HBO // 1997 // 510 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // September 19th, 2006
Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Rock!
On the heels of his wildly successful comedy album Roll With the New, Chris Rock (New Jack City) was a name in demand, and decided to go for HBO's offer of a talk show, with some comedy thrown in. While more traditional thinking would have perhaps had him host a late-night talk show, Rock's experience on Saturday Night Live showed him a glimpse of what could happen with mainstream acceptance. Plus, it must have been evident to Rock that any network show, regardless of where it was, would have curtailed his humor and sensibilities, and would have been a failure.
So in 1997, when HBO said he could do a show however he wanted, he leapt at the chance. The show's format (aside from the first episode) was to have an interview subject, serious or otherwise; a musical guest, usually an R&B or hip-hop star; and a brief monologue and a couple of comedic bits. The breakdown is as follows:
Disc One (Season One):
* Episode One
The interview guest is O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran.
* Episode Two
Chris interviews Jenifer Lewis (The Cookout), and the first musical guest is D'Angelo with some guest players (including The Roots' ?uestlove), performing a special Valentine's Day song.
* Episode Three
James Walker himself, John Amos (Die Hard 2) is the interviewee, and the musical group Cake (?) performs two songs, including a cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."
* Episode Four
In an episode where Rock touts a satiric "knives for guns" program to end street violence, he interviews model Tyson Beckford.
* Episode Five
A funny "post-game" look at the Def Comedy Jam with resident ESPN annoying talking head Stuart Scott, followed by an interview with Saturday Night Live actor Tracy Morgan. Erykah Badu is the musical guest.
Disc Two(Season Two):
* Episode One
Chris Rock is another casualty in the East Coast–West Coast comedy wars, before interviewing a post–talk show version of Arsenio Hall. Mase and buddy Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs cover "Been Around the World" for the musical entertainment.
* Episode Two
Rock hosts former Saturday Night Live writing buddy Conan O'Brien while Fugees star Wyclef Jean plays a compelling version of "Gone 'Til November."
* Episode Three
While Chris addresses the impact of Tiger Woods's first Masters win and makes jokes about the Marv Albert debacle, he also takes time out to interview Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act) and introduces the world to Pootie Tang. KC and JoJo (not the 14-year-old Latin one, the short black male one) are the musical guests.
* Episode Four
A pre–Kill Bill Vivica A. Fox is the interview subject, while Missy Elliott rocks the proverbial house, all while the Rock team celebrates Rosh Hashanah.
* Episode Five
Nothing says comedy like Nipsey Russell massaging some woman's foot, right? Well, Rock's take on the Tim Conway/Dorf series is hilarious, and appears after an interview with Bryant Gumbel. The musical guest is LL Cool J (Any Given Sunday).
* Episode Six
Chris interviews former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts for a look at the Republican party from an African American perspective. And for a look at the economic impact that African Americans have in the world, Busta Rhymes. Or maybe he sings.
* Episode Seven
Chris Rock, meet Chris Spencer, host of the short-lived Vibe TV show. Chris Spencer, meet Chris Rock. And Mr. Whitney Houston himself, Bobby Brown, joins the crowd to beat them up and sing to them.
* Episode Eight
Jesse Jackson takes time out of his busy schedule to sit with Chris for an interview, and rap legend Rakim performs.
* Episode Nine
The civil rights crusaders continue, as Al Sharpton comes to the show for a sitdown. On the musical side of things, songstress Mary J. Blige dazzles and amazes with an excellent performance.
* Episode Ten
Comedy legend and apparent Rock idol George Carlin comes by during the Thanksgiving holiday and discusses the state of comedy, along with his past drug use. Chris also celebrates Thanksgiving with football player Jeff Blake, and Usher (before that song from a couple years ago) wows the crowd even in 1997.
* Episode Eleven
Back when he was really good, boxer Roy Jones sat with Chris to talk about the joys of pugilism. Thankfully, neither he nor Rock gets punched during the interview. And remember Salt-N-Pepa? They're back, and they're here.
* Episode Twelve
Wrapping up the second season of the show, Will Smith's wife Jada Pinkett (The Matrix Reloaded) comes on the show to talk about various things on her mind. The musical group LSG closes the show out.
While most of the audience who attended the show appeared a little bit rebellious (for lack of a better word), Rock certainly helped play to it by using things that were a little infamous. But he also mixed them with things of the times to get the most comedic bang for his buck. For instance, playing the Rodney King video and setting it to the VH-1 Pop-Up Video show of the era was a solid effort. Or take his interview with Cochran, which was actually quite good and should be viewed by those who dismiss Cochran as "the O.J. defender." Right after that, Rock conducted an interview with a black man who was filmed robbing a liquor store. The man didn't hesitate to use what he learned from watching Court TV and used the word "allegedly" every other sentence. In the span of a few minutes, Rock's interview with Cochran was used to help set up how silly lawyers (or perhaps Cochran in this case) look when they dance around the truth. And even though some civil rights heroes appear, Rock doesn't hesitate to skewer some of the silly positions some of them may take. In some cases where the interview guest doesn't bring much to the table (like Amos), the writers are let loose and given the chance to encourage the audience to go crazy and treat him like a Tom Jones–ish type of character, which, of course, he is.
Another thing that helped elevate Rock's show was his interviews. The studio guests were a clever mix of civil rights icons, successful black professionals, and entertainers that Rock generally liked, producing an eclectic mix of tastes and opinions that helped keep the show fresh. His "man on the street" interviews were hilarious, hands down. Going into a predominantly white neighborhood and asking people to sign a petition to change the name of the town's most famous street to "Tupac Shakur Boulevard" is funny because of the way the people react to it. It harks back to the early 1980s, when David Letterman would conduct similar interviews in some of the same neighborhoods. Rock's questions helped illuminate some of the New York/Tri-State area's more colorful characters, including some of his former girlfriends from before his marriage. Interestingly enough, one of Rock's writers (Jeff Stilson) was a writer with Letterman, which may explain the resemblance.
The musical performances appear on the surface to be the all-star lineup people would anticipate, but because of the intimate environment for the show, the artists are given the chance to collaborate, improvise, or generally go nuts. Jean's solo single is accompanied by a string section of young kids, including a drummer, and the vibe when you watch the song is almost transcendent. And if all that wasn't enough, Rock sat down for some commentary track time for some of the episodes! The commentaries appear pretty recent, as the Dick Cheney hunting accident is referenced, and he's pretty low-key overall, despite the occasional joke here and there. He talks about how it felt to host a show with aspiring writers, recalls who wrote what occasionally, and has some fond memories of the show. He says he should be on TV every week again. I heartily agree.
All in all, The Chris Rock Show is a splendid mix of characters, comedy, music and opinion that gave the stand-up comic a chance to break out from the "angry/goofy black man" stereotype some would be eager to apply to him. The humor is as good as it was years ago, and the music is still unique and creative. It's a definite recommendation for fans of the show and the comic.
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 510 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Selected Episode Commentary
* Chris Rock's Official Site