Though his comedy is sometimes controversial, Chris Rock's main goal is to make people laugh.
Comedian and actor Chris Rock's last name invites all sorts of puns to describe his popularity. Us magazine had the idea as early as 1993, when it ran a story called "Rock's Roll." In 1997, Entertainment Weekly called him "The Hot Rock," and Ebony combined two themes with the title of its 1997 profile: "Hot Comic Is on the Roll of His Life." Such wordplay is fitting for Rock, who has built his career around making people laugh and continues to do so into the late 2010s.
Grows up in tough school environment
Christopher Julius Rock III was born on February 7, 1965, in Andrews, South Carolina. Shortly after he was born, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. His father, Julius, was a truck driver, and his mother, Rose, was a teacher. It was the era of busing in the 1970s, when children were required to attend schools outside of their home areas in an attempt to create racial balance. As a result, Rock had to go to school in an equally tough, but predominantly white neighborhood called Bensonhurst. He endured physical and mental abuse at school because of his race.
Rock was the oldest of six children. He was close to his entire family but especially to his father. "My father led by example," Rock said in an interview with Ebony. "[H]e made no excuses about anything. What I got from my father is his work ethic and a sense of what's right and wrong. He was always training me to be a man. If I would do something wrong, he would say 'A man doesn't do that.'"
Begins as stand-up comic
His family members—who became his first audience—provided strong support to Rock while he was growing up. He also had another sustaining force in his life: comedy. Rock quit high school at age seventeen and later obtained a general equivalency diploma. Instead of attending school, Rock began building a career as a stand-up comic while working variously as a busboy, a mental hospital orderly, and a laborer unloading trucks for the New York Daily News, where his father also was employed. In 1984, he started performing in shows. One night at Manhattan's Comic Strip Club in 1986, superstar comedian Eddie Murphy caught Rock's act.
Murphy, who was one of Rock's idols, liked what he saw and gave the young comedian a minor role in his film Beverly Hills Cop II. Soon afterward, Rock played "the rib-joint customer" in the 1988 comedy I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and his performance attracted the attention of late-night talk show host Arsenio Hall. The spot on The Arsenio Hall Show led to an audition for Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1990. Soon afterward, Rock became a featured player on the popular show, which had launched the careers of numerous successful comedians, including Murphy's. It seemed that Rock's career was beginning to take off. The next year saw his memorable appearance in Mario Van Peebles's critically acclaimed film New Jack City.
While it seemed that Rock was on the verge of unbridled success, he faced challenges in his personal and professional life. The first came in 1988 when his father died of complications due to an ulcer. This may have contributed to what he has described as his "lackadaisical" attitude on SNL. Although he gained a wide fan base with roles such as the militant talk show host Nat X, critics complained that he wasn't giving his all. Rock admitted this later in his career.
Joins In Living Color
Rock was dissatisfied with SNL, and he began looking for other opportunities. He left the show in 1993 and signed on with a competing show, the mostly black In Living Color on Fox. He followed his one season on In Living Color with a starring role in the rap parody CB4, which he coproduced and wrote.
In spite of the acclaim the latter received, Rock's career seemed to stall in the mid-1990s. He did some shows on cable network HBO, but he had no upcoming television series or movie offers to consider. Hoping to drum up some interest with a different agent, he left the William Morris Agency.
HBO special makes a difference
At the beginning of 1996, Rock made two decisions. He first renewed his commitment to improving his work by studying the greats who had gone before him. He also issued an ultimatum to himself: If nothing significant happened for him by the end of the year, it was a sign that his career had peaked and that he needed to find something else to do with his life. In line with the first objective, he educated himself on the work of comedic heroes such as Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and Don Rickles. Meanwhile, he went to the Takoma Theatre in Washington, D.C., to tape his HBO special, Bring the Pain. It was this special that earned Rock two Emmy Awards and helped establish him as one of the best comedians in the industry. While popular, his routine sparked also a lot of controversy due to his commentary about race in America.
As a result of his intensive study and his hard work, his show was very well received. Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect invited him to cover the 1996 presidential elections, and HBO signed him to host his own half-hour show. By the end of 1996, when Rock married public relations executive Malaak Compton, he was starting to gain some momentum in his career. The couple later had two daughters, Lola Simone and Zahra Savannah.
Can be seen everywhere
With prominent spots commercials, it seemed that one saw or heard Rock everywhere. He continued his string of successes. In 1997 his best-selling book, Rock This!, was published, and he hosted the MTV Music Video Awards. The latter, which aired on September 4, had the third-highest ratings in the video awards show's history. For months afterward, people were quoting Rock's quips, such as "You know how it is in music: fickle. Here today, gone today!"
In 1998, Rock won a Grammy for best comedy album for Roll with the New. This was followed by a role in the film Lethal Weapon 4, the newest in the popular Mel Gibson and Danny Glover films. The Chris Rock Show won an Emmy Award for writing in 1999, and it helped him gain more critical acclaim for his interviews with celebrities and politicians.
Establishes himself as an actor and comedian
By the end of the 1990s, Rock had established himself as one of the best stand-up comedians of his generation. He won a Grammy Award for best comedy album for Bigger & Blacker in 2000. He then began to land roles in major films. Rock also began to branch out and started writing, producing, and directing films. In characteristic fashion, he began using these as vehicles to explore other social and political issues with comedy. In the movies Down to Earth (2001) and Head of State (2003), Rock returned to racial issues. The comedian wrote, produced, and acted in Down to Earth and wrote, directed, and acted in Head of State. In Down to Earth, Rock stars as a black comedian who is hit by a truck and sent to heaven before he is due to arrive there. In an effort to correct the mistake, angels send Rock back to Earth. The only flesh available is that of Charles Wellington, a rich old white man who was murdered by his wife and assistant. The humor in the film comes into play as Lance's urban orientation clashes with the Park Avenue world of the rich white man. In Head of State, Rock plays a Washington, D.C. alderman who is chosen to run for president by a fictitious political party after their original candidate dies in a plane crash.
In 2001, Rock produced and acted in Pootie Tang, which was adapted from a comedy sketch that first appeared on The Chris Rock Show. The movie was a critical and commercial disappointment at the box office. Rock also had roles in a number of other movies around this time, including Nurse Betty (2000) and Bad Company (2002). He appeared in several documentaries, including Comedian (2002), The N-Word (2004), and The Aristocrats (2004). During this time, Rock also lent his voice to a number of films, including Osmosis Jones (2001) and Madagascar (2005).
In 2005, he hosted the 77th Academy Awards ceremony and was the cocreator and executive producer of the UPN hit comedy series, Everybody Hates Chris, which was based on his life growing up in Brooklyn. Everybody Hates Chris soon became one of UPN's highest rated shows in 2006 and won a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. Also in 2006, Rock won a Grammy Award for best comedy album for Never Scared. Following that success, Rock worked on material for his 2007-08 comedy tour, which included both domestic and international appearances.
In 2007, Rock directed, produced, wrote, and acted in I Think I Love My Wife. The movie, which received mixed reviews, is about a man experiencing a marital and romantic crisis. That same year, Rock also released the CD Cheese and Crackers: The Greatest Bits, a compilation of the best of Rock's stand-up comedy routines. Rock then lent his voice to Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008). In 2009, Rock produced a documentary and comedy called Good Hair. The film focuses on African American women's hair, the styling industry, and its effect on African American culture. He also released the HBO comedy special Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger, which earned him an Emmy Award for writing in 2009.
Rock next appeared in the 2010 film Grown Ups, along with Adam Sandler, David Spade, Kevin James, and Rob Schneider. Rock also appeared in the movie Death at a Funeral in 2010. The movie, a remake of the British movie of the same name, received mixed reviews. In 2011, Rock performed on Broadway. He then lent his voice to the animated films Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012) and Madly Madagascar (2013). Rock appeared in the sequel Grown Ups 2 (2013) and acted, wrote, and directed Top Five (2014).
Rock directed the comedy special Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo in 2015. He then hosted the 2016 Academy Awards. The same year, he and his wife divorced. Rock then decided to go back to his roots and resume his stand-up comedy career. He toured into 2017. In February 2018, he released his first of two stand-up comedy specials on Netflix, Chris Rock: Tamborine.