Last week stand-up comedian Chris Rock was making the rounds to promote his new film, “Death at a Funeral,” the Americanized, potty-humor infused remake of the 2007 British film directed by Frank Oz.
During his appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher” Rock got to talking about a subject he knows well: blacks and Jews—from Brooklyn, New York. Rock, who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and was subject to the first wave of public school integration in the 1970s whereby Black students were bussed into all white schools, consequently had a miserable educational experience. But what’s surprising in this mix is not the unabashed racism Rock recalls, but that he mentions only one group who had it worse: the Jews. I found his comments on the parallel abuses of blacks and Jews in New York illuminating, mainly because no one expects that in the melting pot immigrant mecca of the world, these two minorities enjoyed the least status. Even Maher could barely disguise his shock at hearing how the great and powerful Jews he knows in 21st century terms were beat up and berated.
My transcript of Bill Maher’s April 2010 interview with Chris Rock, which aired on HBO on April 9:
(Maher says how happy he is to see Rock succeed because he had such a horrible high school experience)
Chris Rock: I went to school with the kids from ‘Jersey Shore,’ like that kind of white person. In real life I hung out with this guy David Moskowitz. The Jews would get beat up too.
Rock: Yeah, yeah. The school I went to—junior high, high school and grade school—were pretty Italian and Irish, and so they beat up the blacks and they beat up the Jews. So I would kinda be friends with the Jewish guys….I used to work at the NY Daily News and it was like ‘On The Waterfront’ where they pick you and there’s no rhyme or reason to why they pickin’ anybody. Well it was Italians first, then the Irish, then the blacks then the Jews and that’s in ‘89, ‘88, ‘87, ‘89.
Maher: The blacks were ahead of the Jews?
Rock: The blacks were ahead of the Jews, even then. So it’s always been me and some Jewish guy…
I interviewed Rock for The Guardian last week (and I’ll post the story as soon as I finish writing it) in which we talked about Jewish humor, African-American humor and what exactly those labels mean—if they mean anything at all.