55 Fascinating Facts About Chris Rock

The Emmy- and Grammy-winning comedian is turning 55 and will be on TV, in theaters and on book shelves in 2020

By Natalie Finn 07 Feb, 2020 11:00 AMTags
Chris Rock Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Chris Rock has been making roomfuls of people laugh for more than three decades.

And yet, he hasn't aged a day.

"I'll be 55 in a couple of weeks," Rock acknowledged last month at the Television Critics Association press tour, where he sat in on the Fargo panel with creator Noah Hawley. "Black don't crack. Money is the best lotion in the world."

Well, 55 is upon him today, and looking at photos of Rock through the years is a lot like looking at photos of someone all taken in one year.

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It's win-win for all involved that the veteran comedian-actor-producer-director-writer still has the bloom of youth about him, the better for him to stay so busy.

But under the still-glossy surface is one of the hardest-working entertainers plying his trade today, someone who in his considerable time in the spotlight has offered up some of the best sociopolitical commentary of a generation, simultaneously informing and cracking us up, and—in recent years especially—revealing the flawed human within who's made his share of mistakes along with that boatload of Netflix money.

So here are 55 things to know about Chris Rock:

1. Christopher Julius Rock was born on Feb. 7, 1965, in Andrews, S.C.

2. Mother Rosalie was a teacher and social worker and father Julius Rock, who died in 1989, drove a newspaper delivery truck, and Rock has credited both parents for his work ethic.

3. He sensed at a very young age that he might have a gift for comedy. "When I was about 6, I said to myself, 'Wait a minute—I'm dead serious, and everyone else is cracking up,'" he recalled to Oprah Winfrey for O Magazine in 2002. "I thought, 'I've got something here. Let me learn how to work it'... By the time I was 7 or 8, I wanted to be a comedy writer. When I'd see the credits roll after a comedy show, I'd say to myself, 'I'm going to write for one of these shows one day.'"

4. He's the eldest of seven children: his five brothers are Andre, Tony, Brian, Kenny and Jordan, and his  sister is Andi. An older half-brother, Charles, passed away in 2006.

5. The family moved to New York and Rock grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

6. Rock was bused from his largely neighborhood to an all-white school in Gerritsen Beach, in south Brooklyn, where he was picked on regularly.

7. Everybody Hates Chris, starring Tyler James Williams and co-created, executive-produced and narrated by Rock, was loosely based on his own boyhood adventures growing up in Bed-Stuy.

8. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade and earned his GED.

9. Rock studied broadcast journalism for a year at a community college, because, he told Winfrey, "though part of me had always wanted to be a comedian, another part of me had always wanted to be Bryant Gumbel or Dan Rather.

10. His early jobs included hospital orderly and busboy at a Red Lobster. When he first started making money as a comedian, he told Winfrey, "In the beginning, it really just meant I could buy more food. I swear to you, I was like, 'Wow, I can get two slices now!' When you've been on a ghetto diet your entire life, you're just happy to get a large soda instead of a medium."

11. In 1985, Rock was in line to buy tickets to an Eddie Murphy stand-up performance at Radio City Music Hall, when he saw in the newspaper an ad for an open-mic night at the club Catch a Rising Star. He auditioned and scored his first gig.

12. "When I started doing comedy at Catch a Rising Star, I used to get there at 7:45 and leave about two in the morning," Rock told Vulture in 2014. "That's six hours a night watching comedians for a good six years straight. Just watching, watching, watching. What I learned more than what I wanted to be was what I didn't want to be and what I didn't want to say."

13. In around 1986, Rock was at the Comic Strip in New York—where he helped stack chairs in exchange for late-night stage time—when his idol Murphy came in one night and the club manager introduced them. Rock wasn't scheduled to perform that night, but Murphy told the manager to put the kid on. "So now, I got an audience with the king," Rock reminisced on Inside the Actors Studio in 2007. "...I go up, do my shtick, whatever it was that night, and the crowd is laughing—and then I heard that [he imitates Murphy's signature chuckle], and I was like, 'I did it!'"

14. "I'm a comedian, so it's not hard to see when someone is really gifted," Murphy also said on Inside the Actor's Studio, in 2006. "...same with Chris Rock, the same thing, I met him in the comedy clubs, it was like, 'heyyyy. That one!'"

15. Rock earned $600 for his first credited movie appearance, his scene-stealing turn as "Valet Parker" in 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II. "Yo, yo, yo, what the f--k is up, man, check this out: I get $10 for cars, I get $20 for limos—what the hell is this?" he inquires when Murphy's Axel Foley rolls up to the Playboy Mansion in a cement truck. "My truck. Here's $50, put it next to a limo."

16. His turn as a one-rib-craving customer in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka led to his first appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, which caught the attention of Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.

17. Rock spent three unremarkable-for-him seasons on SNL, from 1990 to 1993, and has had many laughs about it in hindsight.

18. In March 2019, he joined longtime friend Adam Sandler, who was hosting that night, to joke about how they were both fired. "I was fired by NBC," Rock sang. "I went on In Living Color, three weeks later they took it off TV."  

19. Rock has hosted SNL twice, in 1996 and 2014, and had a dozen cameos, including when Dave Chappelle hosted the first episode after the 2016 election and in December 2019, when Eddie Murphy hosted for the first time ever since leaving the cast in 1984.

20. Rock has pinpointed the lowest point of his career as the night, about a year after he left SNL, when his opening act—up-and-comer Martin Lawrence—stole the show out from under him in Chicago. "When I got there I realized it wasn't a fight, it was people laughing so hard that the building was shaking," he recalled to Judd Apatow for Vanity Fair in 2012. "People were crying, standing, stomping their feet—screaming laughter. I was terrified. It was like watching somebody f--king your wife with a bigger dick." But it also prompted Rock to really buckle down and hone his craft.

21. Rock's HBO special debut, Big Ass Jokes, premiered as an HBO Comedy Half-Hour in 1994 and won a CableACE Award in 1995, back when original cable programming had its own awards. (They were last handed out in 1997.)

22. He married Malaak Compton on Nov. 26, 1996.

23. Originally from Oakland, Calif., and a publicist for UNICEF when she met her husband, Malaak in 1999 founded the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Styleworks, which provides makeovers for women getting off of public assistance and transitioning back into the workforce.

24. Daughter Lola Simone Rock was born June 28, 2002, and daughter Zahra Savannah Rock was born May 22, 2004. Before Lola was born, Rock told Winfrey that in all honesty he'd like to have a girl. "I think I'd be too hard on a boy," he said.

25. He told Oprah he wanted to name his first daughter Holiday, inspired by the Madonna song, while Malaak was leaning toward more traditional names. He did at least get a song title in the end.

26. Rock's first Emmy nomination came in 1997 as a member of the writing team on Bill Maher's late-night ABC talk show Politically Incorrect.

27. He won his first two Emmys for his 1996 HBO special, Chris Rock: Bring the Pain, Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special and Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program.

28. 2004's Chris Rock: Never Scared was nominated for two Emmys and contains his classic "marriage ain't for you" bit.

29. Overall, he's been nominated for 19 Emmys and won four, including writing honors for his HBO series The Chris Rock Show, a mash-up of comedy and political, social and cultural commentary, which ran between 1997 and 2000, and his 2008 special Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger.

30. When he won his Emmy for The Chris Rock Show in 1999, he insisted onstage, "Conan has the best show, really. I do 13 shows a year, he does 100...so, Conan, you should've gotten it, but I'm gonna take it." Conan O'Brien, sitting there in the audience, may have agreed.

31. Rock described his style to Oprah in 2002 as "half rapper, half preacher. My grandfather was a preacher, and when I'm talking to an audience, I am doing the same thing he did—giving people a new perspective on their lives."

32. However, he told GQ in 2017, still invoking the preacher comparison, "Comedians have a harder gig. It's hard to bomb as a preacher—people definitely wait until the end and go, 'That guy was boring.' And there's a book. I wish there was a book of comedy I could refer to."

33. Rock is also a three-time Grammy winner, Best Spoken Comedy Album in 1998 and 2000 for Roll With the New and Bigger and Blacker, and Best Comedy Album for Never Scared in 2006. His 2019 special Tambourine lost to pal Dave Chappelle's Equanimity & The Bird Revelation

34. He made his feature directing debut with 2003's Head of State, starring as well as a plain-spoken Washington D.C. alderman who becomes an emergency presidential candidate after his party's candidate and his running-mate are killed in a plane crash.

35. He was moved to make the 2009 documentary Good Hair, about the significance of women's hair in black culture, the challenges of styling it, and the people who do "good hair," when his daughter—"this girl who I tell is beautiful constantly"told him one day that she didn't like her hair. 

It was Rock's first movie to ever screen in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, and it was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2009 Gotham Independent Film Awards that fall, as well as for Documentary Screenplay at the 2010 WGA Awards.

36. Rock first met Sandler on the club circuit in the 1980s, long before they ended up on SNL together. 

"I remember Rock, the first time I saw him, he came in and I remember going, 'I thought I was going to be the handsome kid around here,'" Sandler joked to NBC's Dateline in 2010. "And then I was like, 'All right, I'll be the kind of goofy kid.' I'll let him be handsome."

37. Rock and Sandler have been in seven movies together, including Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, the Ocean's franchise of let's-get-the-band-back-together goofball humor featuring reuniting SNL stars Rock Sandler, David Spade and Rob Schneider, plus Kevin James.

"Rock is one of the funniest guys I've ever seen in my life, with just summing up something and having a different slant on it," Sandler told Collider in 2010. "You're just like, 'That is amazingly accurate and I can't believe I've never said that out loud. I never even thought that.' He makes you think straight. His comedy's just genius."

38. Sandler showed his appreciation for all of his co-stars in car form. "I went outside the other day and I had a new Maserati in the driveway," Rock revealed on The Howard Stern Show. "Now I think that I'm Adam Sandler's bitch."

39. Having just moved into a nice suburban New Jersey home next door to a doctor ("that's not too rich"), Rock told Oprah in 2002 that his goal was to always live below his means and have extra money so that he wouldn't have to do anything just for the paycheck. 

He didn't veer from the course, telling Esquire in 2015, "I can turn down certain movies or I could go and make a documentary about hair if I wanted to, because my living costs aren't that high. If I had 10 cars and a fifty thousand square foot house I probably couldn't make an indie film like Top Five."

40. A prolific writer-producer, Rock has directed three films: Head of StateI Think I Love My Wife and Top Five, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was the best-reviewed of the bunch.

He told the New Yorker he wrote the script while shooting Grown Ups 2. "I'm No. 3 on the call sheet: Sandler, Kevin James, and me. I might even have been four. Which means I had so many days of."

41. In 2014, Rock filed for divorce, with a source telling E! News that he and Malaak had been "living separate lives for some time."

42. "I was a piece of s--t," he admitted to Rolling Stone a few years later, talking about the breakdown of his 19-year relationship, revealing that he cheated on his wife with three other women.

43. A custody battle ensued, but eventually all was settled and amicable co-parenting took the place of animosity. "We live in a world where men are assumed to not have feelings," Rock told Rolling Stone. "All my friends assume I moved into the city after my divorce, away from my girls. When I say I bought a house around the corner, it blows their minds."

44. Rock was nominated for an Emmy for direction for 2015's Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo, his first time directing another comic's stand-up special.

45. Rock was tasked with hosting the 2016 Oscars after the first time #OscarsSoWhite went viral and some stars, such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee, said they wouldn't be attending in protest of the lack of diversity among that year's nominees. 

"I'm here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People's Choice Awards," he opened the show, and then proceeded to keep the flame turned up high. "If they nominated host," he continued, "I wouldn't even get this job! You'd all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now."

46. Rock is a longtime fan of Barack Obama (here meeting him at the Apollo Theater in 2007) and ended up on the VIP guest list for the president and first lady's celeb-packed going-away party at the White House in 2016.

"It's like I died and went to black heaven," Rock told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in May 2017. "There were a couple of white people...there's a lot more now, I'll tell you that. A lot more now."

47. He supported Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, but he had his concerns. "I mean, I would love to see Hillary, but there's a part of Hillary that's like the Democratic McCain at this point," Rock, who had some of the most nuanced things to say about Obama's presidency and race relations in the U.S. that you could ever hope to hear, told Vulture in 2014. "As [McCain] showed, 'It's my time' is not really enough. But you know, I'm absolutely ready for a woman president. I'm ready for a woman nighttime-talk-show host, to tell you the truth. I wonder which will be first."

48. Rock also told Vulture in 2014 that he had stopped playing college campuses because the audiences had become too "conservative" (Jerry Seinfeld has said as much, meaning too politically correct). Asked what he meant, Rock said, "Not in their political views—not like they're voting Republican—but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of 'We're not going to keep score in the game because we don't want anybody to lose.' Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can't say 'the black kid over there.' No, it's 'the guy with the red shoes.' You can't even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive."

49. Rock started dating actress Megalyn Echikunwoke in 2016.

50. In his first stand-up special in 10 years and first ever for Netflix, 2018's Chris Rock: Tamborine, he got real about the fallout from being unfaithful to his wife.

"It's f--ked up," he explained. "When guys cheat, it's like we want something new. But then you know what happens? Your woman finds out, and now she's new. She is never the same again. So, now you have new, but you have a bad new."

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Also being published this fall is My First Black Boyfriend, a compilation of Rock's essays about race and relationships, his first book since 1997's Rock This!

But while the wisdom has compounded, did we mention that he's not visibly aging?