Chris Rock: Everything I’ve Become, Eddie Murphy Told Me I Was Gonna Be
Pssst, comedy nerds. If you like behind-the-scenes comic scuttlebutt as much as you enjoy actual stand-up, then the new Netflix documentary, Kevin Hart & Chris Rock: Headliners Only, was made just for you. Okay, if we’re being honest, it was also made for (and by) Kevin Hart and Chris Rock, a bit of self-mythology that serves their interests as much as fans’ curiosities. Is that a problem? Not in my book. The doc is full of great stories — like the time Eddie Murphy picked an unknown Chris Rock for a part in one of his most successful comedies.
Flashback to teen-age Rock trying to get stage time in the clubs. Despite some early success, “it wasn’t a done deal that I was going to be anything,” Rock told Hart. “But Eddie saw something in me that I didn’t even know.”
In archival footage of an interview with an impossibly adolescent Rock, an interviewer asks the young comic what happened with Murphy on that first night. “The guy at the club, the owner introduced me to him,” says Young Rock. “(Eddie) says to me, ‘When are you going up?’ And I was the last guy on the totem pole. I wasn't even going up that night. I said, ‘I’m not up.’ He said, ‘Put him on next.’”
In fact, Rock was only hanging out in the club that night on the off chance that a more established comic wouldn’t show up, according to Rock’s brother Tony. “He's not even on the lineup,” says Tony. “Eddie comes in with the entourage and gloves with the rings over the fingers, which is the weirdest shit I ever saw, and my brother begs the manager to put him up that night because Eddie's here. He wants Eddie to see his set.”
Young Rock did the set. He tells the interviewer that, despite being “real scared” with shaking knees, his set went well.
“And Eddie sees him, sees this young Black kid that was on the same stage where he started, and now Eddie has questions,” remembers Tony. “‘What are you doing? Who are you working with? Are you working on anything? Are you going out?’”
Young Rock confessed that he didn’t have a lot planned — just working as hard as he could to get stage time. That’s when Murphy offered that he might have a film role for Rock.
The movie was Beverly Hills Cop 2. The role was small, but for a kid who couldn’t get a regular spot in a comedy club lineup, it might as well have been the lead.
“He comes running in the house about 2 o'clock that morning, ran upstairs, and woke me up. ‘Mom, I'm going to California!’” Rock’s mother says in the archival interview. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t having it. You can’t go to California, she said. Eddie Murphy might be on drugs!
Despite her protests — “I really fussed” — Young Rock ran through the house, grabbing clothes, throwing in laundry, preparing for the chance of a lifetime. Mom put her foot down. “You’re not going.”
And that was that — or so she thought. The next morning, the matter seemingly decided, Rock’s mother went to the dentist. But Rock’s father was more forgiving — he met Murphy (apparently, the comic was not on drugs) and Rock got on a plane to Los Angeles. The rest, as they say, is history.
Would Chris Rock have become a star if Murphy hadn’t plucked him from obscurity for a bit part in a comedy sequel? Given Rock’s talent and work ethic, the answer is probably, but Murphy singling him out provided the confidence he needed to keep going. “Everything I've become, Eddie Murphy told me I was gonna be the first day I met him,” Rock told Hart. “Straight up.”