Ex-''SNL'' star boasts a wide range of comedic talents

By Maureen Callahan
May 31, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

When the producers of Politically Incorrect, Comedy Central’s irreverent take on The McLaughlin Group, asked comedian Chris Rock if he’d like to cover this year’s presidential machinations, he was characteristically skeptical. ”I said, ‘Me?”’ recalls Rock. ”’Are you sure you want me?”’

The choice was astute. Says PI host Bill Maher, ”Chris relates to politics in a non-political way, which is a good thing.” And though that’s the whole idea behind PI, Rock quickly distinguished himself as one of the smartest of the smart-asses. His first assignment was the New Hampshire primary, and his assessment of that state — ”I’m having a real hard time finding hair-care products up here” — was at once slyly hilarious and painfully apt. ”I have the barbershop take on politics,” says Rock, 29, who admits to an obsession with Pat Buchanan. ”His people did everything but call the dogs on us. But I always wanna talk to a racist,” he says seriously. ”The other candidates aren’t passionate about anything.”

Rock describes himself as ”a registered Democrat with a Republican wallet.” And the money is indeed flowing in — from his PI gig, Nike ads (he’s the voice of Li’l Penny Hardaway), and a second HBO comedy special, Bring the Pain (June 1). He’ll also embark on a nationwide stand-up tour this summer and star with Chris Farley in the up-coming movie comedy Beverly Hills Ninja.

Like Eddie Murphy, who discovered the stand-up at 18, Rock has an appeal that crosses racial boundaries. ”I’m the only guy who could host Def Comedy Jam and Incorrect and be funny on both,” boasts the comic, and he’s probably right. While he admits to being as confused as he often looks on PI, he’s hardly naive. ”My dad drove a Daily News truck,” says the Brooklyn native. ”I’ve read it every day since I was 5. Then I delivered it for a while, so I’ve always kept abreast.” Now a bona fide pundit, Rock pores over several papers daily. Any favorites? ”I love the pictures in USA Today,” he says. ”That’s a joke.”