Tony Rock’s name is synonymous with comedy. In fact, the Rock family name represents a small chunk of black comedy; two of his brothers, Chris Rock and Jordan Rock, also have the kind of humor that’s made them famous. And while they all chose the same career, each of their brands of comedy is different, but they constantly support one another’s journeys through this brutal industry.
Tony has solidified himself as a host with the most, and he’s now the host of two shows: All Def Comedy (created by Russell Simmons) and Black Card Revoked. HBO’s All Def Comedy is a six-episode stand-up series that premiered this month featuring hot, new and not-so-new comics for the world to marvel and laugh at ... or with. It’s been reported that since being confronted with sexual assault allegations, Simmons* has stepped down from his executive-producer role.
Of course, I asked Tony all about these new shows, but with the climate of our world right now, I’d have been remiss if I didn’t ask him about sexual assault and where comedy fit in with that discussion; but also, if he had to revoke a black card, whose would he take? Spoiler alert: It was Omarosa’s nonexistent card.
The Root: How would you define comedy?
Tony Rock: Comedy—my brand of comedy is a conversation with Tony Rock. Comedy is a humorous dialogue on the human spirit. We’ve having a conversation. The human spirit is everything—it’s where we are as black people; how we act; what makes people hurt, happy, cry or laugh; what brings them joy.
TR: Can you talk about the impact of Def Comedy Jam and what it’s done for comedy?
Rock: You look at how many of them had lasting careers. They started at Def Jam and then went on to have TV shows. Some of the biggest black entertainers in history started at Def Jam: Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, Steve Harvey, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac—Def Jam was a platform, a leaping point for them in their career.
TR: And what are you hoping to do with the new show, All Def Comedy?
Rock: What we’re doing for All Def is trying to re-create that same energy, that same platform where you see someone on All Def and that will be your favorite comic for the next 10-20 years. That’s what Def Jam did.
I went from watching the show, wishing I could be on it, to attending in the audience, thinking it was amazing, to doing All Star Def Comedy Jam, to thinking it’s amazing, to the ring leader of the greatest urban comedy showcase in the world.
TR: How are you going to take this on?
Rock: I’ve been prepping my whole life for this. When I started doing comedy, a huge inspiration was Def Comedy Jam. It was always in the back of my mind, and if I ever got the opportunity, I would hop at it. Martin Lawrence was the greatest Def Jam host ever. There will never be another Martin Lawrence, but I think I have some uniqueness and a skill set that is different that will be appreciated when you watch it.
TR: Sensitivities have changed so much in comedy. As a comedian, how do you keep going and creating jokes based on limitations?
Rock: Speaking for myself, I refuse to censor myself, make apologies for a joke or be cautious of things I say when in a comedy-club setting. I believe there should be a note on the door when you walk in comedy clubs or theaters that says: “Walking through these doors, you may hear something that will offend your sensibilities as far as your race, your religion, your sexual orientation, your ethnicity, your financial status, your political views, but you take that responsibility walking through these doors. If you don’t want to hear something that’s going to offend one of those things, don’t come in.”
You need to be prepared. Everything is under the guise of humor. If you agree with it or don’t agree with it, it’s under the umbrella of my comedic interpretation of this topic.
It’s like they’re pushing us further away from being able to speak freely. Once the comedy club isn’t a sacred place to talk freely, we’re done.
TR: Comedians are unapologetic. Our entire world right now opens itself up to so many possibilities, but people get very upset about stickier topics. Is there room in your stand-up for commentary around sexual assault?
Rock: I’ve always known that the comics I like are the smarter guys. Smart comics are always the funniest. You look across the board, the smarter guys are doing more high-brow stuff, thought-provoking stuff. They’re more creative because they’re smart.
I’m not going to shy away from something topical because people are offended. I have to write about a topic. If the world gives me a topic, I’m a news reporter. So, then, with the climate of sexual assault, harassment and all that, I’m gonna have material on it. Right now, I’m just being careful with the direction I go in. It has to be done [with] tact. The best comics make you laugh, think, cry; they touch your funny bone, your brain; they just touch your soul.
TR: When you’re fearless enough to touch on any topic—do you ever think about who’s laughing?
Rock: No. When you come in a comedy club, it’s really not black, white, Spanish or Asian. It’s people. I write jokes to make people laugh. I can’t be responsible for ... “OK, this guy interpreted it this way and he’s laughing, and this black guy interpreted it this way and he’s laughing.”
If that white guy laughs and goes back to his co-workers to tell the joke—niggas, slaves, whatever—good for you, man. Every joke gets interpreted in a different way. Let’s not be too politically correct and too fearful of what you’re laughing at and too concerned with how he interprets it and what he’s thinking when he’s laughing.
Let’s just tell a joke and let people laugh. It’s just a joke! I’m not shying away from my blackness in making a white guy laugh. I’m not forgetting where my parents came from by using the n-word. I’m not turning my back on civil rights by saying “bitch.” Let’s not be so serious.
TR: Do you think we could get back to jokes just being jokes? Or do we need to have those stay-woke moments?
Rock: Everything is progressive. To get back means to go back to something we grew past. I hope we can get back to the appreciation. I hope we can come around to just appreciating the purity of the art form again. I can’t play an instrument. I can’t sing. I can’t produce music, but I am Beethoven. I am Bach. I am Edgar Allan Poe with these fucking jokes.
TR: Would you ever consider taking a black card from someone?
Rock: I take them all the time in my mind. I see stuff all the time! Who would I take a black card from? That’s a good question. Here’s the part where I get in trouble. I would take a black card from ... I would say LaVar Ball, but I appreciate a father bigging up his son up like that. I get it. By all means, praise your child, but calm the fuck down and let him play basketball. He’s the only father I can think of who gets interviewed after the game. They didn’t interview Magic Johnson’s father after the games, and he was Magic fucking Johnson! Since there’s not a lot of fathers in the NBA, the fact that he’s still there is dope. Let’s see how this turns out.
Whose black card will I take? Omarosa. Stacey Dash. People that seem like they’re not even trying to have a black card.
A musician always has that trump card—that ace up his sleeve. R. Kelly pissed on a girl and then dropped an album and we were like: “Man, you know what? Maybe he had to go to the bathroom really bad.” Not me. I haven’t given him a pass, but people are like, “You know what ... them girls are fast.”
TR: Who are the comedians that Tony Rock is watching?
Rock: My favorite comedian is on the show. He goes by the name Jordan Rock. He’s my baby brother. I am super excited the world gets to see him. It was amazing bringing him to the stage.
All Def Comedy airs on HBO on Fridays at 10 p.m., and Black Card Revoked premieres on Jan. 10, 2018, on BET.
* I am very sad that I interviewed Tony Rock way before the allegations against Russell Simmons surfaced. I definitely would have asked him about the show he hosts having a problematic creator.