chris rock gets his start -- 2/24/16

Today's selection -- from The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff. Eddie Murphy, arguably the biggest comedy star of the 1980s, inspired a new generation of Black comics. One of those was Chris Rock:

"Murphy was Chris Rock's earliest champion, altering his life on a chance night at the Comic Strip in New York. 'I just came in, like I always did, not on the schedule, just to hang out,' said Rock. 'I remember a bunch of Porsches and great cars out front. I come in and they say, "Eddie Murphy's here." Eddie wanted to see a black comic. I was the only one around so they put me up. And it was a Friday night, prime time, and the place was packed. I had never been onstage in front of more than like twelve people or whatever, and here the place was filled, and I went on in front of Eddie Murphy and I did great. Eddie liked it and I knew that because you could hear that distinctive laugh of his all through the room.'

"At the time Chris Rock's act sounded a lot like Henny Youngman:

My father is so cheap when we go to bed he unplugs the clocks.

"Murphy loved him and told Rock to phone him on the weekend. Murphy invited Rock to join him for a screening of the Spike Lee film She's Gotta Have It. 'This whole thing happened really, really quick. I met Eddie on a Friday, went to the movies that Sunday ... after the movie Eddie says to me, "We're going to L.A. tomorrow so if you wanna come, just come." I had never been on a plane before, certainly never went to L.A. before, and never stayed at a hotel before. Eddie was doing re-shoots for The Golden Child. Eddie Murphy took me out to L.A. and was putting me in his movie.'

"Rock was part of Saturday Night Live by 1990. At the same time Fox, HBO and Showtime started using several Black come­dians for sketch, sitcom and stand-up programming. Three shows in particular -- Showtime at the Apollo, Def Comedy Jam and In Living Color -- buoyed what was turning into a Black comedy boom.

"Keenen Ivory Wayans and his brother Marlon had been stand­up mainstays at the Improv in New York when they sold their sketch series to Fox. In Living Color was the first Black-oriented sketch series in television history. Jim Carrey was its sole white cast member, Larry Wilmore was one of its writers and it got attention from important people. Jonathan Winters said, 'To me one of the funniest shows that went way out was In Living Color with the Wayans Brothers and Jim Carrey.'

"Rock was frustrated watching Black performers with so much screen time while he was stuck with little to do on SNL. 'The black comedy boom was happening and I wasn't part of it. In Living Color was a big show and Def Comedy Jam was on HBO and Martin Law­rence was on. So there was all this stuff happening and I was over here in this weird world, this weird, Waspy world.' Rock left SNL in 1993 and joined In Living Color. Ironically, it was on the Black­centric program on which he was able to do comedy not about race. 'On SNL, I either had to play a militant or a hip-hop guy. Living Color allowed me to talk about other s**t.' "

THE COMEDIANS copyright © 2015 by Kliph Nesteroff; used with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc.


Kliph Nesteroff


The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy


Grove Press


Copyright 2015 Kliph Nesteroff


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