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11/03/2014 10:36 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2014

The Duke Of Doubt: Can Chris Rock Make The Leap From Standup Eminence To Leading Man?

Monica Schipper via Getty Images

In 1988, when Chris Rock had been doing standup comedy for four years, he took part in a special called “Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen.” The producer’s idea was to gather together performers who were too shocking for the mainstream: Rock’s co-stars included Tim Allen, who hadn’t yet tamed his horny-Neanderthal act for television, and Bill Hicks, who presented antisocial rants as psychedelic parables. But even in this group Rock’s youth and acerbity and race made him stand out; the m.c. introduced him as “the Nat Turner of comedy.” Rock was a high-school dropout who had recently become one of Eddie Murphy’s protégés. After the two men met in a comedy club, Murphy gave him a six-hundred-dollar bit part in “Beverly Hills Cop II.” Rock strode onstage looking much younger than his twenty-three years: a bucktoothed kid with a multicolored leather jacket, a Jheri-curled flattop, and state-of-the-art Air Jordan III sneakers.

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