Not too scared to bite the hand that tapped him as the host of this year's Academy Awards, anyway. The caustic, sharp-eyed comedian caused a bit of a swirl as a result of recent remarks made during interviews to promote the Feb. 27 ceremony, most notably in Entertainment Weekly, where he referred to the Oscars as a fashion show. "No one performs; it's not like a music show," said Rock, 40, who hosted the MTV Video Music Awards in 1999 and 2003. "What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one."
Rumours that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had pushed to have the comic removed as host were quashed by Rock-booster and show producer Gil Cates, who said he was not worried by the comments.
It calls to mind one of the clever, if indelicate, rants made on Never Scared (now available on CD/DVD).
The comic rages against the assumption that the circus tiger that attacked Roy Horn of the duo Siegfried & Roy had done so because it had gone crazy. "That tiger didn't go crazy," Rock says emphatically. "That tiger went tiger!"
The same goes for Rock, who in taking shots at the Oscars wasn't being insubordinate -- Chris Rock was being Chris Rock. Instead of hand-wringing, the Academy should have used its mitts to applaud Rock for the publicity.
Just to err on the side of caution, though, the Oscars will be broadcast with a five-second delay so censors can bleep out foul language. Rock said this week he was happy with the "safety net" provided by the delay.
"You know, you're a trapeze artist . . . you welcome the net," he said Thursday.
With or without a net, Rock has received lots of applause recently. In a review of the comedian's performance at Madison Square Garden last year, The New York Times described Rock as a "brilliant curmudgeon" and "one of the best and most beloved comedians in the country." Vanity Fair touted him earlier as "young, gifted and the funniest man in America."
The praise, remarkably unreserved, comes for a bold, provocative performer and writer who rose steadily through the ranks. Reportedly, the Brooklyn-raised Rock was discovered by one of his own idols, Eddie Murphy, who spotted the 18-year-old at an open-mike night in New York. In the same Entertainment Weekly interview that caused the Oscar kerfuffle, Rock recalled seeing Beverly Hills Cop three times in one day. "Eddie Murphy was the coolest guy on the screen," Rock said. "I liked Belushi and those guys, Bill Murray. But Murphy was for me. He was, like, the first black guy that I can remember who was cool."
Bit roles followed: a Playboy Mansion valet in 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II, which starred Murphy; and a rib-joint customer in 1988's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.
Rock's big break came in 1989, when he began a three-year stint on NBC's Saturday Night Live, making his mark with characters such as Nat X, a high-afro, black-nationalist TV host.
Rock broke bigger in 1996. That was the year of Bring the Pain, the winner of Emmy Awards in 1997 for writing and outstanding special. The material was black-on-black. "The Million Man March had all the positive black leaders there: Farrakhan, Jesse [Jackson], Marion Barry . . . Marion Barry! You know what that means? That even in our finest hour, we had a crackhead on stage."
Audiences didn't embrace all of the material, but the blunt, truth-telling comic wasn't about to censor himself. When he said that he loved black people, but hated "niggas," crowds reacted. "Boo if you want," he challenged the heavily black Washington, D.C., audience, "but you know I'm right."
In the same year, the politically incorrect Rock hooked on, perfectly, with Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect, where he served as a sardonic presidential-campaign correspondent. In 1997, the best-selling Rock This was released. The book, for which he received $1-million (U.S.) in advance from Hyperion, was less a biography than a roundup of edgy bits and slamming observations.
Rock's vocals (endearing back-of-the-throat growls) have stood him in good stead. He was well compensated in the late 1990s for the voice of Lil' Penny, the tiny Nike-wearing sidekick of NBA star Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway. In 1998, he again teamed with Murphy, providing the voice of Rodney the Hamster in 1998's Doctor Dolittle. In 2001, Rock starred in the title role of the partially animated Osmosis Jones. And in Madagascar, an animated feature scheduled for release later this year, Rock does the talking for a zebra.
Other acting credits include Head of State (which he directed and starred in), Down to Earth, Nurse Betty and Dogma. The Longest Yard, the prison football remake starring Adam Sandler, is set for release this year.
From 1996 to 2000, the performer hosted The Chris Rock Show, a talk show with guests such as Al Sharpton, Johnny Cochrane and Ed Bradley -- "thinkers" according to Rock, at the time. "I lean towards comics and politicians and writers. People that think for a living."
So, what were the Academy members thinking when they picked the fearless, blue-mouthed Rock as Oscars host? Likely that Rock was the guy who can inject an edge into the stuffy affair, some jazz. More than a week before he even hits the stage, he's already done that.
Oscar host with the most (and least)
1953. Bob Hope: "Television -- that's where movies go when they die," remarked Hope during the first televised Oscars.
1966. Bob Hope: "For the first time, you can actually see the losers turn green." Hope is host to the first colour broadcast of the Oscars. He appeared as host or co-host 15 times.
1979. Johnny Carson: "Welcome to the Academy Awards, a glittering two hours of entertainment, spread out over four hours." Carson appeared as host five times.
1999. Whoopi Goldberg: "Let's just leave it to Beaver, but I didn't say whose . . . You know, I might not be doing this show again, so let's just go right to the edge and go over. Whaddya say?" Goldberg, in her third time as host, got roasted by critics for her vulgarity.
2001. Steve Martin: "By the way, be sure to stay tuned for the whole show because at the end of the night we're going to vote somebody out of show business."
2004. Billy Crystal: "Everyone from Hollywood is here. Wait. This is like the Canadian Oscars." Crystal, in his eighth time as host, makes a crack about runaway productions.