Mentor, father, actor, comedian: Chris Rock settles into a new life

When Jimmy Fallon proved successful as a late night host, networks were eager to get Chris Rock in the fold, too.

He considered it -- seriously -- but looked at the guys who were successful: Jay Leno, David Letterman, Johnny Carson. "Everybody didn't have kids. Leno has no kids. Letterman didn't have kids until he was 60 and anybody who knows Johnny Carson knows there was an estrangement. I didn't want that."

Instead, Rock says, he decided to go in a different direction and be the best dad he could be. "Kids are only young once. I didn't want them to resent me. But when they get older and if I can keep the weight off and dye my hair, maybe somebody will call me up."

Meanwhile, Rock has become THAT dad -- the one with the video camera, the one at school events. "I can count on one hand the stuff I've missed," he says.

Daughters Lola, 11, and Zahra, 9, keep him more than busy. "I'm right there for them," he says. Which leaves the career, where? Behind the scenes largely.

Although "Grown Ups 2" will be in theaters in July and another "Madagascar" film is on its way, the 48-year-old Rock spends much of his time writing (he's planning a tour in the fall) and advising. As executive producer of "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell," he's able to keep a hand in the television business without having to withstand the glare of its spotlight.

Bell calls him "the foul-mouthed Yoda" who helps him avoid the pitfalls of the business. "I'm still in that learning curve," Bell says. "Thankfully, I have Chris next to me to help with that learning curve. I don't think anybody is born knowing how to be a talk show host."

"Regis," Rock says, interrupting.

While Bell brings a hip sensibility to television, he's led by a guy who's fairly traditional: Bell does research online. Rock reads newspapers.

Too many other forms of information, Rock says, blur the lines between entertainment and news. "You absorb it more when you read it," Rock says. "That's what I was taught in my one semester of community college -- cognitive mind. If you just watch it, it's in your memory but it doesn't stick in your brain."

So, Rock reads several newspapers each day, looking for material that can spark laughs on Bell's show or in his own stand-up act.

To prepare for that fall tour, the former "Saturday Night Live" star frequently goes to clubs and tries out material. "I turn out a script a year," he says. "Comedians' days aren't filled. It's their nights."

Also mentoring Deshawn Raw ("he's a big YouTube star...we just shot a pilot"), Rock shares the kind of knowledge he got from guys like Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall.

"In sports, people like a coach that's played," he says. "I played. The fact that I wasn't a star on 'Saturday Night Live' and had to sit and watch more than I performed helps me helps me at being a producer."

Bell says Rock is constantly looking for angles nobody else has. "We just have to be funny first. We can't be important without punchlines."

Adds Rock: "Every now and then I'll go, 'Hey, you guys missed a spot.' It will be something in the news that we didn't get to and that will piss me off."

On show days, it's common for him to suggest changes to scripts. Frequently, he'll turn up at "Saturday Night Live" "because they have food," he jokes. Jay Pharoah, a member of the current cast, is a particular favorite. "I think he's underused."

Now -- with his producer hat on -- Rock says he's keenly aware of formats. He loves "Tosh 2.0." He admires "Louie."

"I've sat with Louie on many a night watching him cut his show in his living room," he says. "The guy like sends them the show in a FedEx envelope sometimes. I don't know if I would be ready to do one of those shows but the model that Louie has I would definitely want nothing less than that."

Another place in television? Yup, it's there. But first Rock has to finish a couple of films, iron out that standup tour and take care of his wife and children.

Priorities. Right now, they're just his thing.

Bruce Miller, Sioux City Journal