Chris Rock Gets Animated for Merry Madagascar

The comedian talks about his voice work for the new animated TV special

Comedian Chris Rock has been making us laugh for years and years through his amazing stand-up comedy along with his film and television roles. Rock is now revisiting the popular animated character of Marty that he played in the Madagascar films with a new animated holiday special, Merry Madagascar, which premieres on Wednesday, November 18 at 8 PM ET on NBC. Rock recently held a conference call to discuss this new special, and here's what he had to say.

So it seems like nowadays a lot more adult content comedians are jumping into family projects. What for you is the appeal in doing a crossover like this?

Chris Rock: I mean, well I'm obviously already in, you know, with DreamWorks and Jeffrey and all that. I just want to work with the people. They do really good stuff. Kind of gets you with a younger, I mean, you know, you get some of that Hannah Montana money. So, you know, you get in with the kids and that definitely can't hurt.

Are there certain holiday traditions that you have or particular shows that you like to watch this time of year?

Chris Rock: I like the Grinch that Stole Christmas and I like the Charlie Brown Christmas thing.

The voice work has always been kind of good for you. You did Little Penny way back didn't you?

Chris Rock: I did Little Penny yes.

Yeah. And that one just turned out to be wildly popular; it was all over the place. Did you find out that doing voice work is just a fun thing and a productive thing to do or?

Chris Rock: Well yeah it's really, it's, I mean, you can do as much as you want. You can, you know, sometimes on a movie, on a set, you know, you've got other people you have to worry about. And, you know, sometimes they need to get to the next shot. But in, you know, voice work you can, hey, let's do it again, you know, it doesn't take any time, it doesn't cost them, you know, I don't if any, you know, more money for you to do 30 takes or 7 takes.

Your girls now are like 7 and 5 I guess now.

Chris Rock: Yeah.

How have they liked the Madagascar thing? When it first came out were they able to watch it or was the youngest one too young and what do they think about it now?

Chris Rock: Oh the youngest one was probably too young but the oldest one loved it. And they loved number two and they're looking forward to this one. I haven't let them watch it even though I got a little advanced screening tape. So they'll watch it on TV like everybody else.

With the films and even with the special, is there much room for you guys to ad-lib or do you pretty much just to stick to a script?

Chris Rock: Oh no they hire you to ad-lib. Why would you hire me to not ad-lib, you know? You know, Don Cheadle is a much better actor than me. I might be able to ad-lib a joke a little better. So, yeah, there's a lot of ad-lib, there's a lot of ad-lib. But the script is really good so you don't have to do that much.

Do you think they'll be more TV specials coming down the pike since this was done pretty much for TV?

Chris Rock: You know all that's up to Jeffrey. See, I mean, I think they've announced were doing number three so I think Madagascar 3 is the next in the, you know, in the Madagascar world.

Do you have any other TV projects coming up since Everybody Hates Chris is not on right now?

Chris Rock: Nothing, I need a new one man. That was a good weekly check. But I'm scaling back now.

Chris, you've got a book coming out I think next year sometime. What's it called and what's it about?

Chris Rock: I think it's going to be on negative thinking. Right now the tentative title is The Secret Sucks. So whatever I get out of that. Still working though, still working.

How much have you gotten done with it so far?

Chris Rock: Not enough, I've been filming back-to-back movies this year; two movies and what you call it, what the hell, I've just been pushing Good Hair for the last couple of months so.

Now a lot of comedians are coming out with books lately, Paul Mooney and Kathy Griffin and David Cross and Jeffrey Ross and Sarah Silverman has one coming out next year as well. What you think is prompting all these comedians like yourself to write books?

Chris Rock: I don't know, I guess the publishers just - I guess some of them are selling. I mean, you know, especially when we put our mind to it we can be funny people. I mean that Steve Harvey book I'm sure is triggering most of this, you know, his book is so big so whatever one, you know, some midget wrote a good book, a bestseller, they'd be making a lot of midget books all of a sudden.

How are you going to make your book stand out among so many others that are out there written by comedians?

Chris Rock: I know, you know, just the same way you make yourself stand out you just, you have a different sense of humor, you know, try to - I know, I like what Steve did, he made a book about one thing, you know. I think that's why that worked where most comedian books are, you know, kind of like Dumbo. So, you know, it's a little bit of picture book, it's a little bit of biography, it's a little short story, you know, but Steve's book stuck to one thing.

Does having kids of your own have anything to do with your involvement in this series? Did you want something - I know some...

Chris Rock: It's weird, I started the first Madagascar, me and Ben, start the first Madagascar with no kids. You know, we didn't have kids when the movie started. And I don't even think we were even thinking about kids to tell you the truth the couple times we were in the studio together. You know, cut to the movie comes out we both have kids, cut to movie, you know, Madagascar 2, he's got three and I've got two or what ever, you know, it just turns out that way.

Now are there any holiday specials that are tradition in your household or any you particularly want to show your kids?

Chris Rock: I like the Grinch, that's my favorite. The Grinch is, and I like the Charlie Brown one, those are my two all-time -and you know what the Mr. McGoo Christmas Carol pretty good.

So earlier you were mentioning, you know, it's kind of good to get in with the kids with these kinds of movies and stuff. One of your interactions with kids been like, you know, Madagascar, like to do they recognize your voice as Marty when he meets you or have you had any encounters like that?

Chris Rock: They totally recognize my voice. And sometimes they don't then I, you know, it's because it's not really like my actual speaking voice so I kind of turn it on and just the looks on their face it's like wow I can't believe it's...

That's awesome. I bet you they get so excited.

Chris Rock: They get very excited. And my youngest daughter, Zahra, it's a bragger. She's very quick to tell people her daddy as Marty the zebra.

Do your girls ever make you just like to, you know, things in Marty's voice light, you know, tell them to go like take a bath in Marty's voice or anything like that?

Chris Rock: You know it's weird the voice they like the most and it's kind of the same voice is they like the mosquito from - what do you call it - from Bee Movie. They love that mosquito.

That's pretty cool so they want you to turn that one on it home and stuff sometimes?

Chris Rock: I literally have to do the mosquito all the time. Mooseblood, Mooseblood.

With the Madagascar movies and stuff have you found, you know, has your like love for animals flourished or anything like that, like do you find yourself more into animals at the zoo or anything?

Chris Rock: You know what it's just weird by happenstance or coincidence I had never been to Africa before Madagascar and before doing the movie. And I've gone since. And now I go on Safari almost every year.

When you hear people talk about influential comedians over the past 10, 15 years your name often comes up. I wonder are you the type of person who takes that to heart and things about it or are you too modest, you don't like thinking about stuff like that? You're very highly thought of in terms of begin ground breaking; how do you take that compliment?

Chris Rock: Really? Really? Really? I'll take it, you know, but, I mean, I don't try to give it that much thought. It's not good - it's not good for you, you know what I mean? It's, you know, you know, you know, Derek Jeter can't be thinking of oh you're an iconic Yankee when he's up to bat. It doesn't - put it this way it's great and I'm happy for more for my parents than me. You know what I mean? My parents, my brothers, sister, whatever, they can like really - my family can really like enjoy stuff like that. Me I have to work.

Does hearing stuff like that make you uncomfortable?

Chris Rock: A little bit. I mean, I mean, a little uncomfortable. At the same time you've been doing it - I've been doing it a long time so it's nice to, you know, have some mark there. But yeah it's, you know, when somebody says that I'm just like oh I hope my aunt hears this. I hope my mother hears this you know what I mean? Because they get a kick out of it but, you know, I know, you know, the audience doesn't care when I get on stage. And, you know.

Generally speaking do you think that comedy is in better shape now than when you started or worse shape?

Chris Rock: I mean it's a good - when I started - it's in much better shape it's, you know, when I started, you know, there's no Comedy Central, there's no, you know, all these great, you know, shows they do and, you know, forget being a black comic, my God, there was, you know, it was superstar or bust you know what I mean? It was just like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby; there was no like here, there was nowhere to be like the black Paul Reiser you know what I mean? There was no, you know what I mean, there was no where like you had to be a superstar or you didn't work. And, you know, now there's all sorts of levels of comedians that you didn't have before; it's great.

When it comes to voiceover work is there something about it that makes you jump out and say I want to do this kind of project? Is it a character, is it the actual theme of the story?

Chris Rock: You know, I always - really I'm always looking for a project that's good enough that it doesn't even need me. Like are they going to make a good movie even if I'm not involved in this? Yes. Then I really want to be involved. But if, you know, the project hinges on, you know, me then I kind of don't want to be involved. So, you know, Jeffrey Katzenberg does quality, quality work, you know, DreamWorks does quality, quality work so I didn't - when I agreed to the first Madagascar I had no idea who else was going to be in it but I trusted, you know, Jeffrey and we got a great cast.

You recently told Monique that she scares you in the movie Precious. What'd you think of the movie in general and have you ever thought about going back and doing another serious role?

Chris Rock: I loved the movie, I thought the movie was powerful and just - it was amazing. I thought all the performances were great. I thought Lee Daniels did an amazing job. All his movies are pretty good, you know, I mean even the, you know, the ones he produced too are pretty, pretty - I liked the Woodsman and, you know. Would I do a serious - I'd love to; no one calls me up with one but yeah if somebody gave me an offer. I'm actually - I've been scouring, looking for a James Baldwin script because I think I could play Baldwin. I just been reading a lot of Baldwin and I punched him up on YouTube and I was like just listening to him and looking at his face and everything. I was like I could probably play James Baldwin. So if you see a James Baldwin script out there I wouldn't mind doing it.

Merry Madagascar debuts on Wednesday, November 18 at 8 PM ET on NBC.