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Comedian Chris Rock: Forever in a hard place

CHICAGO — Chris Rock, one of the most successful comedians on the planet, is pretty much in constant pursuit of peace of mind.

"I worry about every show. Every time there's a camera on, I worry about it," he says.

Promoting his latest movie, the comedy documentary "Good Hair," Rock got serious in an interview, addressing the perils of being funny. "You just don't take for granted that you are good. Not at this."

He's not just being modest. "I obsess. Yes, I'll admit that."

You might say he also should cop to neurotic.

"Somebody said the other day, 'Larry King likes you.' Dude, are you saying I'm not funny on the show? Forget 'like.' " When it comes to his job —"I've got to be funny" — Rock is looking for full-blown love.

He goes into every video appearance, whether an interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" or an HBO special, thinking, "I can totally mess this up. I'm very conscious of that," he says.

"You're never going to accomplish anything unless you know how bad it could be," says Rock, pausing frequently before offering thoughtful answers to questions about his job. It's something he thinks about a lot, though seldom talks about.

Does he agree with the conventional wisdom that comedians are troubled and crazy?

"I hit my rough patches," he says. "Friend of mine, Rich Jeni, shot himself in the head ... If somebody asks me, 'Was he depressed?' He was a comedian!"

Over an outdoor lunch on a sunny weekday at a Chicago hotel, Rock elaborates. "A comedian is like half a psychic. Very aware. It is very, very, very aware to be a comedian. You kind of gotta notice everything ... Stuff doesn't get by you.

"You just notice too much," he says. "Like a little computer and you can back it up with data. It's like you've got a Google in your head."

And the result of all that? "It's so much easier to not know in life ...You just end up knowing too much about people."

Despite a career of pitching his movies, television shows and specials to TV talk show hosts, Rock preps as though it's the first time.

Getting ready to go on "Oprah," he's trailed by an assistant whose job it is to tape every funny thing Rock has said for the past three weeks so that all successful jokes, comments, one-liners and observations are preserved for possible use.

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