Tony Rock mines life for stand-up laughs
Tony Rock comes from a family of big families. His late father was one of 15 kids, and then had eight of his own. Add to that growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, at the height of the crack epidemic, and Rock found himself with endless material to pick from after he became stand-up comic.
His father worked two full-time jobs, and his mother was a schoolteacher in the neighborhood. “So I would get sent to her class instead of the principal’s office when I got in trouble,” says Rock, 41, who still draws on “everything that my brothers are going through with their girlfriends or wives — I steal a little bit of that.”
Some of that family history ended up on four seasons of the TV comedy series “Everybody Hates Chris,” co-created by his older brother, comedian Chris Rock. Tony had a recurring role on the series as Uncle Ryan, who was based on his real Uncle Raymond, “the youngest of my father’s 15 siblings, the uncle that always has a get-rich quick scheme that never worked.”
The younger Rock brother was also a character on the show, a popular 11-year-old named Drew. “It was really cool to see my brother thought I was that cool as a kid,” says Rock, who has no family of his own yet. “No, I’m Uncle Christmas. I’m the uncle that shows up and lets them eat whatever they want to eat and play with sharp objects.”
Real life is the source of much material for Tony Rock, who performs May 13 and 14 at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank. It can be found in his prepared material, but also in his spontaneous interaction with the audience.
The world is always changing, and it doesn’t matter how old you are. At 90 years old, you’ll be saying ‘That’s a great bit.’
— Comedian Tony Rock
“I can make anything in the room funny in a few seconds,” he says. “So I always engage the room because there is always going to be a different show. If I ask a couple sitting in the front row if they’re married, that’s going to take my material in one direction. If they’re dating, it will go in a different direction. If they’re brother and sister, I go in a different direction. Whatever they give me, I can make it funny right there on the spot.”
It wasn’t always so easy. His first experience at the stand-up microphone was more than a decade ago, while hanging around with friends in Harlem. The group of nine happened to pass by a comedy club, and Rock’s friends told the doorman that they would all buy tickets if Rock was allowed to perform. It didn’t go well.
“My first stand-up experience, like most comics, was horrible. I got booed offstage,” he recalls. “I thought I was funnier than I was. But the walk from the back of the room to the stage was the most excited I’d ever been about anything in my life other than kissing a girl. That’s how I knew I had to get back onstage and do it again.”
He’s worked steadily in stand-up for the last dozen years, with occasional roles in TV and movies, and has hosted Apollo Live on BET and Russell Simmons’ “All Def Comedy Live.” Rock splits his time between Silver Lake and Brooklyn, but the comedy stage is home.
“Once you start, you can’t stop,” he says of stand-up. “The world is always changing, and it doesn’t matter how old you are. At 90 years old, you’ll be saying ‘That’s a great bit.’”
In his headline sets, he mixes the personal with riffs on pop culture and politics. This year’s presidential race has been a rich source of comedy.
“You got to talk about Trump. He’s the lightning rod. He’s the elephant in the room. You’ve got to talk about this being the end of Obama’s term,” he says. “Usually when people ask who you are voting for, it’s just to make conversation. This year, they really want an answer. It really says a lot about you.”
Aside from his famous older brother, Rock’s comedy family now has youngest brother Jordan appearing as a regular on the Netflix series “Love,” which was just picked up for second season. Tony is working on a film script he hopes to see produced and dreams of hosting a late-night comedy show, but says he is content to remain telling jokes about real life on the road.
“I’m a skinny kid from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn,” Rock says. “Every day of my life is a dream goal.”
What: Comedian Tony Rock
Where: Flappers Comedy Club, 102 East Magnolia, Burbank.
When: May 13 and 14, shows 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
More info: (818) 845-9721, flapperscomedy.com
Steve Appleford, email@example.com