Top Five: Interview with Writer-Director-Star Chris Rock

Chris Rock’s boisterous and poignant comedy opens this Friday, December 12, 2014

QUESTION: What did you set out to write a movie about?  What impulse did the story come out of?

CHRIS ROCK: I wanted to make a movie that felt like my stand-up, you know, with that kind of edge that made people laugh, and made people uncomfortable, and was sweet, and edgy at the same time. I hadn’t felt I’d done that yet—in the movies.

Q:  Early on, did you know that you wanted the main character to be a guy who had done stand-up and acting?


CR:  Early on I definitely knew I wanted to play a comedian. I always liked the Seinfeld show and I always liked Louis CK’s show, and I always liked “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and even the movie Lenny —which isn’t a comedy.  When I looked at those guys with those TV shows, I thought—there’s an idea for a movie about a day in the life of a comedian.  And, you know, we made it a high stakes day, but it’s still a day in the life.


Q:  A high stakes day with a lot of flashbacks.


CR:  Yeah, a lot of flashbacks. Weirdly—even today, I’ve been doing press since I woke up; today in my life is not a lot different from the day that the movie takes place.  You know, I literally just left Charlie Rose, who interviewed me, and now I’m with you, and I gotta do something for BET later, so I’m living my own version of Andre’s day right now.


Q:  What was the thinking behind having the movie take place all in one day, and in New York?


CR:  You gotta write what you know, right?  And anybody that’s ever made a movie knows there’s nothing like the Friday your movie comes out.  It’s hard to describe—it’s like the Olympics in a sense, how two years, or five years, or even in some cases movies take ten years of your life—and all of that can be summed up in one day.  In one day you literally know if success or failure’s gonna happen.  That was the idea behind the events of the movie taking place in a single day.  Do the Right Thing took place in one day.  Many of the Linklater movies happen in one day. I thought it would keep us honest too—and it does make you write harder.  It can be limiting, but it made me work to come up with certain solutions for things; there are probably no flashbacks if the movie doesn’t take place in a day, you know what I mean? But honestly, making the movie in one day was more freeing than having the movie take place over 20 years.


Q:  What about New York City?


CR:  I love New York movies.  I love Woody and Nora Ephron and Spike.  But one thing I always notice about movies in New York—it’s not even a bad thing, but they always take place in one part of New York.  It’s very segregated.  It’s like they happen just in one part of the city.  My New York shifts economically a lot, you know.  One minute you’re in the projects, and one minute you’re at a press junket, and those things can be five minutes apart.  In New York, you’re always five minutes away from the projects no matter where you are.  It’s the beautiful thing about New York.  Let’s hope that never disappears.  The poor and the rich kind of live close by. And I wanted to see that in the movie.


Q:  Talk about the scene where Andre takes Chelsea back to the neighborhood, because you get this sense that the old neighborhood is right there.


CR:  It is right there. CNN’s studio and the Apollo Theater are ten minutes apart, you know what I mean?—and they’re in totally different worlds.


Q:  Do you think Andre is totally comfortable with the fact that the old neighborhood is always a step away?


CR:  You know it just is what it is.  That scene—the return to the old block—works because it’s not a big deal to step from a junket in midtown into the projects, because it just happens.  It’s just a normal thing.  In a lot of ways the movie’s about the slight difference in black fame and white fame.  And yeah, I got relatives that live in the projects.  Most of my relatives don’t make a lot of money, and if I want to go see my aunt, or my cousin, I’m gonna have to probably go to a not great neighborhood to see them.  And I don’t see them every day.  I don’t even see them every month, but they’re used to seeing me, you know what I mean. It’s not a big thing.  When I go to a family reunion, I don’t get served chicken first, like they’re serving an old person. It’s not like, “Oh, Chris Rock’s here.” I’m just Chrissy, and I gotta wait.


Q:  But is it a big thing in the neighborhood when you visit?


CR:  It’s a big thing when I go back to my neighborhood, but it’s kind of not much bigger than if I was a doctor.  More people are coming to see my car than to see me honestly.   “Shit, it’s a Porsche,” you know.  Some kids come that don’t know me, but they’ll come because they know I’m buying ice cream.  But if you’re buying ice cream they’d be around you too.  You buy them ice cream one time, it’s—you’re the ice cream guy.


Q:  What movies did you find yourself watching in preparation for the film?


CR: Collateral’s a movie I watched a lot because it’s all at night, and most of this movie takes place at night. Another movie I watched a lot, another night movie, was Belly, directed by Hype Williams; every shot is just amazing. It has all these great slow-mos.  Some people really know how to shoot the night.  Some people really know how to make the night much more exciting than the day.  And in a sense New York is kind of more—New York’s absolutely more beautiful at night than in the day, you could say.


Q:  What was the toughest job on this movie as a director?


CR:  The big challenge as a director is always just working with limited resources.  And—by the way—it’s challenging but also freeing.  It’s challenging ’cause you gotta really, really, really make absolute decisions on the fly.  You really don’t have time to get coverage of everything.  You just don’t.  But it’s freeing because sometimes people direct in a way that’s just scared.  Sometimes when you have too much money it’s just scared directing, and “Let’s get every angle, and let’s get everything we possibly can”, and it just comes out of a place of fear.  Instead of creating, you’re just covering your ass.  Not having a ton of money makes you think more clearly about the task at hand.


Q:  Did the director part of you ever have to say to the writer part of you— “I know you love that scene, but we’re gonna move on?” 


CR:  Oh yeah. One of the problems was the actor actually had to have more power than the director because—the movie doesn’t work without the actor giving his best performance.  Directors guide performances, but also me, as an actor, I had to make sure I absolutely had what I wanted.  When I did a scene, I did it all the way—I made it funny until it wasn’t funny. And that’s what happens, you kind of—you reach a plateau.  You get up there, and you keep going and going with it, and then it starts getting unfunny.  And I think you have to always be trying to make sure you got as much funny out of each scene as possible.  So, you know, in a lot of scenes the actor overrode the director.


Q:  Was there any scene that was particularly challenging for you as an actor?


CR: The scene in the projects was challenging only because it wasn’t really written out.  A lot of it was improvved, and it was—literally it was like Double Dutch, like “OK, where do I fit in?  Where do I get in?  Where do I get in?  Where do I get in?”  You got all these guys joking—joke after joke after joke coming—with these hungry, young comedians coming in like they’re in the ring, and they’re trying to kill you.  They want your job, you know what I mean?  And I gotta show these boys, “Hey, I’m Chris motherfucking Rock, dude.”  I gotta really bring it.  I’m expected to be funnier than these guys.  So that was a challenging scene just as an actor, and trying to be funnier than these guys while still being in character, and having it make sense in the context of the movie.  Actually one of the hard parts is Rosario and I really like each other—and I mean in a respectful way—and a lot of time it wasn’t conducive for us to like each other in different parts of the movie.  We have fun together—we’re friends.  But a lot of times, you know, I’d watch myself and I could see—we’d have goo-goo eyes for each other.  And I’d say, let’s tone it down…. I’ve heard Hanks and Meg Ryan had the same problem—like, “Okay, we’re not supposed to like each other until an hour from now.”  So, that was—I don’t want to say hard—but it was challenging.


Q:  Have shows like “Louie” and “Seinfeld” made it possible to do a movie like this?


CR:  Well, shows like “Louie” and “Seinfeld,” and even reality TV and “Entourage” . . . doing a movie that’s behind the scenes of show business isn’t as inside as it used to be.  Twenty years ago this is an art movie. A day in the life of a guy selling a movie—it’s like, who the hell knows what you’re talking about?  But now there’s so much behind the scenes stuff—not just in TV and movies, but in magazines and whatnot, you can see there’s a real hunger for it.  So yes, all of that stuff makes it easier to do this.


Q:  One thing that really struck me about this movie is your character is really vulnerable.


CR: I thought playing somebody that didn’t have it together was a little more interesting.  I’ve played safer people.  Andre, you know, his movie is not gonna be received well, and he’s kind of a cheat, and he’s kind of an alcoholic, and he’s kind of a hack too.  He gets by doing the least amount of work—and it certainly makes for a more interesting character to play, than if you’re playing someone who is kind of perfect.


Q:  Did you see Andre at all as the road you didn’t take?


CR:  He’s definitely in some ways the road I didn’t take. I never did the buddy cop, you know—I got offers, but that never appealed to me. I never did my fake Trading Places, or fake Beverly Hills Cop, or whatever. Eddie did that stuff—so I never wanted to copy that.  I’ve always wanted to kind of blaze a new trail.  I don’t think I have a Hammy the Bear.  Though I am the zebra in Madagascar, it’s not exactly the same thing.


Q:  You must’ve put a lot of thought into what you wanted your character to say about each performer he mentioned in his top five comedians of all time.


CR: I don’t want to say the scene where Andre lists his top five comedians was ad-libbed—that’s just how I feel about those people. Just like Andre says, I did see Eddie Murphy perform within a week of Michael Jackson, and Eddie Murphy was better.  When Eddie Murphy was a stand-up, Eddie Murphy was as good as Prince, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen—whoever—he was that dynamic a performer. Unfortunately, you know, people are probably never gonna see that again.  He was that good.  I feel that way about Charlie Chaplin.  I think he invented this whole thing, and I love Woody, and Pryor is the most ruthlessly honest man who’s ever lived, you know.  I frankly didn’t put a lot of thought into it when we were shooting that scene.  All of that thought happened, you know, 30 years ago when I started doing stand-up.


Q:  What’s the relationship in the movie between the stuff that you wrote and the stuff that you or somebody else improvised?


CR: I wrote a script and there is some improvisation.  Now you can’t let everybody improv.  Tracy Morgan can improv, you know what I mean.  But what I tried to do, what I learned in this movie, what I’m trying to say all the time now is, “Yeah it’s my movie, yeah it’s my script—but it’s your part. I wouldn’t even call it improvving, you just let people make the role their own. “Take this part from me,” you know what I mean.  When you cast an actor I feel you gotta hire your boss.  They have to be in charge of their part ’cause when the movie’s over—if they didn’t make it their part—you hired the wrong person.  It has to be theirs.  Like Rosario—that is her part man.  Gabrielle Union—that is her part, she owned it, she had extensive notes through the whole process and made lots of improvements.  Tracy, JB, the same.  And in this movie more so than movies I directed in the past, I was really open to what the actors had to bring.


Q:  How about for yourself?


CR: I did not stick to everything I wrote, no.  I stuck to the emotion of the scene.  That’s the big thing.  “Okay—what should happen in this scene?”  When you’re watching a good movie you don’t even need the sound, you know.  How many times have you been flipping the channels and you’d be able to tell something sucks without hearing a word?  You try to make the camera and the emotion of the actors tell the story.  So I didn’t really get hung up per se on the words.  There was a lot of “let me try it this way, let me try it that way.”  And I’ve never done that in movies before.  I’ve always kind of stuck to the script and always used to say the best ad lib is the one you wrote yesterday.  That’s always been my motto.  I got out of that.  I got out of that.  You can create while you’re there.  It’s nice to have written something yesterday too, just in case.  It’s nice to have a couple of bullets in your chamber.  But yeah, you try to be in the moment, and it can always get better, so why not give it a shot.


Q:  Did you like the guy you were playing?


CR:  Do I like Andre Allen?  No I did not like the guy I was playing.  The guy was kind of a hack, and that’s enough for me.  The guy took the easy road, the guy did things for money.  I liked who he was becoming, so I like him at the end of the movie, but during the movie he’s not really likeable per se.  He’s likeable because of his talent, but not, you know, for the man he is.


Q:  Did he change at all in your head from when you wrote him and when you played him?


CR:  Yeah, I did feel some sympathy for him as time went on.  I mean it’s hard to turn down a lot of money, man.  It’s hard. I’ve managed to do it, but it’s hard.  You know, it’s hard to assume you’re gonna work tomorrow.  I remember the first time I had a meeting with Scott Rudin, he’s like— “What’s your five year plan?”  I’m like, “Dude, I’d be happy if I’m doing this next year,” you know.  That’s the way I look at it. I try to look ahead financially, but you know, I can’t take things for granted in this business. So, yeah I did have more feeling for that guy.


Q:  Can you envision a time when you won’t ever want to return to stand-up?


CR: Here’s the thing with stand-up—I love doing standup, it’s my most favorite thing in the world.  But there’s a part of me that’s kind of painted myself in a corner.  I’m kind of in the fastball business.  The kind of stand-up I do, I don’t know how long I’m gonna be able to do it and hit like that.  People don’t normally hit like that for long periods of time, you know? There is a line in the LL Cool J song ‘I’m Bad’ that goes: “I’m bad, other rappers know when I enter the center, they say, yo, yo, there he go!”  And I’ve gotten to the point in comedy where when I enter the center, they say yo, yo, there he go.  The center is where all the rappers hang out and the center is where they all rap.  This was before there was even rap records. I’ll do stand-up as long as I’m bad, as long as when I enter all the comedians say—‘Yo, yo, there he go.’  I like being that guy.  I’m shy about a lot of other things, and I’m humble and I love the craft, but man, I was bad for so long that now that I’m kind of good—I don’t ever want to go back to being the guy who sucked. I like my slot, I like that people expect me to be really good when I do it.  So I hope and pray that I don’t spend too much money, and when I’m not throwing fastballs, when I’m not knocking people out—that I quit.  But until then, I’m gonna do it.  As long as I could hurt you, I’m gonna do it.


Q:  Doesn’t that involve staying hungry in a way?  How do you do that when you’re successful?


CR:  Yeah, it does involve staying hungry, but to me stand-up ain’t about money, it ain’t about chicks, or whatever.  It’s just—I like being good, man.  I want to be good.  I’m just hungry.  First of all, you gotta not be satisfied. I don’t think I’ve ever touched Richard Pryor.  I don’t think I’ve done anything as good as “Live on the Sunset Strip” or, you know, “Wanted,” or “Richard Pryor Live in Concert.”  I don’t think I’ve done “Eddie Murphy: Raw” or “George Carlin: Class Clown,” you know what I mean?—there’s a whole level I could get to.  I still got a ways to go, so a lot of the hunger is not monetarily motivated, the hunger is motivated by the craft. I want to be able to make people feel, and I haven’t done . . . I’ve had success, I’ve made people laugh really loud, I guess, but have I made them feel?—you know, that’s the real question.


Q:  Is that something you cannot get from making movies?


CR:  You can get it from making movies, but movies aren’t stand-up.  If you go out to see a stand-up, a big stand-up, you go to Radio City Music Hall and see Dave Chappelle, and he’s amazing, what movie are you gonna see this year that’s as good as Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall?  There’s a reason the ticket’s 12 dollars to see the movie and the tickets 80 bucks to see Dave Chappelle. Luther Vandross used to say—anybody can make people scream, but can you make people quiet?  Can you quiet them down? I remember seeing Luther.  I wasn’t on tour with Luther, I was actually on tour with Al B. Sure of all people. Remember Al B. Sure? I was Al B. Sure’s opening act, and we would do club dates during the week, and on the weekend he would open for Luther at the Budweiser Superfest, and I remember watching Luther Vandross following Patti LaBelle, following New Edition, following MC Hammer, following, you know, Babyface and The Deele, following all of this—following Rick James even—and Luther Vandross got 30,000 people in Fulton County Stadium to get quiet.  He got them quiet doing, you know, “If This World Were Mine,” or whatever.  Total command of the audience—and you can’t do that with no movie. There’s no movie as good as that, you know.


Q:  Talk about Woody Allen.


CR: Woody owns New York.  He does. I grew up like everybody else watching Woody. I’m aging myself, but I remember going to the movies in New York, they’d have the 4:30 movie and sometimes it’d be Monster Week on the 4:30 movie, or it’s Abbott and Costello week on the 4:30 movie.  I remember when I was a kid it was Woody Allen week on the 4:30 movie and it was Sleeper and Take the Money and Run and all the silly ones—Play it Again, Sam—and I’ve just loved Woody since I was a kid.  And I guess you can draw a connection between Andre Allen, and Alvy Singer—there’s some connection there.  But there’s also a connection to Spike, and to Nora Ephron, and to Sidney Lumet.


Q:  Is Andre based on anyone in particular?


CR:  Andre’s not based on anyone in particular.  He’s got just a little Eddie Murphy there, there’s a little Chris Tucker, you know, me, a little Kevin Hart, a little Martin, there’s a little of all of us in him.  There’s a path we’ve all walked, you know.  We all have our Hammy’s.  We all have had the same battles more or less.


Q:  Let’s talk about Kevin Hart’s part a little bit.


CR:  Yes. So when you do anything in show business—you’re mostly encountering white people on the business side, unless you’re working for BET, or TV1 or something. Kevin, the part he plays—it’s loosely based on this agent at William Morris, Charles King, who’s Tyler Perry’s agent.  He’s a black agent. I haven’t met a lot of black agents throughout the years, but the thing about Charles is he—I think he brings in more money than anybody else at the agency.  But every now and then he gets slighted, you know . . . we talk every now and then and it’s just funny.  I thought he was a funny character, so yes, Kevin Hart plays Charles King.


Q:  Do you think Tyler Perry’s gonna like your Madea joke?


CR:  Yeah, Tyler Perry called me the other day, and he loved the movie, and he told me that Lionsgate wants him to do Boo—the fake Tyler Perry movie that, in Top Five, is getting released on the same day as Andre’s movie.  So we had a long talk, and he’s just so busy working on the show for Oprah with the O Network.  But the idea of Tyler Perry doing Boo—it wasn’t a parody of a Madea movie, it’s like a movie Madea actually could do.  I would go see Boo in a minute.  Madea in a haunted house sounds hysterical to me.  It’s the perfect place for Madea.  Boo.  Put it this way, if Boo was opening December 12th, Top Five would not be opening December 12th.  I wouldn’t go nowhere near Boo.


Q:  Can you talk about how you pulled together this incredible cast?


CR:  You know what, I called in some favors—the best thing about working with Scott Rudin is you learn the best people are just a phone call away.  And until they say no, you gotta try to get them.  Some guys are just my friends, and they kind of owed me one, you know. I’ve been in a bunch of Sandler movies obviously, so he had no problem repaying the favor. I’m in the Bee movie for Seinfeld, you know, so Jerry had no problem repaying the favor. I actually have always wanted to do more with Whoopi.  But I called Whoopi, and she was right there.  And I always wanted to work with Cedric.  I love Cedric.  I think Cedric—Cedric’s funny on TV, Cedric’s funny in the movies—but I think he’s funnier here than you’ve seen him.  And by the way Cedric’s a darker guy in real life.  I mean he’s a family man, he’s a good father, a good husband, but my man is—you know, he’s a little darker than what you normally see.  Not that he’s the guy he plays in this movie, but …


Q:  When you called him did you say I have something in particular?


CR:  Yes, I said, “Yo, this is for you.  This is the perfect part for you.”  And when he saw the script, he was so happy ’cause people always want him to be kind of lovable Ced.  And, you know, Ced’s from St. Louis man.


Q:  How does a brotherhood among comedians balance with a rivalry?


CR:  I guess we’re a little competitive—when you’re hanging out in one of these clubs and somebody’s going on before you and they get a lot of laughs, you can’t help but be a little competitive and want to do as good, if not better.  But once you get off the stage, you realize there’s not a lot of us, there really isn’t; you know what they always say—the number one fear in the world is speaking to an audience.  And we’re people who actually crave it, so you know, we’re an odd bunch.  There definitely is a brotherhood.  And it gets deeper and deeper, the longer you’ve done it, the more everybody becomes your brother. So comedians you didn’t even like at some point when you were younger—you’re like, “Oh, that guy’s a hack,” “Oh that guy, I hate his jokes”—but when you get in it 15 years, 20 years, you’re like anybody that lasts—he’s all right.  He’s my brother.


Q:  What’s the worst thing a comedian can say about another comedian?


CR:  Joke thief is pretty bad. You know, being a hack is kind of subjective.  I used to call guys hacks all the time when I was young.  Now I’m a lot softer on that kind of thing.  Unfunny is a big one because there are guys and women that kind of figure out the technicalities of being a comedian, and figure out the moves, but without being funny frankly—just without hitting people emotionally.  All of those are bad things to say about another comedian, but I’m telling you right now, as I get older, I’m not as judgmental about comedians as I used to be.  If you can last, I give you your props, I give you your credit man. When I’m on tour and I play Vegas, Carrot Top comes, I make sure he’s got a good seat.  Props is not my thing, but that guy’s been putting it down for like 25 years.  So I make sure he gets the respect he’s due, you know what I mean.  And I make sure I talk to his people, and I’d expect the same wherever I go.  We all treat each other with respect.


Q:  Can you talk about some of the parallels between you and Andre?


CR:  Here’s the big parallel—in the movie Andre makes most of his money playing a bear. You never see his face.  In my real life I make most of my money playing a zebra.  Yeah, I‘ve been in other movies, I’ve had success, but I’ve never made anywhere near as much as what I’ve been blessed to make with the three Madagascar movies. I don’t hate playing Marty, you know—it’s kind of a fun thing to do.  But if that was my only success, I’d be in trouble.  So there’s that. I’m from a poor neighborhood.  I have all of those relationships that Andre has in the projects except the father one.  Me and my father are fine—I have no animosity towards my father.  He’s dead now, but I had a great relationship with my father. But, you know, the friend that owes me five grand, and the old girlfriend, and all that stuff—I’m sure people are gonna watch and go, “That’s me.”


Q:  Let’s go back to the beginning of your career.  You wrote before you performed, right?


CR:  Yes, when I was a young kid, I wanted to be a comedy writer. It was the Dick Van Dyke Show…. The idea of being a comedy writer—I thought that was an amazing job.  They write jokes, they write bits.  But where I was from there’s no writers.  Forget even comedy writers—there’s no writers at all.  So the only avenue I saw to get into comedy was through stand-up.  So I said to myself, “Okay, you gotta go to a club and audition.  I guess that’s how you get into comedy.”  But if I was a kid today I’d probably just be a writer.


Q:  Do you remember seeing any comedy performers that made you have that moment?


CR:  When I was a kid, I really liked Eddie Murphy a lot.  He was just a big influence on me.  But honestly there were just guys that weren’t even that famous—like I remember seeing Keenen Wayans on “The Tonight Show”—and just seeing a black guy, a young guy with a suit on telling jokes with Johnny Carson…I was like, “Wow—how’d he do that?”  You know, he had some joke about projects or something, and I thought that was amazing. I remember Robert Townsend before Hollywood Shuffle, he was in one of those Rodney Dangerfield young comedian specials.  And I remember Arsenio—I believe he was on Merv Griffin or something, was he the sidekick on Merv Griffin?  I just remember seeing this kind of sprinkling of brown faces and saying, “Okay, this isn’t impossible.”  It’s like, “Maybe this could happen,” you know?  Franklin Ajaye was a guy who would be on “The Tonight Show” every now and then—a really good comedian, really deadpan too.  Like—how many deadpan black guys are there?  It’s like one—Franklin Ajaye.  So, yeah, these guys piqued my interest a little bit.


Q:  Who was the first one of those guys you met?


CR:  The weird thing is, I met the biggest one before I met the other ones.  I met Eddie first, I met Eddie Murphy in—hard time even remembering, probably like ’87, ’88.  No my dad died in ’88 so I must’ve met him in ’87.  And Eddie let me hang out with his entourage.  Back in the day Eddie used to roll big.  He still rolls kind of big. I remember—I was out in LA, never been to LA, never been on a plane, never been in a hotel—all this other stuff, right?  And when I get to his office, Keenen Wayans is there, Robert Townsend is there, Arsenio Hall is there. It’s like all of black comedy was there—Paul Mooney, who I met for the first time there.  We ended up going to the Comedy Act Theater, and I saw Robin Harris for the first time.  So I met all those guys through Eddie.  I got exposed to all of that through Murphy.


Q:  Where’s Reality TV in your consciousness as you were writing this movie?


CR:  You can’t escape Reality TV.  You just can’t. I tried to make it as real as possible, and I think Gabrielle succeeded in making herself as real as possible.  In a weird way Reality TV’s kind of like rap music.  It’s this thing we keep expecting to leave, and then you look up it’s 10 years later, you look up it’s 15 years later…and it’s still there. That’s where we are with Reality TV.  Is it gonna be here five years from now?  Yeah.  Is it gonna be here 20 years from now?—it ain’t going nowhere.  Now, hopefully at some point people make it better, and that’s what happened with rap music.   Some of the early records are great, but you know I think Kanye West has taken it to another level.  And Jay-Z’s taking it to another level.  And the Outkasts are taking it to another level.  And I think somebody’s gonna do that with reality TV.


Q:  Is there a relationship between rap and stand-up?


CR:  There’s a relationship to me in the sense that you can watch any comedian and tell what they listen to.  You can’t watch Eddie Murphy up there and not know that this guy is from the era of R&B—just by the outfit he’s wearing, you know this is a peer of Michael Jackson and Prince, right?  Me, and Chappelle, and Kev, and other guys—we’re from hip-hop.  We’re from sneakers on stage.  We’re from stalking the stage.  We’re not trying to fit in.  Before hip-hop, people—especially black entertainers…. White entertainers were rebellious from the beginning.  But the whole black experience until, you know, ’89, was about fitting in, and how much like white people you could be. And rappers are like, “White people?—that’s nice—but I’m a rapper, I’m black, I’m getting ready to do this thing…if you like it, great, if you don’t like it, fine.”  And I’m from that era.


Q:  Where did the top five idea come from?


CR: Get a bunch of guys together in a barbershop, and they’ll be doing top fives. Top five running backs—Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, O.J., Jim Brown, Walter Peyton—and it’s, “What?  No Barry Sanders?!”  It’s like that. It always happens.  Always when you get a bunch of guys—especially a bunch of black guys—together you know, and girls even, the “top five” conversations are gonna come up.


Q:  Did anyone throw a surprising top five at you while you were making the movie?


CR: It always depends on what was going on in your era, you know what I mean?  The old guys are gonna have Big Daddy Kane and Rakim on their list, and the young guys are gonna have, you know, Young Jeezy, or Kanye, or even Drake.  I’ve heard people put Drake, and I’m like Drake?  Okay.  But that’s a young person talking.  So.


Q:  Do you have a top five?


CR: I’m a little older, so my top five is…Jay Z would be in my top five, and Ice Cube would be in my top five, and—let me see—Kanye would be in my top five, and Mr. Scarface would be in my top five, and Run DMC. Okay that’s five. And then you know, my sixth man, I don’t know. LL Cool J. Yeah—I don’t care.  Dis me, yeah. Go ahead, get mad.


Q:  How did you get started in stand-up?


CR: I started in stand-up literally February 11th, 1984.  I know the date because it was the date Eddie Murphy tickets went on sale at Radio City Music Hall.  And I was online waiting for tickets to see Eddie Murphy—back when they had lines for tickets, no internet, no nothing, right.  Line is like three blocks long, it’s ridiculous, right.  I get there late.  And the line’s so long you got a paper and you’re just reading—like, “Okay I’m gonna be here for a while.”  And while I was on line they announced that it was sold out, so I’m walking off line, I’m reading the Times ’cause I was that kind of kid, and I saw the listing of comedy clubs, and I had nothing to do, so I walked to this comedy club Catch a Rising Star. It happened to be audition night, which meant there were, I don’t know, 30 wannabe comedians outside waiting to pick a number. I got number seven, which meant I got to audition that night at about 12:00.  By that time here was probably 50 wannabe comedians there. And that’s a long freaking day, right—for a guy who lives with his parents too, by the way.  To not be home that whole time.  And I auditioned that night, a couple friends came, and I passed the audition my very first time on stage.  And they had to tell me that I passed—I didn’t even know what it meant.  This guy Mike Egan told me—you can work anytime you want. You should come tomorrow, you should come every night, you should work—you’re gonna be a comedian.  And I’ve been doing it ever since.  It’s the only thing in life I’ve ever done well.  I’ve never, ever succeeded at anything professionally or personally, but in this stand-up thing—it’s never let me down.


Q:  What would you say is your brand of comedy?


CR: I don’t know—whenever I hear a guy talk about his brand of comedy I start to throw up.  It’s for other people to say, you know what I mean.  I’m a comedian, they did comedy before me, they’ll do comedy after me. To one guy, I’m so edgy, but to another guy, I’m not edgy at all.  It’s for other people to say.  I do what I do, I’m not clean, but I’m not dirty either. I guess I’m rated R, but I’m not porno. I do what I do.  I try to make it a truthful experience, a non-silly experience with me.  I’m gonna talk about some serious stuff, and we’re gonna laugh at stuff we don’t normally laugh at.  That’s when you come to see me, I think.


Q:  Did you do anything for your 30th anniversary as a stand-up?


CR:  You know, they used to put the number on the MTV awards, like “It’s the 15th MTV awards.”  Then at one point they realized, “This shit ain’t cool.  This doesn’t make young people watch us….”  For my 20th, my wife threw me a party.  But I hosted the Oscars the same year as my 20th, like right around the same time.  And that was kind of the way I celebrated. ’Cause I remember I had gotten offered the Oscars a bunch of times and I always turned it down.  And I was like, you know what—it’s been 20 years…it’s time to do this grown up job.  It’s an odd way to celebrate, but that was kind of my celebration—to say to myself, “You really did it.”  You can’t get a bigger gig…it’s like—“I just did stand-up in front of 40 million people for my 20th anniversary.”