Ever since he first burst onto the scene in 1989 as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live," Chris Rock has been pushing buttons and making people laugh — even if it’s occasionally (very) nervous laughter. He also has a gift for prophecy, as evidenced by his feature film directorial debut "Head of State," in which he starred as the first black president.
With "Good Hair" — he co-produced and narrated — he delves into the belly of the beast known as African-American hair. Celebs including Ice-T, Nia Long, Raven Symoné, Maya Angelou, Salt n Pepa and Al Sharpton all testify about their hair problems.
Rock’s comic documentary visits beauty salons, hairstyling battles, scientific laboratories, and also exposes the ugly — and costly — truth about the black market in weaves. Shortly after this interview, it was revealed he was being sued by a documentary maker who says he copied her 2005 film "My Nappy Roots." He refused to add a comment, but he did talk about the idea for the movie being an old one.
What was the inspiration for "Good Hair"?
I was doing a stand-up gig in Atlanta about 15 years ago, and I stumbled across the Bronner Bros. Hair Show and I thought it’d make a good movie, but I was in no position to get this kind of movie made back then. Cut to now, and my daughter’s talking about her hair and it jarred me into thinking, I wanna make that movie now.
Is it true you used Michael Moore’s research team?
We did, we had a crack researching staff and a lot of people who work with Moore, including (director) Jeff Stilson.
Most of the hair for weaves and wigs comes from India, where you filmed. Do the Indian women realize where the hair that they shave off in a religious ceremony ends up?
You’ve got to realize, we care about money more than anyone else, too. You tell them, "Hey, people are spending a lot of money in America for your hair," and they’re, "So? I dedicate this hair to the god, so whatever happens, happens."
How did you find out about that whole industry?
Through the hair show and talking to the hair vendors. Then we realized we had to go to India.
Who chose the celebrity subjects?
We threw a lot of names out there, and for every person in the film, two people got cut. We kept the ones who were out of the closet about their hair.
So, is it all about black women wanting to have white women’s hair?
No, I don’t think any black woman goes into the salon and wants that.
Does your wife have hair issues?
Not issues, I’d say. I take whatever hair she presents to me.
The film makes a big deal about how men shouldn’t ever touch a black woman’s hair. Does your wife let you touch hers?
Er … That’s classified information. (Laughs hard.)
You’ve produced a lot of your film and TV projects and you co-produced this film. Is that something you really like doing?
It’s something you have to do to get a project made. John Singleton told me once, "I’m not the director, I’m the protector." That kind of stuck with me.
You’ve directed yourself in two movies — "Head of State" and "I Think I Love My Wife" — as well as doing the first show of "Everybody Hates Chris." Do you want to direct again?
Yeah, eventually. But I’ve got kids — they’re 5 and 7 — and that takes up a lot of time, so whatever I direct it’ll be in New York where we live.
"Head of State" was this crazy, far-fetched comedy …
So absurd that they gave me $30 million to go and make it. I didn’t even have a plot! And they were like, "A black guy’s the president! Ha ha ha!! Here!! Take the money!!"
So has the reality of a black president taken the edge off comedy about race in this country?
I remember I was watching the Super Bowl this year and I kinda wanted Arizona to win, even though the Steelers had a black coach. Normally I always bet on black! But it just wasn’t that important to me anymore, ‘cos the president’s black. I already won!
It’s definitely taken the edge off me a little bit — not as a comedian. I still want to be as funny as I can be. But just racially, I’ve probably exhaled a little bit towards white people since Obama was elected. (Laughs.) But don’t worry — you’re still on notice.