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Chris Rock gives better interviews than anyone: His thoughts on Obama, Cosby, political correctness

Chris Rock at the BET Awards in June.(Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

It’s not enough to be a gifted performer or charismatic presence. Our best stars also excel at one key discipline: They give great interviews.

Among female stars, Jennifer Lawrence is tops in the field, always adept with a sharp and hilarious comment, delivered in an engagingly loose and self-deprecating style. Every interview she gives is excerpted and echoed throughout the mediasphere — all the better to promote whatever project she’s promoting. Similarly, Tom Hanks has always crushed it with every talk-show appearance. But there’s a new soundbite king in town:

Chris Rock.

It almost doesn’t matter if you go see his new movie, “Top Five.” You may derive even more enjoyment from the barrage of witty, outrageous interviews he’s giving this month. The New Yorker granted him one of the rare long features they devote to entertainers and he answered questions from Matt Lauer on Today; both the New York Times and New York magazine just hit “record” and let him hold forth, resulting in long, absorbing Q&A’s. All are worth reading in full, but here are some key excerpts:

On income disparity: “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets. If the average person could see the Virgin Airlines first-class lounge1, they’d go, “What? What? This is food, and it’s free, and they. . . what? Massage? Are you kidding me?” (New York)

On people taking offense to his jokes (“I am never going in the Freedom Tower man, are you kidding? It’s the same spot!”) about the new One World Trade: “It’s not that people were offended by what I said. They get offended by how much fun I appear to be having while saying it. You could literally take everything I said on Saturday night and say it on Meet the Press, and it would be a general debate, and it would go away.” (New York)

On why he stopped playing college campuses: “They’re way too conservative . . . Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.'” (New York)

On how you know if a joke’s gone too far: “An audience that’s not laughing is the biggest indictment that something’s too far. No comedian’s ever done a joke that bombs all the time and kept doing it. Nobody in the history of stand-up.” (New York)

On following social media: “You have to understand it, because if you don’t, then you’re going to sound like an old guy. You got to have the ability to use it as a reference. . . I remember seeing Robin Williams at Town Hall. He did some Elmer Fudd bit, and I was like, dude, if you change that to SpongeBob. . . ” (New York)

On his grief over Bill Cosby: “I love Cosby, and I just hope it’s not true. It’s a weird year for comedy. We lost Robin, we lost Joan, and we kind of lost Cosby.” (New York)

On his feelings about the performance of the first black president: “Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. . . .It’s still a Hall of Fame career. . . People thinking you’re dumb is an advantage. Obama started as a genius. It’s like, What? I’ve got to keep doing that? That’s hard to do! So it’s not that Obama’s disappointing. It’s just his best album might have been his first album.” (New York)

Why Obama should have “let the country flatline” and not bailed anything out: “We’ve all been on planes that had tremendous turbulence, but we forget all about it. Now, if you live through a plane crash, you’ll never forget that. Maybe Obama should have let the plane crash. You get credit for bringing somebody back from the dead. You don’t really get credit for helping a sick person by administering antibiotics.” (New York)

Why “Lost In Translation” is a black movie: “That’s what it feels like to be black and rich. Not in the sense that people are being mean to you. Bill Murray’s in Tokyo, and it’s just weird. He seems kind of isolated. . . Bill Murray in Lost in Translation is what Bryant Gumbel experiences every day. Or Al Roker. Rich black guys. It’s a little off.” (New York)

On why poor parents may be justified in sometimes spanking their kids: “The consequences of them not listening to you are so much greater than the consequences to kids in a middle-class background. So something as little as: ‘Hey, don’t go to the corner. I don’t want you hanging out on the corner’. . . But if you’re a black boy on the wrong corner of Gary, Ind., or Chicago or Bed-Stuy, you can get shot.” (NYT)

On the many hip-hop references in his new movie: “Hey, guess what? Most Woody Allen movies have about three lines I don’t know what they’re talking about, and it’s fine.” (NYT)

On Obama’s cool factor: “Obama’s, like, cool compared to other politicians—but not as cool as actual cool people. Like, Miles Davis would kick Obama in the [expletive] teeth!” (New Yorker)

On the pressure to be funny: “People want me to be funny all the time. People want me to be funny even at funerals, people are like, ‘why are you so sad?’ Well, because my aunt just died.’ (Today)

On the current success of the Today show: “Today Show — you guys are doing good. You got Ray Rice’s wife on, man. You’ll show Good Morning America.” (Today)

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