Chris Rock is one great stand-up, but Paul Byrne finds praise makes him blush and for a man with such on-stage presence he admits to wild insecuritiesI think I just made Chris Rock blush.
It's hard to tell, because the guy tends to smile just about all the time. With teeth that big, of course, he hasn't got much choice, but he's smiling now, and looking down at his feet. Which is probably as close to bashful — or blushing — that Chris Rock gets.
Having caught one of his two Olympia shows back in September, I tell Christopher Julius |Rock III that he has a damn fine stand-up show. Perfect flow, no fat. Almost as fine, I tell him, as that holy grail of stand-up shows, Richard Pryor's Live In Concert, recorded at the Terrace Theatre, Long Beach, California back in 1978.
“Oh, no, nothing's that good,” Rock interjects. “No one's as good as Pryor. Not even almost. Richard Pryor is the one, no question, and that concert, nothing has ever come close. And I don't think anything ever will.”
True, but there's no denying that, when Chris Rock is on form, he's pretty much faultless as a stand-up comedian. When it comes to movies though, that's quite a different story.
After a string of cameos in the late 80s and 90s, Rock turned leading man for 2001's Down To Earth. Which, you know, fell to earth with a thud. Then came Bad Company (2002) alongside Anthony Hopkins, then another comedy, Head Of State (2003). More recently, there was last year's I Think I Love My Wife, but, on the whole, Rock has been wise enough to return to cameo mode, popping up memorably in last year's Bee Movie and this year's You Don't Mess With The Zohan.
The only real hit on his CV is 2005's hit Madagascar, a typical DreamWorks animation offering in that it is aggressive and obnoxious in equal measures. It took $532,680,671 (€412,414,452.96) at the box-office. Give or take a few cents.
Thankfully, its sequel, Madagascar: Return 2 Africa, is a much more enjoyable affair. Sequels are rarely equals, so, as Mr Rock got comfortable last Monday morning in his hotel room, I asked him if he was as surprised as I was that second time round has worked a charm?
“I think we learnt a lot the first time out,” he answers. “The first time, you're so uptight. Animated movies are so expensive, and so, you know, they take so much time and money, you're so trying not to mess up. A lot of the time on that first movie, you're playing it really safe.
“I thought Shrek 2 was better than Shrek 1. I liked that one a lot. It just had more jokes in it. So, you know, just occasionally, the sequel is better.”
Does Rock feel the pressure to be that funny guy 24 hours a day?
“I don't feel all that much pressure to be funny, no,” he answers, “but I guess I need people around me, or in front of me, and it helps if they're laughing, but I don't feel the need to be funny all the time.
“You meet someone for a second, and they register who you are, and they just assume you're going to say something witty right there and then. I find it best just to give them that big old smile, as that's a punchline you really can't |mess up.”
Continuing with the movie's life lessons, the |all-singing, all-dancing Alex the lion voiced by Ben Stiller is soon fixated on impressing his deeply underwhelmed dad. Who is Chris Rock trying to impress? His own father lived just long enough to see the beginnings of his son's glittering career, as he died a year after Chris Rock made his screen debut with a brief cameo in Beverly Hills Cop II (1978), a role that came courtesy of the movie's leading man, Rock's new buddy, Eddie Murphy.
“Let me tell you something,” says Rock, in something approaching a mock preacher tone (his main inspiration growing up was his paternal grandfather, Allen Rock, a preacher), “if you had come up to me in 1990, and offered me a job making $30,000 (€23,000) a year I would never have told a joke in my life. I would have been rich and better off than half my neighbourhood.”
Which says a lot about Bedford-Stuyveant, Brooklyn. But then, anyone who's seen Everybody Hates Chris, Rock's sitcom inspired by his childhood years, will already know that.
What about if someone had offered him $30,000 (€23,000) a year in 1990, when he had established himself on the stand-up circuit, and Saturday Night Live had started sniffing around?
“You would have had to offer me $70,000 (€54,000).”
So, it's all about the money with Chris Rock?
“I'm just saying, I have this vision of myself living in a studio. That's always at the back of my head. Cleaning up this hotel is always lurking back there. ‘Chambermaid! Chambermaid'. I keep hearing that, and I know it's me they're calling.”
Our time is almost up — I have to ask Rock about his time in Ireland back in September. Get to soak up any of our wonderful culture? Get to know any of Dublin's wonderful people?
“I just did the shows,” he smiles. “And, of course, I went to a pub and drank. I'm not really a big drinker, but, if you're in Ireland, you gotta drink. You have to smoke weed in Amsterdam, right?”
It's the law.
“It's the law. So, I went to a pub and drank.”
Well, it's either that, or read James Joyce. That's pretty much all the culture we have to offer.
“Damn, I should have taken a copy of Ulysses to the pub. That's the full Irish experience. I'll know next time. . .”
Chris Rock: Kill The Messenger is on Channel 4 at 10.35pm tonight Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa hits Irish cinemas December 5