On this day in comedy on February 7, 1965 Comedian, Actor, Writer, Producer, Director, Christopher Julius “Chris” Rock III was born in Andrews, South Carolina.
Known universally as one of the premier comedians of his generation and voted #5 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Standup Comedians of All Time, Chris Rock’s road in comedy was paved with boulders. After putting up with enough bullying he dropped out of high school, got his GED and hit the work force in the lucrative fast food industry. He found that not to be a good fit. There had to be something better and because he now prized education he applied its principles in his future vocation. One of Chris Rock’s methods of developing an act is to bring his jokes on stage written down in a legal pad and try out each one before an unsuspecting and involuntary Guinea pig audience. It’s that kind of brashness, perseverance and hard work that established him in the many mediums of comedy: film, television, animation, documentaries and theater, but no matter where he used his comedic skills, standup was always the cornerstone of what made Rock so popular. His brand was unapologetic, insightful, bold, opinionated and above all – the unabashed truth.
The career of Chris Rock began in 1984 when he took the stage at New York’s Catch a Rising Star. It wasn’t long before he got his big break in 1985. It was in his first film – Crush Groove, playing “Person Standing Next to Phone during Fight in Club”. That didn’t do much for his career (nor did a Miami Vice guest starring role or a stand up set on Uptown Comedy Express), but when Eddie Murphy caught his act one night Rock got his real big break. Murphy took Rock under his wing and got him a credited part in Beverly Hills Cop II. Rock did his first concert film (Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen), some more films (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, New Jack City, Boomerang) a documentary (Who is Chris Rock?)and his first comedy album (Born Suspect). He was a cast member on Saturday Night Live, but he didn’t find that to be a great fit so he moved from NBC to Fox to be a player on In Living Color, but then it got cancelled. So Rock made his own vehicle, CB4, a parody of the rap scene. It was not a success with the critics and Rock fell into a slump. Hollywood obviously didn’t know what to do with him during this period (The Immortals, Panther, Beverly Hills Ninja, Sgt. Bilko). He’d even considered quitting. Then he stopped agonizing over what he wasn’t getting and went back to his first love – stand-up.
In 1996 Chris Rock was a commentator of the Presidential campaign for Comedy Central’s Politically Correct. He was nominated for an Emmy for that coverage. It blended man on the street inquisitiveness with current event savvy. Rock was a hit and what happened next catapulted him into another league. Bring the Pain on HBO was one of their top comedy specials winning Rock two Emmys and putting him in the fast lane. You know you’re hot when you get animated (he played Lil Penny, Penny Hardaway’s alter ego for a Nike campaign). After the year of Rock he did more HBO specials and albums (Bigger & Blacker, Roll With The New, Never Scared, Big Ass Jokes, Kill the Messenger), hosted award shows (MTV Video Music Awards, BET Awards), wrote a book (Rock This), did films (Dogma, Lethal Weapon 4, Nurse Betty, Grown Ups, The Longest Yard, Bad Company, Death at a Funeral), television (The Chris Rock Show), animation (Madagascar series, Osmosis Jones, King of the Hill, Bee Movie) music videos (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Daddy Kane, Johnny Cash) and more Chris Rock films (Down to Earth, Pootie Tang, Head of State, I Think I Love My Wife, Good Hair (his doc about hair) Top Five).
Rock defied odds. In 2005 when he hosted the 77th Academy Awards he lambasted the hallowed ceremony, the stars and the entire notion of the presentation. Despite this and the fact many members of the Academy were supremely offended he was invited to host again in 2016. His high school experiences were adapted into the successful sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris (he executive produced and narrated). Rock produced Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and The Hughleys. In 2011 he was nominated for a Drama League Award for his acting on Broadway in the play, The Motherfucker with the Hat. Rock has done the documentaries of others (Comedian, Torrance Rises, The N-Word, The Aristocrats), guest starred on sitcoms (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, The Bernie Mac Show), popped up in cameos in multiple motion pictures (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Paparazzi, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) and directed, Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo.
Chris Rock has been nominated for 19 major awards and won 8, including 3 Grammys, 2 Primetime Emmys. A Kid’s Choice Award and a Black Reel Award.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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