Interview: Chris Rock, Putting On A Blue New 'Hat' The actor and stand-up comic makes his Broadway debut this month — in a play whose title NPR's Ari Shapiro can't say without benefit of a bleep.
NPR logo

Chris Rock, Putting On A Blue New 'Hat'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Chris Rock, Putting On A Blue New 'Hat'

Chris Rock, Putting On A Blue New 'Hat'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Ready with the bleep, Brian?

BRIAN: Yes, sir.

SHAPIRO: The play is called "The Mother(bleep) with the Hat."

CHRIS ROCK: Known for my profanity? You say that like I - like there's profanity that I've invented.

SHAPIRO: Oh, you don't invent it, but you use it.

ROCK: So it would not be my profanity. This would be somebody else's profanity.

SHAPIRO: Your pro - no, no. You employ it. You employ it in your routines, no?

ROCK: W.C. Fields' profanity and Redd Foxx's profanity.

SHAPIRO: Welcome.

ROCK: Thanks for having, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So why pick a play that's so difficult to talk about the title on the air without a bleep?

ROCK: I didn't - you know, it's weird. I didn't pick the play for the title. To tell you the truth, I just assumed they would change the title.

SHAPIRO: Really?

ROCK: I didn't think it would get this far.

SHAPIRO: Do you remember the first time you saw theater, or the first Broadway play that you saw?

ROCK: What is the first Broadway play I saw? Man, my mother used to take me to the Negro Ensemble Company.

SHAPIRO: Did the theater have a big impact on you as a kid?

ROCK: Everything in show business has had an impact on me. So yes, it did have an impact on me. And I got into stand-up, because probably that was the easiest part of show business for me to get into.

SHAPIRO: But it surprises me that you went to the theater a lot as a kid, got into stand-up, did really well at it, and then it took you 20 years to do your first play.

ROCK: This is the first script in 20 years I've been offered that was right for me. You know, because sometimes people offer you plays, they offer you parts, but they only offer it to me because I'm famous.


ROCK: And it's like, okay, he'll bring in people. But even I know I'm not right for it.

SHAPIRO: So there's been a lot of that, you know, Denzel Washington on Broadway, Julia Roberts on Broadway. How do you get beyond that with this play?

ROCK: The thing with this is it's a new play. So I think the play is ultimately going to be bigger than me.

SHAPIRO: Was there a moment in your life that you thought: I really want to be an actor, I really want to be on stage?

ROCK: Here's what I knew about doing a play: I knew it would make me a better actor. I mean, in a weird way, it's like I was shoved into, like, this great graduate school.

SHAPIRO: Why does a play do that more than a movie?

ROCK: Because you can fake a movie. You know what I mean? Movies have takes.


ROCK: But plays are like life. You don't really get takes.

SHAPIRO: Why, at this point in your life, did you want that challenge?

ROCK: You know, I have a family. My kids are in school, you know. Lola's in third, Zahra's in first. So, yeah, I didn't want to go anywhere. I just want my kids to know me. How's that?


ROCK: You know, and I like doing stand-up, but, you know, you have to travel. And didn't want to go on the road, read a good play and said, you know what? Let's do this.

SHAPIRO: When you say it's a good play, it's substantive. This is not a frothy comedy.

ROCK: No, it's not a frothy comedy at all. No. No. No. No. I haven't done something like this since I did, like, "New Jack City." That's probably 20 years ago, where I was a crack addict. Now I'm an older drug counselor.

SHAPIRO: How much did you know about AA before you started doing this role?

ROCK: I'm a comedian. I don't know if studies have been done, but I would say 40 percent of comedians are in some form of recovery.

SHAPIRO: Or they're headed there.

ROCK: Or they're headed there. I mean, we work in bars. You know what I mean? So, you know, they give us free drinks at a young age, and we kind of get hooked. So I know a ton of guys in AA and NA, and comedians are very addictive people.


SHAPIRO: I assume that stand-up no longer makes you nervous. Does this play make you nervous?

ROCK: So anything you can suck at should make you nervous.


ROCK: One should always be cognizant of how bad it could go.

SHAPIRO: Okay. Well, this reminds me of a clip that I want to play for you.

ROCK: Okay.

SHAPIRO: This you something you said for a project called "The Black List."


ROCK: True equality is the equality to suck, like the white man. That's really Martin Luther King's dream coming true, is guys sucking.

SHAPIRO: So that by standard, would a terrible review of this play be victory?

ROCK: No. No. No. By that standard, Barack Obama, arguably one of the greatest speakers of the last 40 years, is the first black president. When we have a black president with a speech impediment, that's the real progress. It's like, oh, this guy - of course he's president. See what I'm saying?

SHAPIRO: But we're not there yet, you think.

ROCK: Oh, no. We're not there yet.

SHAPIRO: You said in that same interview that you're waiting to see the black Barbra Streisand.

ROCK: Yeah, I would love - I wish some of our actresses got more involved in the writing process and the producing process. I think there's a lot of smart women out there.

SHAPIRO: Does some of this come from having daughters?

ROCK: Some of it comes from having daughters and just wanting to work. It's like, dude, I got a GED. I've written about six movies. So I see all these great, college-educated actresses. It's like, dude, write a script.

SHAPIRO: So I have to ask...

ROCK: Sure.

SHAPIRO: You have these two young daughters...

ROCK: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Their father is making his Broadway debut...

ROCK: Right.

SHAPIRO: a play that is so full of graphic descriptions: swearing, sex, drugs. Are they going to come see your opening night?

ROCK: They are not going to see my opening night.

SHAPIRO: Are they ever going to see the play?

ROCK: I don't know. You know, put it this way. I'm never going to plan on bringing them.


ROCK: But who knows? Who knows if my wife breaks her toe or something, and I got...


ROCK: ...the kids in the theater. I don't know what's going to happen.

SHAPIRO: Do you let them watch your stand-up?

ROCK: No. They have not watched my stand-up. But there's tons of stuff to watch me on. You know, I'm the zebra in "Madagascar." There's more than enough stuff for my kids to see.

SHAPIRO: For your two young girls, their dad is the guy who's the zebra on "Madagascar."

ROCK: I'm the zebra. When I was a kid, I used to love Goofy. Now I am Goofy.

SHAPIRO: Thanks a lot.

ROCK: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.