Chris Rock on Directing Amy Schumer’s ‘Real Deal’ Comedy Special
How did you get involved in the special?
I was just hanging out at the Comedy Cellar in New York. Amy mentioned she was doing a special and I said, “Hey, let me see what you’re working with.” I went and watched her do a set. I had a few comments but I thought she was just hysterical, and she asked me if I wanted to direct the special.
I thought about it for about a day, and actually it excited me. It’s really great to be doing it as long as I’ve been doing it and still get excited about it. We talked a lot about stuff. It’s not like we ever hung out before this. I’m a tad bit older than Ms. Schumer. But I always thought she was funny and had an original take. Let’s put it this way: I thought she had her own voice.
How is your comedy style similar to and different from Amy’s?
I can probably get a little more political than she does in the stand up. She gets very political on the show [‘Inside Amy Schumer’]. Amy and I is such an odd pairing: There’s black and white, man and woman, different generations -- but at the core of it, we’re both comedians and we both love good jokes.
Did you help shape her material?
She had her material. I’m not going to sit here and take credit for any material. What did I do? I did what a director does -- you try to present every possibility. This joke and this joke are 20 minutes apart in the special: What if they were right next to each other? That sort of thing.
One night I gave her a note and she said to me, “Oh, you’re trying to get people to like it in Iowa.” And I was like, “No. I’m talking about two hours outside New York City.” Two hours from where we’re standing is another world. If that’s an old-school sensibility then fine, call me old. I don’t care. These are my concerns -- for more people to get the jokes.
Amy mentioned that you helped choose the venue…
Here’s what I would say: They call it a HBO special. It’s not a HBO normal or HBO mundane. As director, I put all the options out there. It wasn’t like I chose the Apollo, per say. I just said to her, “If we were the MTV Awards or the Grammys, where would we be? New York, LA, maybe Miami. Where are you going to get the bang for your buck? What sounds cool? What sounds like an event?” ‘Amy Schumer at the Apollo’ sounds like an event.
The Apollo is just one of those places. There’s the rich history of the greatest black acts ever: James Brown, Sam Cooke, and Jackson 5. But also, in the last 20, 30 years, it’s kind of this place where people want to make a statement. I’ve seen Metallica, Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello at the Apollo. I’ve shot two of my specials and a movie there. It looks great on camera. It is a great comedy room. No disrespect to any other rooms but you know, the Apollo! She picked it -- everything is her choice.
Did you curate the home video montage that begins the special?
I asked for and watched a bunch of Amy stuff. From that to who she is now seemed like a journey. And it seemed very sincere. I thought it should start and end in a very sincere place.
Why the focus on sincerity?
Amy’s real. She just is. She’s not all show business-y and comedian-y. Her greatest attribute is how normal she is.
Did you have a favorite joke or bit from the special?
I liked the whole hunk about having sex with a friend. In comedy, I like any sex that doesn’t turn out great. This bit is very vulnerable. It’s not the typical woman-talking-about-a-bad-sex-experience: “He only lasted two minutes, and he was small,” or whatever. Both people are culpable in the crime. The best bits are bits where people learn about you -- and you learn a little bit about Amy in that bit. She’s really putting herself out there. How do you not fall in love with that?
What is the key to a really great stand-up special?
You need a truly great stand-up comedian, which at any given time there’s probably like 12 on earth. And by the way, people go in and out -- I would say that I’m not even in it right now.
Every now and then HBO gets it right and catches a person at the height of their super powers. The material is great, and people want to hear it -- sometimes people get a special and nobody wants to hear them. You want a nice venue and someone who is really confident and takes it serious. You want rock and roll. Rock and roll standups -- and Amy is one -- are as exciting with a mic as somebody else is with a whole band. That’s the mark.
Amy was as good as anybody who’s at the Apollo this year. She’s that good. She’s the real the deal. She writes; she produces; she directs; she knows what she wants -- and she knows how to get what she wants and make people feel good at the same time. A lot of people think you have to put people down to get what you want, and you don’t.
What stand-ups are you excited about right now?
Amy excites me. Louie [CK], Bill Burr, Hannibal [Buress], and my brother Tony Rock. I was talking to [Jerry] Seinfeld the other day and was like, “I think we’re in the Golden Age of stand-up.” I think we have more really great-stand ups than we’ve had in 30 or 40 years.
What’s next for you?
Honestly, I literally have no clue. I’ll figure it out at some point. Right now, I’m taking my kids to school; that’s kind of my job. If somebody calls me with a great opportunity, I’ll do it. I broke it up for Amy. No disrespect to anyone else, but there’s not a lot of people that funny. I can’t wait for people to see this special. I’m very proud to have my name on it.