January 1

There are 2 entries for this date: Neal Brennan Chris Rock

    Chris Rock

    Chris Rock

    On this date in 1965, comedian, actor and producer Christopher Julius Rock III was born in Andrews, S.C. Shortly after Rock was born, his father, a truck driver and his mother, a teacher, moved to New York City. Rock was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn along with an older half-brother and three younger brothers. Rock’s parents, hoping it would improve his education, arranged to bus him to a different neighborhood, where he attended an almost entirely white public high school. He was subjected to racist bullying and harassment, and ended up dropping out, later earning a GED.

    Comedic great Eddie Murphy discovered Rock performing stand-up in 1983 when Rock was just 18. In 1990 he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” and began appearing in bit roles in movies. He stayed with “SNL” for three years. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Rock’s stand-up was featured in five HBO specials. He hosted the 77th Academy Awards in 2005 and the 88th in 2016. He has won four Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards. He was voted the fifth-greatest stand-up comedian in a poll conducted by Comedy Central. 

    Rock’s grandfather was a preacher and Rock says he was influenced by his performance style on the altar. However, that influence did not extend to religion. Rock’s comedy is peppered with skepticism about religion, including an episode of HBO’s “The Chris Rock Show” in which he visited with different faith leaders in a bit that mocked several major religions.

    He directed and starred in the movie “Top Five” in 2014. His acting career also includes appearances in movies such as “Dogma” (1999), “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” (2001), “Grown Ups,” (2010) and “Grown Ups 2” (2013). Netflix announced in 2016 that it would release two new stand-up specials, with Rock being paid $40 million per special. The first, “Chris Rock: Tamborine,” was released in February 2018 and was filmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The release date for the second Netflix special was announced for March 4, 2023.

    He married Malaak Compton in 1996. They divorced in 2016 and have two daughters, Lola Simone (born 2002) and Zahra Savannah (born 2004).

    “When you’re black there’s like no religion to turn to. It’s like, Christianity? I don’t think so. White people justified slavery and segregation through Christianity so a black Christian is like a black person with no f***king memory.”

    —Outtake from the 1989 documentary short "Who Is Chris Rock?"
    Compiled by Dayna Long; photo by Everett Collection, Shutterstock.com

    Neal Brennan

    Neal Brennan

    On this date in 1973, comedian-writer-director Neal Brennan was born in Villanova, Pa., the youngest of 10 children in an Irish-Catholic family. He studied film for a year at New York University, then worked as a doorman at a Greenwich Village comedy club where he met Dave Chappelle. 

    He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s to write for television. He teamed with Chappelle in 1997 on the screenplay for the film “Half Baked,” a commercial failure that became a cult classic. He and Chappelle co-created the sketch comedy series “Chappelle’s Show” in 2002, which debuted in 2003 on Comedy Central and aired until 2006. Chappelle left the show without warning in 2005.

    Brennan received three Emmy nominations for directing, writing and producing “Chappelle’s Show.” It’s the top-selling television show DVD of all time with nearly 9 million units sold as of this writing in 2019. It was Comedy Central’s highest-rated program after two seasons.

    He also wrote material for “Saturday Night Live” when Chappelle and Aziz Ansari were hosts and for Seth Meyers’ speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011. His first one-hour stand-up special, “Women and Black Dudes” premiered on Comedy Central in 2014.

    Brennan became a contributor to “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” in 2016 as “Trevor’s friend Neal.” In 2017 he released “3 Mics,” his second special on Netflix, followed by an all-new half hour of material in 2019 as part of the Comedians of the World series.

    An atheist, Brennan doesn’t mind taking potshots at it, calling it “the height of white privilege.” (The Hollywood Reporter, April 15, 2019): “Think about it: Religion basically says, ‘Hey, can we interest you in an after-life?’ And white people are all like, ‘No, thank you.’ Like, ‘Why, how much better can it be?’ “

    On Peter McGraw’s podcast (Sept. 26, 2018), Brennan said: “The only thing that matters to me now is the first-person experience. Legacy is hogwash to me, even any religion. I’ve been shaky at best on religion for the last decade.” 

    Brennan in 2012; photo by CleftClips under CC 2.0.

    “God is unbelievable! (I’m an atheist)”

    —Brennan tweet, July 10, 2011
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation