As the most lauded and sought-after comedian today — and according to a recent Entertainment Weekly cover story, the funniest man in America — Chris Rock has a confession to make: “I am not as smart as people think I am.” “A lot of times people come up to me and they start talking really smart. And I am like, ‘Dude, I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.’ I am an intellectual magnet. That happens a lot. I have to go, ‘Hey, just jokes! That’s all I know — jokes!’ ”

Beth Dykstra
“Get your hand off my ass, Sandler.” (Courtesy of Paramount)

Well, Rock also seems to know timing. Hot on the heels of his recent gig hosting the Academy Awards, Rock will costar in the Adam Sandler-led remake “The Longest Yard” this May. Rock, who plays a prison caretaker in the film, said it was unclear how he landed the role. “Maybe (Adam) Sandler wanted Will Smith and he said ‘no,’ ” he said.

All kidding aside, Rock said that fellow Saturday Night Live alum Sandler was a central motivation for his appearance in the film. “I think it was intended for me. This is what Adam said, so I will take his word on it,” he said, adding that his public persona also played a role in the casting. “A director hires Daniel Day-Lewis to be somebody else. They hire Bill Murray to be himself … I am the guy you hire to be himself.”

Still, Rock’s role in “The Longest Yard” held him back from what he is best known for — edgy, no-holds-barred comedy. “It is hard. They rarely make R-rated movies,” he said. “You have to fight for an R-rated movie. You really do. It is weird … ‘The Longest Yard’ (is set in) jail and it is PG-13. Maybe (the rating) kind of restricted me a little, but other than that I had a good time. I prepared and I think I got a lot of funny out of the role,” he said.

And though Rock and his fans might miss his signature hardcore wit, he said that he’s taking some time away from his primary outlet for rawer humor — his stand-up comedy tours. “I wish I was on tour right now,” he said. “I am probably not going to tour again until … 2007. When I am off, I kind of take a rest because you get to the point where the world is what it is,” Rock said. “It’s probably not going to change for awhile. So right now, I’m on hiatus.”

Rock also said that his work as a stand-up comedian, along with the work of other African-American comedy stars, is more influential than many give it credit, especially in comparison to more drama-oriented films of recent years. “(I) love what Jamie (Foxx) and Denzel (Washington) have done but … you can’t compare what they have done to what Eddie Murphy has done,” he said. “As far as the African-American image on film, especially … the early Eddie stuff, I mean, that is comedy and it reaches a much wider audience than those guys.”

Rock added that he will continue to remain true to his comedic roots. “I have done (drama) like in ‘Nurse Betty’ and ‘New Jack City.’ I just don’t feel like starring in (another) dramatic movie,” he said.

As for his recent stand-up performance — the Oscars — Rock said the aftermath has been mostly positive. “I get feedback on the street. People seem to like it. As far as the celebrities — (I’ve heard) nothing,” he said, adding that his playful jabs at Jude Law and Colin Farrell did not escalate into anything more after the show. “I have no beefs, man. I am not 50. No beefs. The Olsen twins, ok,” Rock joked.

So can we expect him to return to the Academy Awards next year? “Yes, if they asked me again, I would do it again,” Rock said. “It was the toughest gig I ever had, but I have received more adulation from it than anything else I have done, too.”

Rock said that despite his time off, he will return to the stage to continue the quick-witted political and pop-culture commentary that made him the celebrated comedian he is today. “You have to rejuvenate. You don’t want to sound stale with the same old stuff.” But no need to worry: “I will be back guys,” he said.

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