

Mr. ROCK: Totally. Being skinny has affected every aspect of my life. Put
it this way. Look at my stand-up. My stand-up, I have twice as many--I would
say it's comedy--stand-up comedy and boxing are pretty much the same. You
know, boxing is to sports what stand-up is to entertainment, 'cause there's
just a guy out there by himself. And I perform like a skinny boxer. I don't
have the ability to knock you out, so I have twice--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--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: Now speaking of boxing, did you...

Mr. ROCK: Men are crazy.

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

Mr. ROCK: Totally. Totally.

GROSS: Did you...

Mr. 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: That's the only reason.

GROSS: Did you learn to fight?

Mr. ROCK: When you're as small as I am, it doesn't really matter, you know.
It's a big...

GROSS: Try martial arts or anything?

Mr. ROCK: In martial arts, some big guy will just grab you throw you down.
What's the point?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you try to cripple your opponent with comedy?

Mr. ROCK: I 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 there's alcohol served, there's a bouncer 'cause people get out of
hand. So I can't--I'm too little to be around guys that get out of hand, so I
can't drink. Poor--woe is me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: I'm sure Woody and Spike think the same.

GROSS: Well, you can have them on your show and talk about it; do a little
self-help.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: Yeah. That's why I love Spike. He's from Brooklyn and skinny.

BIANCULLI: Chris Rock, speaking with Terry Gross in 1997. He hosts the
Oscars this Sunday.

Coming up, Bill Edelstein on "Diary of a Mad Black Woman."

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New movie "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

"Diary of a Mad Black Woman" is a romantic comedy of revenge and redemption
about a loyal and loving wife who's replaced by a younger woman after many
years of marriage. The film is based on a play by Tyler Perry, who has built
a large following in the past decade and who appears in three roles. The film
also stars Kimberly Elise and, as her lawyer-husband, Steve Harris, who played
a nicer lawyer on TV's "The Practice." Film critic David Edelstein has a
review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

Gogol's classic story "Diary of a Madman" was about a bureaucrat going nuts,
but it's 1970 film variation "Diary of a Mad Housewife," starring Carrie
Snodgress, had more to do with a neglected woman discovering her own, you
know, personhood. The heroine of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," Helen, played
by Kimberly Elise, isn't crazy, either. She's just mad as hell at her rich
attorney husband who throws her out of their mansion after 18 years of
marriage. But unlike the protagonist of "Diary of a Mad Housewife," Helen is
on a different kind of journey, a fairy tale journey to forgiveness, to
letting go of anger and finding new love, both human and divine.

The film is written by Tyler Perry, who co-stars in drag as Helen's
grandmother Madea and as a couple of male characters, too. It's based on a
play of his. Perry has reportedly made millions performing for huge
African-American audiences in theaters all over the country. "Diary of a Mad
Black Woman" demonstrates why he has a following. The film is half inspired
and half really, really terrible, but you're never in doubt that this guy
knows how to push his audience's buttons. He's a real populist entertainer
for the African-American churchgoing middle class, able to weave campy
slapstick through a story of faith, love and salvation, with drug jokes and
anti-drug sermons nestled side by side.

In the opening sequence, the pampered kitty cat Helen accompanies Charles,
played by Steve Harris, to an attorney of the year banquet where he blows her
theatrical kisses from the podium. But the next day, she finds a U-Haul out
front with all her clothes in it and a slinky new wardrobe meant for someone
else in her closet. In an especially florid, crude and, frankly, unbelievable
scene, she's literally thrown out of the house kicking and scramming while the
young mistress in a micro mini-dress stands by pouting. It turns out that
over the course of their marriage, Charles has forbidden her to stay in touch
with her black working-class family to which she now returns ashamed and, of
course, mad.

And here's where "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" swerves from heavy-handed
melodrama into screamingly funny drag sitcom territory. Perry's grandma Madea
is a gun-toting, chainsaw-wielding hurricane, bent on justice for all black
women. And, unlike Helen's mild, elderly, deeply religious mama, played by
Cicely Tyson, Madea believes in being a mad black woman.

(Soundbite of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman")

Mr. TYLER PERRY: (As Madea) Peace is always still around me, 'cause I keeps
me what they call a piece of steel. As long as you got a piece of steel,
you're going to have peace. Load your steel. Thank you, Jesus.

Ms. CICELY TYSON: You're not reading the right part of it.

Mr. PERRY: Look here, they all sound real good and everything, talking about
the peace ...(unintelligible) in the Bible and all this stuff. But you got to
be careful, because I remember this man did me wrong--honey, I ain't even know
how mad I was till I got to his funeral, he had died.

Ms. KIMBERLY ELISE: (As Helen) Well, why were you so mad at him?

Mr. PERRY: 'Cause he hit me. Yes, he did. He hit me. And he is eight feet
under.

Ms. TYSON: Six feet under. That's where they bury folks, six feet.

Mr. PERRY: That's what I'm trying to tell you, I thought I was over what the
man had done to me till I saw him laying in that casket. The man was dead,
and I got mad all over again. I beat him down two more feet. I was mad as
hell.

EDELSTEIN: That scene is a howl, but the movie is so schizoid that it's also
very misleading. Much of the time is spent on the courtship between Helen and
her Prince Charming, Orlando, played by former "The Young and the Restless"
stud Shemar Moore. This saccharine Harlequin Romance would make a great camp
drag show in Provincetown, Massachusetts, but it's played soap-opera straight.
Although I wasn't sure quite how to take the climax of Orlando's declaration
of love, quote, "I'd go to the grocery store and I'd buy you feminine
products. I swear I would." That can't be straight, yet it's said straight
and it's followed by Helen's unambiguously straight tribute to this quote,
"Beautiful, sensitive and Christian man who had not had carnal relations that
night. He chose to give me something better," she tells her diary in
voiceover. "He gave me intimacy."

I don't have any problem with the movie's traditional values, or that a major
character who's severely injured comes back to life with the help of the Holy
Bible, or that a junkie finds the strength to kick the habit in church; it's
the insipidness, the preachiness, the sheer dumbness of the writing and
directing and the way it makes the actors, including the wonderful Kimberly
Elise, look brain dead. It's hard to get my mind around how alternately funny
and awful this movie is. I guess you could call this review "Diary of a Mad
Film Critic."

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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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