Chris Rock Tests Jokes at Comedy Clubs Ahead of Oscars

Chris Rock has been testing out his Oscar-night material this past week at L.A. comedy clubs to good effect, though he’s officially staying mum on what he has planned.

On Monday, a fan tweeted to him, “You really killed it at the Comedy Store last night.” Rock also did stand-up at the Largo last Thursday at an event hosted by Judd Apatow.

Compared to past Oscar hosts, Rock has been relatively quiet, though he posted two photos on Instagram on Monday that seem like clues. One photo features him in a NASA astronaut suit with the caption “Getting my outfit together,” and another featured him with Kristen Wiig and J.J. Abrams captioned “Almost showtime.” Wiig and Abrams rep the year’s biggest outer-space movies, “The Martian” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” respectively.

Reporting on the Largo gig, the Observer’s Andy Wang said Rock naturally made jokes about diversity, but went beyond that, also offering one-liners about Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, El Chapo, Oscar fashions and non-Hollywood topics such as divorce and dating. Wang discreetly opted not to divulge the gags, but said Rock’s standup included a joke about “the absurdity of one particular boycott. That bit included a withering, perfect punchline involving two celebrities, but Mr. Rock knew it was too lewd to get by the Oscar censors.”

Last December, Rock spoke with Essence magazine about gender inequality in Hollywood, and particularly the struggles by women of color to get hired. The March issue features an interview by Isabel Wilkerson that was conducted several weeks before #OscarsSoWhite got so intense. Rock told her, “I’ve never done a movie, any movie, the silliest movie, where someone, some studio person, hasn’t gone ‘Does the girl have to be black?’ It happens every time. Black women get paid less than everybody in Hollywood.”

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While Jennifer Lawrence spoke up about the gender gap in Hollywood paydays, Rock said most black actresses “would love to get to Jennifer Lawrence’s place.”

Rock first hosted the Oscars a decade ago, and was similarly low-key about advance publicity. But in a Feb. 14, 2005, interview with Variety, the show’s producer that year, Gil Cates, laughed that he was constantly being asked how he would “control” Chris Rock. Due to Rock’s language on his HBO specials, Variety admitted he seemed “a raunchy choice.” But Cates countered: “He’s very thoughtful and intelligent. His humor is basically intellectual humor. He deals with race and business and politics.”

In a review of the Oscarcast, Variety‘s Brian Lowry praised Rock, saying he had a funny monologue with barbs at Bush Administration “but did not draw blood.”

This year, the Oscar show is being produced by Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. The latter, an Oscar first-timer but a veteran of live TV, vowed to Variety that they plan to bring in the show on time. The Oscars will be held Feb. 28 at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland.

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