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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 09:13 GMT
Comic aims to Rock the Oscars
Chris Rock
Chris Rock honed his skills on the comedy club circuit
The decision to hire Chris Rock as the presenter of the Oscars was seen as a bold move by organisers, mainly because of the near-the-knuckle material of his stand-up shows.

That and his propensity to swear and curse throughout his routines.

US TV networks have been under siege lately to make everything family friendly, with any misdemeanour thrown under into spotlight.

But Rock himself says he is not worried that he will curse live on air.

"I'm never proper or careful but I never curse in front of my mum, either."

The 40-year-old's comedy may not yet have the international reputation of his predecessors Steve Martin or Billy Crystal but he has carved himself out a massive fan base in the US.

And like Martin and Crystal, he has made the move into films, playing a black president in Head of State and a reincarnated man in the remake of Down to Earth.

It was his quick wit and ability to shock a room into laughter that first brought him fame. Blacks and whites are his targets in equal measure, with jokes few could get away with in today's climate of political correctness.

In this regard he is often compared to Richard Pryor, one of his comedy idols.

His early years growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn moulded Rock into the comic he is today. He stills lives in the same district.

One of seven siblings with a strict father, Rock went to a largely white school as part of a project to "bus" black kids to better schools to encourage integration.

Fast food jobs

He was bullied at school and education was not a top priority for Rock, who dropped out to work in fast food chains while trying to get a foot on the comedy circuit.

Jack Nicholson and Chris Rock
Rock counts Jack Nicholson among his buddies
He hung around the Comic Strip club in New York where Eddie Murphy had honed his routine hoping to get an occasional gig.

Other Comic Strip alumni included Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Adam Sandler.

From there, Rock got his big break on Saturday Night Live, the breeding ground for many of today's top comics including Jim Belushi, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray.

At the age of 24 he was seen as having great potential but, by his own admission, he squandered his big chance and launched himself head first into the showbusiness lifestyle, with women particularly taking his eye off the game.

He left Saturday Night Live to work on a mainly black show called In Living Colour. But it was cancelled after one season and Rock was back where he started.

Settling down

He realised he needed to knuckle down so he went back and finely tuned his stage act.

He also settled his personal life down, marrying long-term girlfriend Malaak Compton, the mother of his two children.

With his more stable attitude came his own TV show, called The Chris Rock Show, a chat and sketch show, which ran from 1997 to 2000 and saw him collect an Emmy award for best writing.

While thousands flock to catch his Rock live show, it is his HBO specials and the phenomenal sales of his videoes, DVDs and live albums that have given him a wider audience.

His film career began with a bit part in Eddie Murphy's Beverley Hills Cop II and has been up and down since, with roles in gritty movies such as New Jack City and a turn in the remake of Sgt Bilko.

But he has a lead part in the upcoming The Longest Yard alongside Adam Sandler, and a voice part in the star-studded zoo tale Madagascar with Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer.

And, Rock already has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Gil Gates and Chris Rock
Oscars producer Gil Gates (l) says he is not worried about Rock's performance
The Academy Awards will put Rock on a truly international platform but he realises the night is not about him and that, despite this, he needs to hook the audience from the outset.

"A great monologue does it," he says. "The secret to hosting awards shows is like sports - get a big lead and run out the clock. Then kind of hand off the ball and assist the show."

He also hopes to call on his friends like Murphy and Sandler.

"I've been kissing *** for years and now I'm going to reap the rewards," he jokes.

"I've been paying for a lot of dinners and now I want jokes, damn it!"

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