At first glance, Rock and Davidson might seem like very funny bookends. Look again. Comedy's 2 Extremes

August 19, 1994|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Contributing Writer

Chris Rock and Tommy Davidson are both black comedians. Both have been on television. Both have worked on "In Living Color." Both have had roles in movies.

You'd think the two have a lot in common -- especially since they're performing together at Pier Six Concert Pavilion Sunday, part of a summer-long tour.

But, in reality, they epitomize that age-old saying: Opposites attract.

In interviews this week, they even call from opposite coasts -- Mr. Rock from his home state of New York, Mr. Davidson from his home in Los Angeles. Mr. Rock is on time and focused; Mr. Davidson calls a few hours late (six hours, to be exact), watches television throughout the interview, asks if this is Cleveland and occasionally makes comments to the TV set.

Mr. Davidson on Mr. Rock: "I love that boy. He's funny. And he's smart."

Mr. Rock on Mr. Davidson: "He's the MC Hammer of comedy -- meaning he puts on a big show. He runs around the stage, he sings, he dances, he does impressions. He just never stops. He's the total opposite of me. I'm like 'Johnny Joke.' I write jokes. I don't run around like he does. . . . When I'm really good, I could do my routine behind a screen, and it wouldn't matter."

For Mr. Rock, comedy was something he always wanted to do. He got his start in clubs in New York at the age of 18. "It was the only thing to do. . . . I'm not the smartest person. I'm sure not the best-looking. But I can write a joke. I can be funny."

Mr. Davidson's entry into comedy was entirely by accident. He aspired to be a singer, but a friend suggested he get onstage at a comedy club in Washington and tell a few jokes. "I just got on the stage for 15 minutes and talked off the top of my head. I guess I was good at it. It was a natural happening for me."

The 30-year-old Mr. Davidson continues to apply his natural approach. "I don't prepare a lot of material. I just go out on stage and let it happen. I just go out and have fun."

Mr. Rock, on the other hand, does a lot of preparation for his routines. He usually carries a note pad and tape recorder to record ideas for jokes. "I'm like a sponge. I absorb everything."

At the age of 18, a young Chris Rock caught the attention of Eddie Murphy, who put him in his HBO special, "Uptown Comedy Express." Success soon followed as Mr. Rock landed roles in movies like "Boomerang" and "New Jack City" before securing a full-time gig on "Saturday Night Live." That lasted three years, until he got a chance to be on "In Living Color." "I flew the coop," he says.

"On 'In Living Color' I just got a chance to be funny, instead of being the funny, black guy," the 28-year-old Mr. Rock says. "There was less pressure. I didn't have to explain things as much."

While the show was an escape for Mr. Rock, it provided a beginning for Mr. Davidson. " 'In Living Color' was the biggest break of my career," Mr. Davidson says.

The show ended this year after four seasons. "I was disappointed about the show ending because we were on the air for a while," Mr. Davidson says. "It was sad, but I'm also happy. I don't think the show was as funny as it used to be."

In addition to Mr. Rock and Mr. Davidson, "In Living Color" jump started several unknown young comedians down the road to fame -- notably Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier and Jim Carrey.

Wayans and Grier star in "Blankman," which opens in theaters today. Mr. Carrey got noticed in a big way with "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." The recent release of "The Mask" -- which has grossed $70.1 million in three weeks, ranking third on the list of top films at the box office -- has established him as a superstar.

Is Mr. Davidson jealous of Mr. Carrey's success? "I do get jealous sometimes. I'd like to have $7 million dollars. But I admire his work. And it could not have happened to a nicer guy. He deserves it," he says.

Comedy is a tough business, Mr. Davidson says. Not everyone can enjoy the kind of success Mr. Carrey is having -- particularly black comics. "Speaking from experience, there is racism," he says. "There are a lot of clubs that won't book a black comic. Look at the comedy awards. Who wins them? Does Martin [Lawrence]? Does Damon? Does Keenan [Ivory Wayans]? No."

Mr. Rock has a slightly different take on this. "Who cares about the comedy awards? It's who makes the money that's important," he says. "I know I make more than most of the white comedians I know.

"Yes, there's racism in the business. Anything that white people do, you know that it will be harder for black people. I know people who do comedy and say, 'Oh my God, there's racism.' Well, hello. Where have you been for the past 20 years?"

As for the future, Mr. Davidson, who starred in the movie "Strictly Business," is currently working on a movie with Martin Lawrence called "Meter Maids." No release date has been set. Mr. Rock will start filming a movie he wrote called "The Calm Guy" in November. This will be the second movie Mr. Rock has written -- the first being "CB4," which was released in 1993 to fairly good reviews.

For Mr. Davidson the ultimate movie role would be "a young genius who starts to do undercover investigations." For Mr. Rock, it would be The Jerk, the character made famous by Steve Martin in the movie of the same name -- the kind of movie, Mr. Rock says, where you can just be as funny as humanly possible.

If movies and comedy don't work out for either comedian, they both have plans. But as you might expect, they're not compatible. Mr. Davidson says he'd start singing again. As for Mr. Rock, he jokingly says, "I'll write greeting cards or Bazooka Joe comics."

DOUBLE UP THE STAND-UP

What: Chris Rock and Tommy Davidson

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pier Six Concert Pavilion

Tickets: $21.50 reserved, $15 lawn

Call: (410) 625-1400

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