Chris Rock can’t joke about Barack Obama

Chris Rock walking in Beverly Hills rehearsing with an iPod

Chris Rock talked to CNN about his upcoming release of Kill the Messenger, a DVD of three of Rock’s stand-up shows in Africa. Of course, the conversation turned very quickly to president-elect Barack Obama, race and racism. Rock claims that Obama is a very difficult man to make jokes about. Judging from what I’ve seen of other comedians, this seems to be true. Obama is a very self-aware politician, fully versed in the modern ironic sense of humor. As such, there’s very little material. Well, nothing along the lines of George Allen’s “macaca” incident, or Larry Craig’s public bathroom incident, or Nancy Pelosi’s blinking fetish habit. God save the comedians.

Chris Rock is best known for two things: being funny and being crass.

“This is what people come to see. I’m just doing my show,” the comedian said with a laugh. He’s also known for his political commentary, but there’s one person he’s having a lot of trouble making fun of — president-elect Barack Obama.

This is apparent in his new DVD “Kill the Messenger,” which combines three shows from his international tour: New York; London, England; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It was a tour nobody wanted to do… because the general perception is that comedy doesn’t translate,” Rock said. But thanks to the Internet, the world is a lot smaller than it was even 10 years ago. And people are digging the same jokes, he said, including ones about John McCain and Sarah Palin.

As the DVD readies for release on January 20, CNN talked with Chris Rock about his lack of Obama jokes, Inauguration Day and why racism will never die. The following is an edited version of that interview:

CNN: I watched the special last night, and I noticed that you did a lot of jokes about John McCain — his age, his war hero story — but not so many about Barack Obama. Is it harder to make fun of Obama?
Chris Rock: He’s just one of those guys, you know, like Will Smith. There’s no Will Smith jokes. There’s no Brad Pitt jokes. You know, what are you going to say? “Ooh, you used to have sex with Jennifer Aniston. Now you have sex with Angelina Jolie. You’re such a loser.” What do you say? “Ooh, your movies are big. You make $20 million.” There’s nothing to say about Brad Pitt.

CNN: Why is Barack Obama like that?
Rock: It’s like “Ooh, you’re young and virile and you’ve got a beautiful wife and kids. You’re the first African-American president.” You know, what do you say?

CNN: As time goes on do you think it will get easier?
Rock: It’s like “Ooh, you’re young and virile and you’ve got a beautiful wife and kids. You’re the first African-American president.” You know, what do you say?

CNN: As time goes on do you think it will get easier?
Rock: Of course, as time goes on. At some point he’s going to — there’s always slip-ups. No one can survive that level of scrutiny without occasionally making it easy for a comedian.

CNN: Let’s talk about the inauguration. Are you going?
Rock: No, I have to go to Sundance [Film Festival]. I’ve got a movie premiering at Sundance. So I have to go to the whitest place in America — Utah.

CNN: What’s it going to be like for you on Inauguration Day?
It’ll be a cool day. It’s weird. I’ve never watched an inauguration. I’ve never watched anyone get sworn in. You know, it’s like Election Day and then you look up and somebody else is the president two months later. It was never like, “I can’t wait till tomorrow. Oh my god! They’re going to swear in Jimmy Carter!”

CNN: Are you going to watch this one, though?
Rock: I’ll put it this way — like any business is going to be getting done while this guy is getting sworn in. Like I’m going to be in a meeting. Everything is going to stop for however long it takes. Hope they get to it — hope it’s not like I gotta listen to three different versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or something. I hope it’s not like Rosa Parks’ funeral, where everybody f***ing speaks.

CNN: What are you hoping Barack Obama does for this country? What do you think is his most important task?
Rock: You know, if you’re the president you only have two jobs: peace and money. That’s it. I mean, it’s like, what did Clinton do? We were at peace and we had a budget surplus. That’s it. That’s the gig. The closer you get us to those two goals, you know, that’s pretty much the gig. Is that too much to ask for?

CNN: At one point in your act, you said, “Racism will never die. It will only multiply.” Why do you believe that?
Rock: Well, it’s never going to die. Maybe it won’t multiply. Is racism going to end? No.
It’s not even race. People are always going to, you know, find something wrong with people who are not the exact same as them. That’s just what it is. Black, white, short, tall, religions, whatever. People are bad, man.

CNN: How was it different playing for an audience in Africa?
Rock: You know it’s weird — it really wasn’t that different. I mean, that’s why I love this special. People are the same wherever you go. And if they weren’t, they wouldn’t laugh at the same s**t. If they were so different they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

From CNN

I liked the bit about Brad Pitt, but apparently Chris Rock has never gone online to see what jokes people actually joke make about Brad Pitt. Something about ZOMG homewrecking, I can’t remember. And I laughed out loud at Rock’s statement that he hopes the inauguration isn’t like Rosa Parks’ funeral. That funeral was a total disaster – it got way too political, and it seemed like every politician who had ever met an African-American person wanted to get up and pontificate for an hour. I really think that comedians are going to have an easier time than they realize with the incoming Obama administration. They’ll have all of the people who either obsessively love or hate Obama to make fun of. Plus, there’s Vice President Joe Biden.

Here’s Chris Rock walking in Beverly Hills rehearsing with an iPod on 01/13/2009. Images thanks to Splash.

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18 Responses to “Chris Rock can’t joke about Barack Obama”

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  1. The Mayor says:

    Q. Why is Barack Obama so thin and scrawny?
    A. If he were any heavier he wouldn’t be able to walk on water.

    Ty, I’ll be here all night…

  2. Ling says:

    I like John Stewart’s:

    During his tour of West Bank, Barack Obama paid a visit to Bethlehem, his place of birth.

  3. NotBlonde says:

    What’s interesting about Obama is that he isn’t particularly funny at all. There is nothing inherently funny about the man. The only jokes people can make about him are about stuff other people have attributed to him i.e. The Messiah thing that his critics tacked on during the election. And those jokes are really only funny because people know it isn’t true…it’s more or less like making fun of the people who think it’s true.

    I remember Seth Meyers talking about it on the View. He was saying that it was hard to make fun of Obama, even though they had a few skits, because he’s boring and doesn’t do anything funny. Joe Biden, on the other hand, is hilarious.

  4. geronimo says:

    I have no idea if Obama is funny or not but after 8 years of laughing hollowly and grimly at Bush, I’m sure most American’s will be happy to cope with an intelligent, capable president who provides them with something to look forward to rather than laugh at. Providing comedy is probably not up there on his list of priorities.

    From what I’ve heard and read of him, he seems to have an easy and ready wit.

  5. MSat says:

    Chris Rock has said that his biggest influence was the late great George Carlin. George would be mightily disappointed in Rock right now – he believed you could joke about anything.

  6. lrm says:

    Obama doesn’t have to be ‘inherently funny’ to be made fun of. MADE FUN OF. that is what makes it a joke. Humor may not be on Obama’s list of priorities,but it is on the top of most comediens’ list of priorities…What Obama’s priorities are….they are bound to provide some fodder for a comedien sooner or later.
    Enjoyed the OP;comments,not so much.
    OH and the messiah thing-it’s funny how noone thinks he/she is the one who is acting like Obama is the Chosen One. It’s not literal,people,it has more to do with how zealously you defend a man who has yet to actually do anything as president. It’s a whole group consciousness/collective thing,people! As a whole,there is an image of him that remains rather Messiah like—can do no wrong,will create change,etc. And if you are into Obama,you cannot escape that you are part of the collective energy that has created that image.

  7. kit says:

    Rock’s a coward. He’s afraid his people will turn on him. He could come up with plenty of material, but he doesn’t have the balls.

  8. girl says:

    There is ALWAYS something you can make fun of someone about. Always. Doesn’t have a lot to do with whether or not you like the guy.

    I would think these creative minds would want to dive into such a creative challenge. I think that it is a challenge largely because any criticism, legitimate or not, of Obama is many times labeled as racism or small-mindedness.

    Come on, they can’t even come up with jokes about how cool he is? I find that hard to believe.

  9. Jane says:

    ZOMG. That phrase is beyond annoying.

  10. Gracie says:

    Pfft. Anyone in the public eye will make mistakes. 57 states anyone? My Muslim faith?

    Give him time. Heck, all I would need is about 1 day in the spotlight, and I could be the laughingstock of the nation.

    Rock’s a coward.

  11. anastasiabeaverhausen says:

    Part of my income is derived from writing, and the writing I do has to be entertaining, funny. So I can tell you from hard-won experience that there are people and topics that are funnier than others. There are people who are SUPER easy to cut up (hello, George Bush!) and there are people who are extremely difficult to cut up (Obama is a great example) and everything in between. It’s a spectrum. Some people are just funnier/easier to make jokes about than others.

    Not only that, but Obama is pretty self-deprecating anyway. At that roast right before the election, he said his real middle name was Steve, he was worried about the rumors that he had fathered two black children, and he admitted he was actually from Krypton. Oh and he made fun of his ears.

    What are you going to do with someone like that? He’s already taken all the decent jokes about him.

    It’s not that he’s PERFECT (for our little Obama haters in the thread) and it’s not that he has a cult (where is the eye-rolling thingie?), it’s just that some people really are easier to poke fun at than others. As the OP said, even Joe Biden is pretty easy to cut up. But Obama? I’d be sunk if I had to write hilarious material about him.

  12. Rosanna says:

    Girl I think you’re right. Making fun of a minority person might mean accusations of racism, which can damage Rock’s career. That’s why Obama is hard to tease even when there is material. But it happens with all minorities not just him.

  13. c says:

    Rock’s a coward? Please, his whole “what’s the difference between blacks and niggers?” routine could have had him shot. yootoob has the clips from that show.

  14. Mandy says:

    I’m not an Obama worshipper (I only voted for him because Ron Paul wasn’t the Libertarian candidate), but I agree that he’s a difficult target. I mean, we’re looking at a well-educated, successful, handsome man who appears to be a devoted husband and doting father. Unlike Bush, he thinks before he speaks, and as we saw during the debates, he’s pretty unflappable. And it’s hard to ridicule his policies when most Americans have been demanding those very same things for the past 8 years. I honestly doubt that he’ll make many gaffes in office, because he knows that, as our first minority president, he has to live up to some pretty high expectations.

    At least we still have Biden!

  15. Lori says:

    Its weird, this cult of Obama worship. Its like his supporters are zoned-out zombies. Disturbing.

  16. NotBlonde says:

    Lori…quit buying into the myth. There were McCain zombies too. As there are zombies for every celebrity out there, even Z-list ones. There are people who are zombies for causes (PETA).

    Don’t act like Obama supporters were the only ones weirdly in-step with their candidate. PUMA, anyone?

    Beside that, I didn’t mean to say that he, as a man, doesn’t have any wit. I mean to say that unlike George W. Bush with his Bushisms, his father with his clipped way of speaking, and Clinton with his pervy rogue-like manner, Obama has nothing very weird or interesting about him as a man. He’s very…cool. They did a bit on Saturday Night Live actually (it should be on Hulu) where they are making fun of him being cool and they have a jazz song going on behind him and Fred Armisen is sitting on a stool being “cool”. Other than his “coolness”, I don’t see anything that he could be made fun of for.

    And it isn’t because I’m an Obamabot, zombie, sheep or sheeple (God the word is tired). I’m looking at this with a neutral stance and the dude is boring. Which is good for a president, if you ask me. Being level-headed and having a calm demeanor are good.

  17. CB Rawks says:

    @ Lori: Poor little depressed Republican. Never mind, your world is about to dramatically improve, even if you never appreciate it.

  18. Casey says:

    I figured that Chris Rock would have an even harder time whining about the (white) man keeping him down
    (Even though hes rich and successful)

    Now that the man’s not white anymore what’s he gonna have to complain about now?

    Go Find A new career Chris Rock!!

    I agree with the other people who are claiming that he is a coward…

    Nothing to make a joke about when a man who hasnt really done much yet as President has as much publicity and news and praise and worship that he has???
    I know thats not neccessarily making fun of obama but theres a starting point