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Chris Rock’s first Emmy — or make that Emmys, as he won two for this particular project — came in 1997, when he won outstanding variety, music or comedy special and outstanding writing for a variety or music program for his 1996 HBO comedy special, Chris Rock: Bring the Pain. The set, taped during a national tour at the Takoma Theatre in Washington, D.C., came from material polished to a fine sheen over two years on the club circuit.
Rock already was famous thanks to his run on Saturday Night Live from 1990 to 1993. But Bring the Pain brought him to another level: that of comedy superstar. Among the topics covered in the 58-minute special were the O.J. Simpson trial (“Black people too happy, white people too mad”), then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (“He smoked crack and got his job back!”) and a controversial 12-minute monologue known as “N—s vs. Black People.” (Rock has never repeated that bit, telling 60 Minutes in 2005 that it encourages use of the N-word.) Rock told The Hollywood Reporter on that Emmy night, “My dad said to always assume that life is going to be shit; that way you’re happy if it goes well.” He also noted that it was “nice to see that somebody respects stand-up comedy. I feel like I won this for all the stand-ups.”
His hot streak continued into the next year, when his comedy album Roll With the New — which combined Bring the Pain material with sketches — won the 1998 Grammy Award for best spoken comedy album. All of that led to HBO offering Rock his own talk show, The Chris Rock Show, which ran on Friday nights from 1997 to 2000 (and earned Rock a second writing Emmy in 1999). It also gave Rock’s acting career a big boost — he graduated from bit parts in movies like the 1992 Eddie Murphy comedy Boomerang to above-the-title billing in 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4.
This year, Rock is in the Emmy mix for his work on season four of FX’s Fargo. He plays Loy Cannon, the leader of an African American crime syndicate in 1950 Missouri who’s also trying to get a new business idea off the ground: the credit card.
This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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