Everybody may have loved Raymond, but a lot of people hated Chris Rock as a child, at least in Rock’s own view.
The comedian’s childhood fuels “Everybody Hates Chris,” the new UPN sitcom that Rock narrates and helps produce. It premieres Thursday, recalling the young Rock of the early 1980s (as portrayed by Tyler James Williams). Newly relocated with his family to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y., he faces numerous household and school challenges.
His days start with a long bus trek, since his forceful mother (Tichina Arnold) insists that he attend a good school. His quick wit helps him survive bullies who lie in wait for him, and he even makes some pals along the way. At home, while his father (Terry Crews) and mother are occupied with work, Chris serves as an “emergency adult” for his siblings (Tequan Richmond, Imani Hakim).
It may not have been the life Rock envisioned for himself at the time, but it certainly helped shape his comedy. He reflects, “I grew up in a very loving two-parent household in the middle of one of the worst ghettos in New York City. I was bused to school, but I had so much love in my house, it’s really weird. I didn’t know I lived in the ghetto until I was, like, 19 or 20. I came to L.A. with Eddie Murphy and stayed at hotels and all this stuff. When I got back and saw what my neighborhood looked like, I started getting scared.”
Key to getting “Everybody Hates Chris” off the ground was choosing the person to play young Rock. “Tyler was the funniest kid we could find,” Rock says. “He’s the funniest kid in the country, really. Trust me, there’s a lot of unfunny kids out there that need to work on their comedy. [Williams is] really professional, and the camera likes him. He’s a cute kid.”
The 12-year-old Williams, a veteran of “Sesame Street” and the animated “Little Bill,” says it isn’t difficult portraying the famous comedian. “It’s basically just being yourself,” he says. “When I first read the script, I connected with the character. I didn’t really have to study up on anything.”
Don’t expect to see Rock himself appear on “Everybody Hates Chris” -- at least not anytime soon. Co-creator Ali LeRoi says Rock would be “a distraction on camera, in a very real way. This is about his life, and he’ll be very present in terms of voice ... but in order for people to get to know this cast, he can’t be standing there. The majority of attention will go to the famous guy if he’s there, so for this to work, it really has to be people who are more or less equal in terms of recognition.”