Chris Rock has built a career mining his childhood in New York City. But the Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian has a new perspective now that he's raising kids of his own. He opens up about bullying, helicopter parents, and why he hasn't had a PB&J in years.
The stand-up sensation has made countless quips over the years about being bullied as a boy in rough-and-tumble Brooklyn, N.Y., depicted on "Everybody Hates Chris," the TV show he created. He's also famous for his rip-roaringly funny (and brutally honest) comments about marriage and parenthood in his Emmy Award-winning specials for HBO. Now, as his new film Grown Ups 2 hits big screens in July, the provocative comic mines more coming-of-age discomforts -- that of kids and the adults who rear them -- for laughs.
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These days Rock, 48, views the wonder years from two very different vantage points: as someone who was once tormented at school and as a father of two young daughters (Lola, 11, and Zahra, 9, with wife Malaak Compton-Rock) living in an age of "helicopter" parents. And, true to form, he's got some wisdom to share.
Chris Rock: A Bullied Kid
The bullying began when he was in second grade. "We lived in Bed-Stuy [Bedford-Stuyvesant], one of the most famous ghettos in the world" is how he once described his former stomping grounds. "My mother and father wanted me to go to a better school, so I was bused to this poor, white neighborhood…I was the only black boy in my grade for most of the time. I was a little guy, too, a skinny runt."
Surprisingly, he's prepared to give his former bullies a pass -- sort of. "Of course, I'm against bullying!" Rock says with his trademark intonation. "To-tal-ly, totally against it! But on the other hand…" He pauses for comedic effect. "Who's going to cure cancer? Who's gonna figure out how to advance stem cell research? Someone who got bullied, that's who! You think Bill Gates didn't get bullied? Put the most successful men and women in the world in one room, and ask them to put their hands up to see which ones were bullied." Another beat passes before he shares his own theory: "Most of 'em!"
In 2007 Rock went so far as to tell host James Lipton of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio that bullying was "the defining moment of my life … it made me who I am." On air, he even profusely thanked the pack of boys who regularly "kicked my a--, spit in my face, and kicked me down the stairs," because the experiences not only forged his quick wit, he insists, but also fueled his drive to succeed.
But Rock is the first to say all that bad has to be tempered with good, or no good can come out of it. "Who's your boss?" he posits, laughing out loud, before answering: "Either somebody whose dad or mom owns the place, or someone who's put up with a lot of adversity and overcome it. But you need love, too," Rock maintains. "Bullying without love? You can be destroyed. …But you know, I was bullied and I had love at home, so that was kind of the perfect storm for me, you know? I just read the Steve Jobs book [the biography by Walter Isaacson]. There's no way you can tell me that guy wasn't beat up in school! And what happened? He used that pain to make sure he'd be in a position where he would never be bullied again."