Chris Rock Has Audience Laughing Till It Hurts

Variety honors multihyphenate with Creative Impact Award for comedy

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Award season tends to focus on serious movies about serious topics filled with serious performances. And that’s why a late-year release like Chris Rock’s freewheeling comedy “Top Five” — written, directed by and starring Rock — feels like such a breath of fresh air.

It’s top-quality work from an artist intent on challenging himself. It also happens to be the funniest movie of the year.

“Making people laugh is kind of the best feeling you can give them,” says Rock, who will receive Variety’s Creative Impact in Comedy Award on Jan. 4 at Palm Springs. “You can have sex with them or make them laugh. People stop speaking to people they’ve had sex with, but people never stop speaking to people who’ve made them laugh. It’s an important thing in all our lives. More important than we realize.”

That message comes through loud and clear in “Top Five,” in which Rock plays a mega-star comedian who turns his back on the genre that made him famous in an effort to be taken more seriously by Hollywood. The plan goes up in flames when his film, Haitian revolution drama “Uprize!,” turns out to be a total turkey.

“I never stopped doing comedy. I never had that mid-life comedian crisis of wanting to be taken seriously,” Rock says. “Oscar season is the season that brings out all these insecurities for comedians. All these awards and no one’s paying you any mind. No matter what you did that year, it brings it out. But I’ve never been there.”
Now Rock finds himself in the awards conversation anyway, for a film that follows in the footsteps of past contenders like “Before Sunset” and “Annie Hall,” while carving out its own cinematic space.

One of the hallmarks of “Top Five” is a deep sense of generosity. This isn’t a vanity project in service of making the leading man look hilarious, it’s a collaborative effort with the goal of making the funniest movie possible. That goes for everyone from co-stars (Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer) to celebrity cameos (Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, DMX).

“The best movies have multiple breakout performances, it’s never just one person’s performance,” Rock says. “Movies like this are about making sure you get good actors and really funny people. When people know they’re gonna score, they’re more likely to help you out.”