HBO’s bringing back Def Comedy, with Tony Rock front and center. Taped before a live audience on September 7th at the Avalon Theatre in Los Angeles, the new special, All Def Comedy brings back a new version of an old classic. Russell Simmons’ original Def Comedy Jam ran from 1992 through 1997 (and again in 2006) on HBO and helped to launch or lift the careers of so many comics like Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, Mike Epps, Chris Tucker, Bill Bellamy and Paul Mooney, to name a few.
When I was asked to interview Tony Rock on his upcoming hosting gig for the Russell Simmons produced special, I was excited because Tony and I have been good friends for a long time. I asked him about the show. “The show is super huge, but before anything else you have to let everybody know that we’re good friends. It’s not like Tony Rock just called in to talk to some guy. I want it noted that we go back to my early Comic Strip days.” and I promised him it would be duly noted.
Then he said he’d get into promoter mode, to talk about ADC. “The show is the relaunching; the rebirth of Def Comedy Jam. The format hasn’t changed, the blueprint hasn’t changed, it’s a showcase of some of the greatest urban comedians in the country. What Russell Simmons created was a platform for urban comics that are normally looked over, to get a look from the suits. This is like a showcase for guys that you might have never heard of before, but you might find your new favorite comic on this show.”
I asked him what the audition process was like to get on the show because they’re only having five comics– Chris Powell, Zainab Johnson, Kevin Tate, Robert Powell, (no relation to Chris) and closing the show will be the great Tony Roberts. He said they had showcases in Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles, “and then there were comics that Russell just felt adamant that he wanted to have on the show like Tony Roberts.” In Tony Rock’s words, “Tony Roberts is one of those guys that in the urban comedy circuit, everybody recognizes that he’s one of the best, that he’s great, he just never seemed to get a look from the suits. The suits never really paid attention to him so Russell insisted on having him on the show, to make sure that he got his proper exposure.”
Then I asked him what it was like working with Russell because it’s a well-deserved honor, but a very huge honor to be chosen as the host of this history-making show. He said, “You have no idea Jeff. It’s so big that I was even on his radar, and then to tap me as his next host. By doing that he pretty much put me in the same category as Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley who all hosted it before me. So for Russell to say ‘This is the guy’ that’s just an honor inside of an honor.’”
Tony’s very humble so when I said it’s like making him one of “The Kings of Comedy” I could almost see him blushing through the phone. All he could say was “working hard to get there!” We agreed that Russell could have called anybody and as Tony said, “And anybody would have gladly accepted.”
In preparation for the show, he practiced his 10-12 minute opening set on the road in LA, New York and Texas for a few weeks to get it right. Then they taped it and cut it up so it would look like he had something to say in-between comics, and they filmed it at The Avalon Theatre on Hollywood and Vine.
I asked him if this could possibly be a series and he said “This particular special is one hour where Def Comedy Jam was only a half an hour, and it’s to get people re-introduced to the format, but we hope to shoot more half hour episodes very soon. He went on to say that “everybody associated with the show feels very good about the pick-up including my agent and my managers,” so he hopes there’ll be “many, many more episodes coming along very soon!” And he promised to let me know as soon as he finds out!
One more thing he wanted to add before we signed off. “I started out in The Comic Strip in 1998, and on Saturday November 12th I will be the new host of All Def Comedy Live! G-d is good and Jordan Rock is my favorite comedian!” He told me that young Jordan is shooting season 3 of Judd Apatow’s “Love”, and also is the lead in the new Comedy Central sitcom “Drunk Girl, High Guy”, plus touring with Pete Davidson who is one of his best friends. “And once again,” he added, “he’s my favorite comedian.”
I ended the interview by asking him if I was black enough to be considered for the show, and he said his personal feeling was that I was too black for any show! And on that note we made plans to get together when he comes in to New York for the holidays.
Tune in to check out the brand new All Def Comedy hour special on Saturday November 12 exclusively on HBO.
Watch a clip from the special right here, right now.