The Hot Seat: Chris Rock
The Brooklyn comedian finds the funny in funerals.
Mon Apr 12 2010
Illustration: Rob Kelly
Now that his semiautobiographical CW series, Everybody Hates Chris, has wrapped after four seasons, Chris Rock has more time to focus on the big screen. This past fall, the Bed-Stuy native (and current resident of NYC-expat enclave Alpine, New Jersey) took a stab at documentary-making with Good Hair, a loose expos on the African-American grooming industry. And this week, he stars in Death at a Funeral, a Hollywood remake of Frank Oz's 2007 British comedy. In the new film, directed by Neil LaBute, Rock plays a man struggling to hold his grieving family together as they confront uncomfortable revelations about their late father. In a way, the role is a long time coming. Dig up the 1989 NYU student film "Who Is Chris Rock?" on YouTube, and you'll find a flattop-sporting (and still fairly green) 23-year-old proclaiming, "Some of the funniest faces I've ever seen in my life are people at funerals."
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
Why are funerals so funny?
For any comedy, you need a serious setting. And there's nothing more serious than a funeral. I'm surprised there's no great Marx Brothers funeral movie. The more uptight and unfunny the situation, the funnier it can get.
What's the most absurd thing you've witnessed at one?
With my family, there's always a fight over who gets in the limo. They act like they're going to the Grammys instead of the cemetery. There's always an "other woman" lookout. I like to look for the other woman and find her when nobody knows her—like, I know she's around here somewhere. I've done it a few times now. It's a nice little game.
I Think I Love My Wife was based on the French film Chloe in the Afternoon, and you just optioned another one, La premire toile. What's with you and remaking semiobscure European movies?
I'm not a great writer of scripts. I definitely have a problem with structure. Doing a remake, you don't have to worry about that. You're just adding your flavor. I look at it more like a cover song. With the right cover, you might not even recognize the first. Luther Vandross's "Superstar" is nothing like the Carpenters' "Superstar." [Laughs]
The public needs to know: Will there be a Pootie Tang sequel?
We keep talking about it. [Writer-director] Louis [C.K.]'s career is just really taking off, and you can't do Pootie Tang without Louis. I want to do two or three sequels. Pootie Tang is one of my favorite movies.
I'm glad to hear that. Some people from the cast have really trashed it in interviews.
I hear nothing but good things about it, to tell you the truth. That was probably the week after the movie came out.
It's kind of like a good album that you warm up to over time. Although, personally, I almost died when I saw it in the theater.
Six months after that came out, it was like, Oh my God, this is terrible. But two years after, it was like, Whoa, this movie's really good. Yeah, it has a [Sly & the Family Stone's] There's a Riot Goin' On quality, in that respect. It's fairly clean, too. I can almost show it to my kids.
You're a pioneer in a way you may not even realize. I caught the Miami Vice episode with you in which James Brown is abducted by aliens...
You might have played the first-ever Internet nerd on TV. Your character was going on to BBS—those early Internet bulletin boards—and getting information about abductions.
I haven't seen that episode in so long, but I was confused the whole time. I just couldn't believe I was gonna be on Miami Vice and not play a drug dealer. The whole thing is a blur. Miami Vice was such a huge show; James Brown was talking to me.... In some ways, it might be the most exciting thing I've ever done.
Who was more intimidating to work with: James Brown or Don Johnson?
Don Johnson, my God. Not even close. I hadn't really done any gigs yet; everything was new to me. In a weird way, that was bigger than hosting the Oscars. I don't even know if there's a parallel right now to how big Don Johnson was. He was bigger than Tom Cruise, bigger than Will Smith. He had a speedboat he'd ride around in the water between takes. Just rock & roll, man. People like Mick Jagger were coming by his trailer. It was like, Whoa, Whoopi [Goldberg] just stopped by.
Death at a Funeral opens Fri 16.