Chris Rock has just unlocked the mystery behind a problem that’s dogged him for his entire life.
In an extensive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Rock reveals that he underwent a nine-hour series of cognitive tests earlier this year and received a diagnosis of non-verbal learning disorder (NVLD). This, he explains, makes it difficult for him to interpret non-verbal signals from others.
“And all I understand are the words,” he says, but points out that he comprehends words at their most literal meanings. “By the way, all of those things are really great for writing jokes — they’re just not great for one-on-one relationships.”
Looking back, Rock can now see that he would usually assign other reasons for why people responded to him the way they did.
“I’d always just chalked it up to being famous,” he says. “Any time someone would respond to me in a negative way, I’d think, ‘Whatever, they’re responding to something that has to do with who they think I am.’ Now, I’m realizing it was me. A lot of it was me.”
Rock subsequently paid a visit to “The View”, where he opened up further about his recent diagnosis.
“[I took] a battery of tests, like nine hours of tests,” he said. “They came back and said, ‘You don’t have Asperger’s, but you have something very close to it, and it’s called NVLD, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.”
As he explained, “One of the things is, I have a hard time picking up social cues. Like when I talk to people, I hear the words, but if you’re mad at me, if you’re feeling a certain way, I might have a hard time picking that up.”
Rock recalled that “The View” co-host Joy Behar, who’s also a standup comic, and fellow comic Susie Essman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) would occasionally try to figure out why he was behaving the way he did.
“Every now and then Joy and Susie Essman would pull me to the side and kind of give me an etiquette lesson,” he said. “Like, ‘Dude, what’s up with you?’ …They even knew back then that I was a little off.”
Behar chimed in, recalling a time when Rock gave her a lift home. “You said, ‘Sure, get in the car,’ and the whole ride you were on the phone talking to someone else,” Behar said. “I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m not here right now’ — that might be an example.”
Prior to receiving the diagnosis, Rock admitted that he struggled with anxiety, knowing something was wrong with him but unsure exactly what it was, which tended to fuel his nervous energy.
“I used to have a squirrel-like energy… you can’t sneak up on a squirrel, it’s always alert, he’s scared all the time,” he said. “And that’s gone. I’m much more relaxed now.”