Chris Rock talks about his first Oscar hosting gig. Take cover, Academy! Your new emcee is ready to bring the pain

Oscar night has always been Hollywood’s time to step back, take stock, and say, ”Aren’t we flawless?” So it will be quite the reality check when their ego-affirming evening is commandeered by this year’s scathingly hilarious host, Chris Rock. After all, this is the man who insulted Suge Knight when emceeing 1996’s MTV Video Music Awards; you think he’s gonna worry about hurting Thomas Haden Church’s feelings? Rock, who turned 40 Feb. 7, sat down with us the week before the nominations to discuss his Oscar game plan and his life as a movie fan, which — no-brainer spoiler alert — did not involve crying at Cold Mountain.

When did the Academy ask you to host?
They’ve probably been calling me since ’97. I had turned it down — it seemed like an older guy’s gig, with a tuxedo and all, and I really liked doing the MTV Awards. This year, MTV did their awards in Miami, and something just seemed really young about it. Normally, there’s, like, one person I don’t know. But there might have been four people that I had no clue about. ”Who the hell’s that guy? Is he a rapper? A singer?” All these kids were screaming, and I was watching, thinking ”Hmm, I think I’m too old for this show.” At that moment I had a tux made.

Did you learn anything from watching past hosts?
I never watched the Oscars. Except the Halle [Berry]/Denzel [Washington] year. But even then, I went back and forth to other channels. Come on, it’s a fashion show. No one performs; it’s not like a music show. What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one. And they don’t recognize comedy, and you don’t see a lot of black people nominated, so why should I watch it? Where’s my in?

So I’ll assume you don’t care what people are wearing.
Nothing against people who aren’t straight, but what straight guy that you know cares? Who gives a f—? They’re clothes. I’m wearing Sean John, by the way. Help out the black designer, fine. Like Armani needs me to wear a f—ing tux to help them out.

What’s your hosting strategy?
It’s just basic hosting. It’s like sports: You get a big lead, then you run out the clock. No one’s really gonna remember some comedy set piece that you do two hours into the show. If you’ve got a production piece, you’d better do it up top. Once the show gets started, no one wants to stop it for comedy.

Did the producers ask you to take it easy on stars?
No. I agree to not curse and then I stay out of people’s way. I don’t call anybody, then I show up with a show. I’m a fastball pitcher, so I’m gonna be throwing fastballs. No time to fool around with what works now. You ever watch boxing? Whenever you hear about a guy, ”Oh, he’s changing trainers — he’s got a new style!” that guy always gets knocked out. It never fails. You gotta do what you do.

So I take it there will be no big production numbers.
No singing for me. I don’t soft-shoe. I got Ben Vereen on standby just in case.