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Laurel and Hardy. Laverne and Shirley. Abbott and Costello. Rock and…Abrams?
Indeed, the next great comedy team may have been inadvertently born inside the John Zuccotti Theater @ BMCC yesterday, thanks to Tribeca 2016's first Tribeca Talks: Director's Series conversation. Technically, Chris Rock was supposed to be interviewing director/producer/Hollywood gatekeeper J.J. Abrams, but the discussion never felt like a one-sided interrogation; rather, it had the free-wheeling energy of a couple of old friends snapping back and forth with rapid-fire verve. The vibe wasn't unlike what Rock captured in his 2014 film Top Five's "Who are your top five rappers of all time, dead or alive?" scenes, except with a lot of Star Wars references in the place of Biggie, Jay Z, and Scarface namedrops.
A few trivia facts were revealed along the way, including a matter-of-factly delivered news break that Rock had Abrams direct some of the pre-taped bits for this year's Oscars broadcast, namely Tracy Morgan's The Danish Girl spoof. Abrams, later into the evening, told an audience member that the identities Star Wars: The Force Awakens hero Rey's (Daisy Ridley) parents will be difficult for fans to uncover for now, being that neither one of them was in the franchise's blockbuster seventh episode. Star Wars fanatics will surely ponder that from now until Episode 8 opens next year.
In the end, though, their on-stage discourse wasn’t so much about new information or clickbait-friendly tidbits as it was an unexpected display of some pretty great comedic chemistry. One of Rock's first questions was, perhaps in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, "What does the J.J. stand for?" to which Abrams quickly and sarcastically responded, "Jeffrey Jacob—thanks for doing your research."
For a little over an hour, Abrams and Rock covered a wide range of the former’s career, with a few Rock-specific anecdotes mixed in for good measure. The expected Abrams topics were all discussed: Felicity, which was his first big break in television; Alias, the spy show he produced that introduced the world to Jennifer Garner; Lost, the game-changing network drama he helped to conceive; his two Star Trek movies, as well as their much-derided overuse of lens flares; and, of course, all things Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Abrams was kind enough to point out that Rock himself is a director, having made comedies like I Think I Love My Wife and the aforementioned Top Five, but Rock didn’t agree: "I make movies occasionally—you're a director! Star Wars… Pootie Tang."
The conversation's highlights were all just as funny, with the packed John Zuccotti audience erupting into widespread laughter practically every other couple minutes or so. Below, a few of the event's funniest moments:
• After Rock asked Abrams about his small-screen origins working on shows like Felicity and Alias, Abrams flipped the attention back to his colleague, asking Rock about his earliest days in the business. Rock told the story about how he reluctantly played a brief role in Keenan Ivory Wayans' 1988 Blaxploitation spoof I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, which stemmed from a joke in Wayans' script sounding uncomfortably similar to one of Rock’s stand-up bits and Wayans being called out on it. "That was a long time ago," said Rock, before cracking a joke about Hollywood’s currently in-demand black funnyman actor. “It's Kevin Hart time now. Who does Kevin Hart play in the next Star Wars?"
• While on the topic of television, Rock asked Abrams to name his favorite shows of the moment, to which the filmmaker admitted that his three-year-long Star Wars directing assignment kept him out of the TV loop. He's recently caught up, and fell in love with, Amazon's Transparent and HBO's Togetherness, but he’s still far behind popular culture's biggest TV fixes. "Now I'm just the guy who says, 'You hear about this Game of Thrones show?'" quipped Abrams.
• Perhaps watering the seeds for an eventual artistic collaboration, Abrams and Rock traded ideas about what kind of TV show Rock should make. Abrams said that one of his goals is to make a half-hour drama in the tonal vein of his favorite show of all time, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. Rock pointed out that his good friend Louis C.K.'s Louie fits that bill, prompting Abrams to ask Rock if he's watched C.K.’s new self-funded project, Horace and Pete. After a lukewarm response, Rock clarified his apparent indifference to the Louie follow-up. It's a matter of taking things one project at a time as a consumer. “Prince used to put out albums so fast that you would get mad, like, 'Motherfucker, I didn’t finish this shit yet!'"
• Throughout the convo, Rock read questions from a packet of white sheets, which included inquiries supplied by both himself and his "sci-fi brother," Brian. One of Brian’s questions for Abrams particularly delighted the crowd and poked fun at last year’s most disastrous comic book movie reboot: "Could you direct the Fantastic Four? Could someone save that shit?" Rock then interjected: "Anyone see that Superman/Batman [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice shit? What the fuck was that?... Superman can't fight someone who drives a car!"
• Midway into the conversation, Rock asked a potentially controversial question in a wildly strange way. "You get an envelope with your wife’s ear in it," he said, setting the stage for a ransom-like mandatory, do-or-die decision: "Who would you pick: Star Trek fans or Star Wars fans?" Abrams answered the, as he described it, "horrific question" diplomatically, choosing neither side.
Twenty or so minutes later, the evening's final question came from an audience member dressed in makeshift Darth Vader/Kylo Ren cosplay, with a long black robe. He told Abrams that The Force Awakens inspired him to leave his "soul-sucking Wall Street career" and become a full-time Star Wars blogger, and then asked Abrams a weighty, if not out-of-nowhere, question pertaining to the Star Wars universe’s deep-seeded religious intimations and worldwide congregation of fans: "What form of God do you believe in?"
Abrams graciously and thoughtfully answered the lofty question: "In all honesty, I don't know if I believe in God," he admitted. "But I do know that when my mother, who passed away a few years ago, was sick, I did find myself connecting with, talking to, thinking about things in a way that I never had before. It's a funny thing, because what George Lucas did so brilliantly was he told a story…that was about a spiritual connection that we all have."
Because the event couldn't end so seriously, though, Rock snuck in the last words about the cosplayer: "He's the guy who'd give you your wife's ear."
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