This comedian has won Emmys, hosted awards shows, and has a future as solid as a ...

By Bruce Fretts
Updated December 26, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

This isn’t the first time Chris Rock’s been one of EW’s Entertainers of the Year. Five years ago, he was chosen as part of the cast of the resurgent Saturday Night Live. He’s experienced some lean times since then, most notably playing second banana to fellow SNL vet Chris Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja. ”I worked on that movie for four days, and they put out ads like it was The Defiant Ones,” carps Rock, slipping off his Nikes (he’s the voice of company puppet Li’l Penny) and kicking back in his Manhattan office.

”Don’t call it a comeback/’Cause I been here for years,” Rock raps a la LL Cool J. Still, he hasn’t had many years like ’97: He took home two Emmys for his HBO stand-up special Bring the Pain and two CableACEs for his self-titled HBO talk show. He also wrote the well-reviewed humor book Rock This! and released Roll With the New, an album that spawned the heavily played video ”Champagne.”

”It was a verrrry good year/When I was 31,” croons Rock, 32, impersonating yet another musical idol, Frank Sinatra. ”I hosted the MTV Video Awards/And it was funnnn.” (”The Spice Girls sold 10 million records?” he queried the crowd — which included the pop quintet — in one blistering monologue. ”How come I don’t know anyone who bought one?”)

”Chris has always been smarter than the average comedian, but his material wasn’t always smarter,” says The Chris Rock Show consulting producer Nelson George, who wrote the rap mockumentary CB4 with Rock in 1993. ”He used to do [female genitalia] jokes. Now he does relationship jokes.”

He’s also unafraid to turn his withering wit on political topics. (Rock assesses Jesse Jackson’s career thusly: ”He started rhyming just a little too much. Just got silly.”) ”I’m a Democrat with a Republican wallet,” Rock says. ”I’m going to give almost 50 percent of my money to the government this year, and I’m not a doctor or a lawyer. I have an occupation where I’m hot, then I’m cold. I may never make this money again.”

Bearing that in mind, Rock isn’t slowing down: While he waits for Fox to develop a comedy script that would team him with Rupert Everett, he’ll provide the voice of a guinea pig in the Eddie Murphy remake of Dr. Dolittle, play the apostle Rufus in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, and costar as a cop in Lethal Weapon 4. One month before LW4 is set to start shooting, Rock hasn’t seen a script yet, which makes him ”a little nervous. But this movie isn’t falling on me. The only thing I can do wrong is not be funny.”

Not much danger of that. But one does wonder if Rock risks exhaustion with his multimedia assault. ”Chris is tired,” says George. ”This has been a hell of a year, and he’s a skinny guy.” But Rock says he just wants to express himself: ”Parts of me need to get out. I’ve got ideas in my head, things I want to do. I’ve got jokes to tell.” Rock on.