After working as a stand-up comedian and appearing in supporting film roles, Rock came to wider prominence as a cast member of Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s. He went on to more prominent film appearances, with starring roles in Down to Earth (2001), Head of State (2003), The Longest Yard (2005), the Madagascar film series (2005–2012), Grown Ups (2010), its sequel Grown Ups 2 (2013), Top Five (2014), and a series of acclaimed stand-up specials for HBO. He developed, wrote, and narrated the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris (2005–2009), which was based on his early life.
Rock hosted the Academy Awards twice, in 2005 and in 2016. He has won four Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards. He was voted the fifth-greatest stand-up comedian in a poll conducted by Comedy Central. He was also voted in the United Kingdom as the ninth-greatest stand-up comic on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups in 2007, and again in the updated 2010 list as the eighth-greatest stand-up comic.
Christopher Julius Rock was born in Andrews, South Carolina on February 7, 1965. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. A few years later, they relocated and settled in the working class area of Bedford–Stuyvesant. His mother, Rosalie (née Tingman), was a teacher and social worker for the mentally handicapped; his father, Julius Rock, was a truck driver and newspaper deliveryman. Julius died in 1988 after ulcer surgery.
Chris Rock is one of eight Rock siblings. Chris is the oldest of Julius and Rosalie (Rose) Rock's seven children (six boys and one girl). Chris had an older paternal half-brother Charles Ledell Rock, who died in 2006 after a long struggle with alcoholism.
Rock's family history was profiled on the PBS series African American Lives 2 in 2008. A DNA test showed that he is of Cameroonian descent, specifically from the Udeme (Ouldémé) people of northern Cameroon. Rock's great-great-grandfather, Julius Caesar Tingman, was a slave for 21 years before serving in the American Civil War as part of the United States Colored Troops. During the 1940s, Rock's paternal grandfather moved from South Carolina to New York City to become a taxicab driver and preacher.
Rock was bused to schools in predominately white neighborhoods of Brooklyn, where he endured bullying and beatings from white students. As he got older, the bullying became worse and Rock's parents pulled him out of James Madison High School. He dropped out of high school altogether, but he later earned a GED. Rock then worked menial jobs at various fast-food restaurants.
Rock began doing stand-up comedy in 1984 in New York City's Catch a Rising Star. He slowly rose up the ranks of the comedy circuit in addition to earning bit roles in the film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and the TV series Miami Vice. Upon seeing his act at a nightclub, Eddie Murphy befriended and mentored the aspiring comic. Murphy gave Rock his first film role in Beverly Hills Cop II.
Saturday Night Live (1990-1993)
Rock became a cast member of the popular sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live from 1990 to 1993. He and other new cast members Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade became known as the Bad Boys of SNL. In 1991, he released his first comedy album, Born Suspect and won acclaim for his role as a crack addict in the film New Jack City. His tenure on SNL gave Rock national exposure.
Rock has hosted SNL three times; in 1996, 2014 and 2020.
With plans to leave Saturday Night Live after the 1992–93 season, Rock was effectively "fired" from the show. Beginning that fall, he appeared in six episodes of the predominantly African-American sketch show In Living Color as a special guest star. The show was canceled a month after he arrived. Rock then wrote and starred in the low-budget comedy CB4, which made $18 million against its budget of $6 million. He signed on as client of 3 Arts Entertainment, who represented it in the 1990s since them.
Rock starred in his first HBO comedy special in 1994 titled Big Ass Jokes as part of HBO Comedy Half-Hour. His second special, 1996's Bring the Pain, made Rock one of the most acclaimed and commercially successful comedians in the industry. Rock won two Emmy Awards for the special and gained large critical acclaim. The most well-known and controversial piece of the special was "Niggas vs. Black People". Adding to his popularity was his much-publicized role as a commentator for Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect during the 1996 Presidential elections, for which he earned another Emmy nomination. Rock also was the voice for the "Lil Penny" puppet who was the alter ego to basketball star Penny Hardaway in a series of Nike shoe commercials from 1994 to 1998, and hosted the '97 MTV Video Music Awards.
Rock later had two more HBO comedy specials: Bigger & Blacker in 1999, and Never Scared in 2004. Articles relating to both specials called Rock "the funniest man in America" in Time and Entertainment Weekly. HBO also aired his talk show, The Chris Rock Show, which gained critical acclaim for Rock's interviews with celebrities and politicians. The show won an Emmy for writing. His television work has won him a total of three Emmy Awards and 15 nominations.
By the end of the decade, Rock was established as one of the preeminent stand-up comedians and comic minds of his generation. During this time, Rock also translated his comedy into print form in the book Rock This! and released the Grammy Award-winning comedy albums, Roll with the New, Bigger & Blacker and Never Scared. Rock's fifth HBO special, Kill the Messenger, premiered on September 27, 2008, and won him another Emmy for outstanding writing for a variety or music program.
On October 30, 2016, Netflix announced that they would be releasing two new stand-up comedy specials from Rock, with Rock being paid $40 million per special. The first special, Chris Rock: Tamborine, was released on Netflix on February 14, 2018. It was filmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and was directed by comedian Bo Burnham. The specials marked the comedian's first concert specials released in 10 years. The special earned a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album nomination.
It was not until the success of his stand-up act in the late 1990s that Rock began receiving leading man status in films.
Though he started off with supporting roles in films such as New Jack City (1991) as crack addict Pookie, in the Eddie Murphy comedy Boomerang (1992), the Steve Martin comedy Sgt. Bilko (1996) as well as Beverly Hills Ninja (1997), and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998). He also appeared in the Kevin Smith fantasy comedy film Dogma (1999). The film received positive reviews and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The film starred an ensemble cast with actors such as Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Alan Rickman, Salma Hayek, and George Carlin. He then starred in the dark comedy Nurse Betty (2000) starring Rene Zellweger, Greg Kinnear and Morgan Freeman which also debuted at the Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2000. The film was a critical success.
In the later 2000s Rock started to work increasingly behind the camera. He wrote the film Down to Earth (2001) along with friend and comedian Louis C.K.. The film was based on the Warren Beatty film, Heaven Can Wait (1978). That same year Rock also produced and starred in the C.K. directed cult classic film Pootie Tang (2001). Rock also would work as a writer and director of the political comedy Head of State (2003) and marital comedy I Think I Love My Wife (2007), were he also played the lead in both films. He also he went on to star in films like The Longest Yard (2005) opposite Adam Sandler, and the action comedy film Bad Company (2002) opposite Anthony Hopkins. Starting in 2005, Rock has also voiced the eccentric zebra Marty in DreamWorks' animated film franchise Madagascar. He started in two of the films sequels, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008), and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2013). In 2007 Rock voiced Mooseblood the Mosquito in the Jerry Seinfeld animated film, The Bee Movie.
In 2009, Rock released his first documentary, 2009's Good Hair. The film focuses on the issue of how African-American women have perceived their hair and historically styled it. The film explores the current styling industry for black women, images of what is considered acceptable and desirable for African-American women's hair in the United States, and their relation to African American culture. The film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival where it earned critical acclaim and received a Special Jury Prize. The National Board of Review named it one of the five best documentaries of the year. Rock was also nominated for the [[Gotham Award for Best Documentary and for the Best Documentary Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America. Rock has since stated working on a documentary about debt called Credit Is the Devil.
Some of his 2010s film appearances include the black comedy Death at a Funeral (2010) a remake of the British comedy of the same name. The film starred Peter Dinklage, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart, Zoe Saldana, and Luke Wilson. The film received mixed review with Roger Ebert critic of The Chicago Sun-Times however praising the film writing, "I laughed all the way through, in fact. This is the best comedy since "The Hangover," and although it's almost a scene-by-scene remake of a 2007 British movie with the same title, it's funnier than the original." He also starred in the summer comedy Grown Ups (2010) alongside Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Maya Rudolph.
In 2012, he starred in the ensemble romantic comedy film What to Expect When You're Expecting alongside Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendrick, and Elizabeth Banks. Despite earning negative reviews, the film was a financial success. Rock earned a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Actor – Comedy nomination for his performance. That same year he starred in the romantic comedy 2 Days in New York (2012) opposite Julie Delpy. The film served as the sequel to Delpy's previous film, 2 Days in Paris (2007). The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it received positive reviews, with critics praising the chemistry between the two with Todd McCarthy, critic of The Hollywood Reporter writing, "The best of the humor is verbal and attitudinal, all delivered at a rapid clip in overlapping languages that Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks would have admired."
In 2014, Rock wrote, directed and starred in the critically acclaimed film Top Five, which critics have drawn comparison to Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (1980). The film is a social commentary on fame and society. The film premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Scott Foundas, critic for Variety praised the film writing, "Rock has finally found a big-screen vehicle for himself that comes close to capturing the electric wit, shrewd social observations and deeply autobiographical vein of his standup comedy." In Rolling Stone Magazine film critic's Peter Travers review, he wrote, "Rock delivers the laughs, big ones, laced with razor-sharp observations on everything from pop culture to racial politics... His confident, prowling wit as a stand-up has finally found its way to the screen, enhanced by a bracing vulnerability. Top Five is Rock’s best movie by a mile."
In 2015, Rock appeared as himself in Sofia Coppola's Christmas musical special, A Very Murray Christmas starring Bill Murray. In the film Rock sings "Do You Hear What I Hear?" with Murray. The film debuted on Netflix and received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. He also appeared as himself in another Netflix film, Sandy Wexler (2017) starring Adam Sandler. In 2018 he starred in the Netflix comedy The Week Of directed by Robert Smigel starring Sandler. The film follows two fathers the week of the wedding of their children. The following year, he briefly appeared in the comedy film Dolemite Is My Name (2019) starring Eddie Murphy. In the film, Murphy portrayed Rudy Ray Moore and centers around career as a standup, and director of blaxploitation starting with Dolemite (1975). The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it received critical acclaim.
In the fall of 2005, the UPN television network premiered a comedy series called Everybody Hates Chris, loosely based on Rock's school days, of which he is the executive producer and narrator. The show has garnered both critical and ratings success. The series was nominated for a 2006 Golden Globe for Best TV Series (Musical or Comedy), a 2006 People's Choice Award for Favorite New Television Comedy, and two 2006 Emmy Awards for costuming and cinematography. He produced the series Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, which premiered in August 2012. While serving as producer, he had a production company, Chris Rock Enterprises (or CR Enterprises) for short.
Academy Awards host
In early 2005, Rock hosted the 77th Academy Awards ceremony. The decision to have Rock host the awards was seen by some as a chance to bring an "edge" to the ceremony, and to make it more relevant or appealing to younger audiences. Jokingly, Rock opened by saying "Welcome to the 77th and LAST Academy Awards!" During one segment Rock asked, "Who is this guy?" in reference to actor Jude Law seemingly appearing in every movie Rock had seen that year and implied Law was a low-rent Tom Cruise (he made a joke about filmmakers rushing production when unable to get the actors they want: "If you want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law, wait [to make the film]!"). Subsequently, an angry Sean Penn took the stage to present and said, "In answer to our host's question, Jude Law is one of our finest young actors." (At the time, Penn and Law were shooting All the King's Men.) Law was not the only actor that Rock roasted that evening, however—he turned the joke on himself at one point, saying, "If you want Denzel [Washington] and all you can get is me, wait!" Older Oscar officials were reportedly displeased with Rock's performance, which did not elevate ratings for the ceremony. Rock was also criticized for referring to the Oscars as "idiotic", and asserting that heterosexual men do not watch them, in an interview prior to Oscar night.
On October 21, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Rock would host the 88th Academy Awards. When the subsequent acting nominations turned out to include no racial minorities, Rock was called upon to join a boycott of the ceremony. Rock declined however, stating at the ceremony that it would have accomplished little since the show would have proceeded anyway, with him simply replaced. Instead, Rock spoke of his concerns about the lack of diversity in AMPAS at various times during the show, closing by saying "Black Lives Matter". Rock's performance was largely praised by critics. Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara wrote, "Rock’s Oscars had some of the most powerful moments seen in the telecast’s history. His decision to honestly answer the question ‘Is Hollywood racist?’ was brave and effective,” The New York Times Television critic James Poniewozik, praised Rock's performance for being “evenhanded without being wishy-washy” and that he represented “an example of something the industry is still trying to learn: that you can achieve both inclusion and entertainment by giving the right person just the right opportunity.”
Rock's first music video was for his song "Your Mother's Got a Big Head" from his album Born Suspect. Rock also made videos for his songs "Champagne" from Roll With the New and "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)" from Bigger & Blacker.
He directed and appeared in the music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Hump de Bump", and has simply appeared in several videos, including the Big Daddy Kane music video "Smooth Operator" as a guy getting his hair cut, one of the many celebrities seen lip-synching in Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down", a cameo in Madonna's "Bitch I'm Madonna", and as a Wild West sheriff chasing down an 1889 cowboy version of Lil Nas X in "Old Town Road".
In 2011, Rock appeared on Broadway in Stephen Adly Guirgis' play The Motherfucker with the Hat with Bobby Cannavale and Annabella Sciorra. Rock was nominated for a Drama League Award. In an interview with Vibe Magazine, Rock stated that he chose to do Broadway because he wanted more people to see him "really act. Sometimes when you do comedy, that can be a little formulaic, and it's hard for really good directors to see that you can act."
Comedic style and views
Rock's subject matter typically involves family, politics, romance, music, celebrities, and race relations in the United States. Though not strictly autobiographical, much of his comic standpoint seems rooted in his teenage experience; his strict parents, concerned about the inadequacies of the local school system, arranged to have the adolescent Rock bussed to a nearly all-white high school in Bensonhurst (an Italian-ethnic neighborhood of Brooklyn known at the time for poor race relations). In his memoir Rock This, he recalls, "My parents assumed I'd get a better education in a better neighborhood. What I actually got was a worse education in a worse neighborhood. And a whole bunch of ass-whippings."
Rock has not wavered from a position explored in his 1996 Roll With The New show, and reiterated in his 1997 memoir: "Why does the public expect entertainers to behave better than everybody else? It's ridiculous [ . . . of] course, this is just for black entertainers. You don't see anyone telling Jerry Seinfeld he's a good role model. Because everyone expects whites to behave themselves [ . . . nowadays,] you've got to be an entertainer and a leader. It's too much." Often the subject of tabloids, when asked about paparazzi and the other negative aspects of fame, Rock says he accepts the bad with the good: "You can't be happy that fire cooks your food and be mad it burns your fingertips."
At the London Live Earth concert on July 7, 2007, which was broadcast live on the BBC, before introducing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rock called the crowd "motherfuckers" and said "shit", and after a brief pause said he was joking. Due to the broadcast being at 5:45 p.m., Rock was immediately cut off, and the BBC made several apologies for his use of the word "motherfucker".
In May 2021, Rock voiced opposition to cancel culture. He said that it has led to "boring" and "unfunny" material from comedians. He also commented that there is an existing built-in mechanism for audiences informing comedians that their content does not work, like the audience not laughing at their jokes. Rock went on to say "Everybody's scared to make a move. That's not a place to be. You know, we should have the right to fail because failure . . . failure is a part of art."
Rock has said that he was influenced by the performing style of his paternal grandfather, Allen Rock, a preacher. Rock's comedy influences are Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Pigmeat Markham, Woody Allen, Bill Maher, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, George Carlin, Mort Sahl, and Rodney Dangerfield.
Rock married Malaak Compton-Rock on November 23, 1996. Compton-Rock is the founder and executive director of StyleWorks, a non-profit, full-service hair salon that provides free services for women leaving welfare and entering the workforce. The couple lived in Alpine, New Jersey with their two daughters, Lola Simone (born 2002) and Zahra Savannah (born 2004). In December 2014, Rock filed for divorce from Compton-Rock. Rock admitted to infidelity in the marriage, as well as struggling with a pornography addiction. The divorce was finalized on August 22, 2016.
Rock is a critic of racial profiling and often speaks of the "everyday racism" he claims to experience, despite being famous. In a 2013 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, Rock and Seinfeld are pulled over by the police for speeding while Seinfeld was driving. In the episode Rock admits to Seinfeld that "If you weren't here, I'd be scared. Yeah, I'm famous – still black." In 2015, Rock was pulled over three times in the first three months of the year. Each time Rock posted a selfie of the incident, without further comment as to the reason for the stops or whether he was issued a citation.
Chris Rock was among hundreds of artists whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. On August 20, 2019, Rock, along with several other celebrities, invested in a funding round for Lowell Herb Co, a California cannabis brand. He is known to be "a dedicated cannabis consumer".
On September 19, 2021, Rock announced on Twitter that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19. In a tweet he said "Hey guys, I just found out I have COVID. Trust me you don't want this. Get vaccinated."
- Born Suspect (Atlantic Records, 1991)
- Roll with the New, (DreamWorks Records, 1997)
- Bigger & Blacker, (DreamWorks Records, 1999)
- Never Scared, (DreamWorks Records/Geffen Records, 2004)
- Tamborine (Netflix Studios, LLC., 2018)
- Chris Rock: Big Ass Jokes (released on HBO, 1994)
- Chris Rock: Bring the Pain (released on HBO, 1996)
- Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker (released on HBO, 1999)
- Chris Rock: Never Scared (released on HBO, 2004)
- Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger (released on HBO, 2008)
- Chris Rock: Tamborine (released on Netflix 2018)
Awards and nominations
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