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Climate may change and the balance of political power may shift, but if there’s any one constant that we can all depend on, it’s that Chris Rock is hilarious. Initially cutting his teeth on stand-up and then landing a gig on SNL, it wasn’t long before we started getting Chris Rock movies because honestly, his talent is too strong to just confine himself to the small screen.
That said, like another Rock who became a movie star but still occasionally goes back to his roots in the wrestling ring, Chris Rock still occasionally jumps back and forth between doing major films and also the brand of stand-up comedy that made him legendary, like his last stand-up special, Tamborine, on Netflix. He’s also lent his talents to directing, producing, and even starring in stage plays. But this list is all about his roles in front of the camera. So what’s the famed comedian’s best performances? Well, you’re about to find out.
10. SNL (Nat X)
Sure, Chris Rock may be best known for his SNL monologues, but we can’t forget that Chris Rock was also considered one of the “Bad Boys of SNL” back in the early ‘90s alongside other famous SNL castmates like Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Farley. And while some may prefer Chris Rock’s Onski character, I’ve always personally been a Nat X fan myself. I don’t know, maybe I just love to walk on The Dark Side.
With his massive afro, his fist raised high, and his 15-minute segments (which weren’t even 15 minutes long, but whatever) Nat X always spoke the truth and got laughs in the process. Rock’s loud delivery punctuated every comment he had on “the man”, and his comedy, which should seem dated, still somehow feels a little ahead of his time. Step back, cause here comes Nat!
9. Madagascar (Marty)
Chris Rock once famously joked that voice acting is “the easiest job in the world”. And while I’m not sure how serious he was actually being, it’s pretty funny to me that out of all the great characters on this list, the one that my children will instantly recognize and love is Marty the zebra from the Madagascar series.
What’s Marty like? Well, he’s pretty much just Chris Rock as a zebra. And you what? That’s just fine. Because even though the Madagascar series is already jam-packed with silly voices and characters, Chris Rock’s is still the one that stands out the most. And this is from a series that features a partying lemur voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen, so that’s saying something.
8. Head Of State (Mays Gilliam)
Long before Barack Obama became the POTUS, Chris Rock wrote, directed, and starred in this movie about the first Black President. And while it may not be the funniest movie you will ever see, it is one of the most earnest in Chris Rock’s career. It’s also incredibly forward-thinking.
The film, which also starred Bernie Mac as the Vice-President, is definitely a Bush era comedy (there’s even a maybe too soon joke about Osama Bin Laden), but what I love most about this performance is Chris Rock’s character’s reluctance to become the President because he feels he would be representing the entire Black community and doesn’t want to let them down. And I’m sure Obama had this running through his own mind when he ran and eventually became the President. It’s a pretty sweet film if you watch it with an early 2000s mindset.
7. Pootie Tang (JB/Radio DJ/Daddy Tang)
Some context: Pootie Tang was actually a character who debuted on Chris Rock’s HBO series, The Chris Rock Show. And while Chris Rock doesn’t play Pootie Tang (that would be Lance Crouther), he does pull an Eddie Murphy in that he has multiple roles in the movie, my favorite probably being Daddy Tang, who’s so fast with his belt that Pootie had no choice but to fall in line.
Pootie Tang is just a weird ass movie, and it’s hilarious to see Rock one minute complaining about how hot it is as JB (who’s pretty much just Chris Rock), and then the next minute wearing some silly glasses and introducing Pooty Tang’s latest single, “…”, which is so good, it doesn’t even need any words. Pooty done did it again!
6. In Living Color (Cheap Pete)
Chris Rock was so popular on SNL that a lot of people tend to forget that he also had a brief (like, six episodes brief) stint on In Living Color. Still and all, he certainly made his presence known in quite possibly my favorite In Living Color sketch ever with Cheap Pete, whose catchphrase (“Good Lawd! That’s a lot of money!) I still use frequently today.
It’s such a silly, but effective, sketch. Chris Rock’s character would go into a restaurant or store and then ask how much something costs, which would always be way too much money, no matter how cheap it was. Cheap Pete would then ask if he can somehow get some kind of a discount, often trying to substitute the package with some other option as long as it will drop the price in some way. It’s an extremely limited bit, but thankfully, the skits never lasted too long and they always got a lot of mileage out of such a one-joke routine.
5. Never Scared (Self)
As mentioned in the intro, Chris Rock is a bona fide movie star, but he’s probably most comfortable on a stage walking back and forth and holding a microphone. Case in point, his 2004 comedy special, Never Scared, which actually won Chris Rock a Grammy when it was turned into a comedy record.
I always judge stand-up shows by how well the jokes hold up years down the line, and Never Scared is still very effective, even know the topics are a little bit dated. Even so, he does tackle topics like marriage, why drugs will never be legalized in America (I guess he couldn’t foresee Oregon), and the differences between being wealthy and being rich. And while not all of the jokes land, just like George Carlin, even when he’s not being funny, he’s telling the truth. And that right there is why Chris Rock will always be a national treasure. Never scared, indeed.
4. CB4 (Albert Brown/MC Gusto)
Rock music has This Is Spinal Tap, and rap music actually has two great sort of mocumentaries in the movies Fear of a Black Hat and CB4, with the latter being the stronger of the two in my opinion. And that’s because Chris Rock is just hilarious as Albert Brown, aka, MC Gusto, a suburbanite who steals the identity of a hardened criminal so he can form a gangster rap group with his friends.
The film chronicles MC Gusto’s rise and fall, and it actually has a lot to say on music and society in general. Rock is great in the role, and his talent and even rapping skills are undeniable. Yeah, the movie was all a joke, but hot damn, Chris Rock can spit.
3. Dogma (Rufus)
Though Kevin Smith’s filmography varies in quality, one film that most people will agree is at the top of the list is the 1999 film, Dogma, where Chris Rock has a role as the 13th Apostle, Rufus.
Rufus is a great character since you really do get a sense that he feels left out of the Bible, and Chris Rock imbues the role with humor, but also a sort of pathos that you quite frankly don’t get to see in a lot in his characters. I don’t want to be “that guy,” but Dogma is probably Kevin Smith’s last truly great movie, and Chris Rock is a big part of why this movie is so effective, since he certainly stands out in the role.
2. Top Five (Andre Allen)
Don’t call it a comeback. It’s kind of weird, but Top Five really was kind of seen as a comeback of sorts for Chris Rock even though the actor really hasn’t gone anywhere ever since he got into show business. It might be because Top Five is really good, and Chris Rock wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, just like he did with Head of State earlier on this list.
The movie is about a comedian who’s looking back on his career while he’s getting interviewed for a story. It’s a pretty simple premise, but it almost feels biographical, even if it’s not, and Chris Rock has a lot more heart in this film than any other movie I can think of of his. In that way, it’s not just a great comedy, but a great film in general. It would be my favorite Chris Rock performance if not for…
1. Bring The Pain (Self)
Bring the Pain is the quintessential Chris Rock performance, and there’s a good reason why. It’s hard to believe, but at the time (1994), Rock actually thought he was on the way out. So he wanted to do one last really big comedy special to go out on a bang. He practiced his routine for two years doing stand-up, only to deliver one of the most bombastic and scorching stand-up performances of all time.
His most famous bit from the show concerns regular black people and the more hood black people who Rock suggests mess everything up for all other black people. It’s the kind of searing comedy that only a black person (and probably only Chris Rock) could ever get away with, and even after all these years, it still hits hard today. Chris Rock also won two Emmys for this special, which just goes to show that Chris Rock was on top of the world when he did this, and it’s still his biggest and best performance to this day.
Chris Rock is an icon who is still striking it big today with most recently Fargo and the next Saw movie, Spiral, coming next. But what's your favorite Chris Rock performance? Sound off in the comments section below.