Chris Rock had an exercise for the audience in trying to explain the difference between delivering great comedy and great drama during the closing panel of the Producers Guild’s Produced By: New York conference.
“Take any Jerry Bruckheimer [movie] and take the lead actor out. Get rid of Sean Connery and put in … Clint Eastwood. Same f—— movie. It just is,” he said. “Now try that with ‘Talladega Nights’ and see what happens. A lot of embarrassment there. People will get fired.”
Rock came about 15 minutes late to the panel — stuck in traffic — but he made up for lost time with sharp observations about the particular challenges of working in comedy in the panel with producer Chris Moore (“American Pie,” “Manchester By the Sea”), “Louie” producer M. Blair Breard and Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller’s partner in Red Hour Films.
After the panel, Variety pressed Rock on the question of whether he would be willing to host the Oscars again if an urgent request came in from the Academy, which has yet to name a host or producer for the Feb. 26 telecast. He predicted “someone else will do it.” Perhaps inspired by the PGA conference setting, he added: “Do they even have a producer yet? I’ll produce.”
During the panel, the group discussed the importance of having dramatic stakes in comedic material, Breard said she sees one big difference between projects labeled “drama” versus “comedy.”
“To me the biggest difference between comedy and drama is, the drama people get more money,” she said.
The conversation veered from Rock’s appreciation of Stiller pics “Tropic Thunder” (“The jokes in that are so delicate, it’s like nitroglycerin. Robert Downey as a black guy? OK.”) to “Dodgeball” (“It’s like a Katy Perry song — one of the best pop comedies ever.”) to the comedian marveling at how Donald Glover has been able to produce “Atlanta” for FX, with its specific observations on African-American life. Rock said flatly that he couldn’t have gotten that series made when he was Glover’s age.
“The world just wasn’t set up for that,” he said. “‘Atlanta’ is so good.” Breard offered Amazon’s British import “Fleabag” as another intriguing and offbeat new comedy.
Rock had kind words for Breard, who he worked with on the Louis C.K.-penned 2001 comedy “Pootie Tang,” for her role in helping C.K. realize his comedic vision with low-budget series productions for FX.
“You do a whole season of a TV show on a budget that people would have for two shows,” Rock said. “They can’t do that without you. … Scott Rudin couldn’t do that. I worked with Scott Rudin. He would explode.”
Rock made a characteristically blunt observation about how, in his view, different types of comedy appeals to different types of people. He cited Samantha Bee, host of TBS’ “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” as an example.
“Some people aren’t making comedy for me,” he said. When watching Bee, he realized, “OK, this is not for me particularly. This is for a certain group of women, and I gotta kind of defer. I think people should be funny to the people who look like them first. If you can’t be funny to the people who look like you, something’s wrong.”
Rock added that he has tried to push himself as a producer and director. When he directed Amy Schumer’s HBO special “Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo,” he made a point of leaving in “all the stuff that I don’t know,” i.e. jokes about yeast infections.
“What I’m trying to say is, I don’t know s—,” he said. “Part of being a producer is knowing what you don’t know.”
To which Breard responded: “One hundred percent.”