Night Flight’s “Comedy Cuts”: Catch A Rising Star with a young Chris Rock and more

By on May 9, 2016

Rick Newman’s Catch A Rising Star comedy club — on 1st Avenue between East 78th Street and East 77th Street, in uptown NYC — was one of the top clubs for discovering new talent, and one night, in 1987, Night Flight was there to catch the rising stars of comedy, including a very young Chris Rock, who talks about his relationship with his father. Watch this episode of our “Comedy Cuts” on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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Rock had already been working as a stand-up comic since he was a teenager, performing as early as 1984 at Catch a Rising Star and other comedy clubs.

His early act frequently mentioned his tough time growing up in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn (Rock refers to it here in this clip as “Bed-Stuy, do or die”). The eldest of six children, Rock dropped out of school after enduring bullying on a regular basis from the white students at James Madison High School (he was bused to school).

He dropped out of school, later earning a GED, and went to work at a variety of low-paying jobs, working at fast food franchises and as a busboy in restaurants, as an orderly at a mental hospital and he also got a job unloading trucks at the New York Daily News, where his father worked.

Rock talks about his father a lot in his stand-up comedy, especially early on, but has said his performing style was honed after years of cracking up his co-workers and also listening to the way his paternal grandfather, a preacher named Allen Rock, spoke to his flock.

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Rock made his first non-comedy club TV appearance on an an episode of TV’s “Miami Vice” (“Missing Hours,” Season 4, episode 7), in which he appeared as a records clerk tasked with researching information on UFOs and aliens (James Brown also appeared on the show… as an alien).

In 1986, comedian Eddie Murphy caught Rock’s performance at Manhattan’s Comic Strip Club in 1986, and then offered him a chance to appear on his HBO special “Uptown Comedy Express.”

Murphy also gave Rock a small role in his film Beverly Hills Cop II (released in 1987).

In 1988, Night Flight’s founder Stuart Shapiro produced a stand-up comedy concert film Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen, which Rock credits as getting him his job at “Saturday Night Live.”

The New Yorker noted the importance of Rock’s appearance in the film too, saying it “helped earn him a place in the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live’, two years later, and that attitude helped make him the defining comic of the hip-hop generation.

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“Catch” — as it is affectionately called in the comedy club world — first opened its doors in New York City in 1972. It’s only comedy club that has ever had two major network television specials produced about it: Catch A Rising Star’s 10th Anniversary on HBO, and Catch A Rising Star’s 25th Anniversary on CBS.

The other performers in this show — which originally aired in 1987 — are Frankie Pace, Ken Ober, John Mendoza, Rosie O’Donnell, and the very funny Lorne Elliot.

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Kevin Meaney does his bit as the man in the street, too. Here he is talking inside the club to Ken Ober.

It’s really nice to see Ober again, since he’s not with us anymore: he died in 2009, at age 52.

Born July 3, 1957, in Boston, Ober studied communications and education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he helped found the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha. He worked as a substitute teacher in Boston before performing in comedy clubs in New York.

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He caught his first big break and national exposure as a contestant on season two of “Star Search,” reaching the semifinal round in the comedy competition, when MTV hired him in 1987 to be the host of MTV’s trivia game show, “Remote Control,” which in turn helped break the careers of comedians Adam Sandler, Colin Quinn and Denis Leary.

The show was a sendup of all things television, with the college-age contestants sitting in Ober’s basement answering questions while strapped into reclining lounge chairs. It was among the network’s first original series to focus on non-musical content.

Ober hosted from 1987 to 1989, but left the show to audition for acting jobs. He appeared on TV series such as “Parenthood,” “Who’s the Boss?” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and then returned to co-hosting another game show, “Smush,” which aired on the USA Network in 2001. He then shifted his focus to writing and producing. He became a consulting producer (for 12 episodes, in 2006) for one of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” and was a supervising writer/producer on “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn,” and writer/producer on Alex Mencia’s “Mind of Mencia.”

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.