NEW YORK – Chris Rock (search) was just a teen when he first pulled a gun on a group of bullies.
"The kids were chasing him," recalled David Waters, 44, a friend and neighbor from Rock's block on Decatur Street in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. "So he pulled the gun and said, 'Everybody get back!'
"They got back," Waters recalled. "But then they called the cops. When the cops came, he said, 'It's a toy! It's a toy!' and smashed it into a million pieces.
"So the cops beat his a--."
Waters couldn't stifle a laugh as he told the story.
That ability to find humor in affliction is the genesis of "Everybody Hates Chris (search)," a kind of Spike Lee-does-"The Wonder Years (search)" sitcom set to air on UPN this fall: A poor black boy from Bedford-Stuyvesant is sent by his strong-willed mother to lily-white "Corleone Junior High."
There, he learns the mysterious ways of a little-known species — and they beat his a--.
"It seems grim, but if you listen to Chris Rock's material, there's always something in his standup that starts out as a serious concept," said Ali LeRoi, 43, executive producer and writer on the series who met Rock, now 40, 20 years ago on the standup circuit.
"He always takes serious issues and finds the humor in them."
Rock's childhood misery, when run through the filter of his caustic wit, becomes some of his best material. And Rock's Decatur Street was the same way. Vulnerabilities weren't indulged, they were exploited — the raw material for homegrown standup.
"We'd rank on everything," said Chris Sealy, 45, who grew up with Rock and saw the star take his act from stoop-side "ranking sessions" to the emcee slot at the 77th Annual Academy Awards.
"These guys who lived on the block would talk about your sister with Down syndrome," Sealy said. "If you couldn't take a joke, you couldn't go outside."
In the show, Rock moves to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn from the projects with his truck-driving, authoritarian, penny-pinching father and outspoken mother.
He plays the music of hip-hop legends such as "The 45 King" and "The Sugar Hill Gang," records Rock used to spin as a teenage deejay.
Rock's TV family life is fictionalized, but rings true to many of his real-life childhood friends — with one exception.
"They weren't poor in the least. They were cheap!" quipped Sealy.
A 16th-birthday party in the Rock household consisted of "soda from Buy Rite and colored water," Sealy roared, sliding easily back three decades into teenage ranking form.
"They didn't have chicken wings — they had pigeon wings."
But it wasn't much of a stretch for Rock's character to leave the 'hood to attend all-white Corleone, in the fictional neighborhood of Brooklyn Beach.
There, the 13-year-old faces a ruthless pummeling by hulking bullies for being skinny, awkward and black, which his family says sticks to the real-life script of the comedian's experience at PS 277 in Gerritsen Beach and then Marine Park JHS — both in mostly white, working-class neighborhoods.
His TV mother insisted on the move, believing that "those white kids, they get an education."
To which Rock retorts in a voice-over, "Not a Harvard-type education, just not a hold-up-a-liquor-store-type education."
At Corleone, he faces a different set of dangers and finds that working-class black neighborhoods are pretty similar to their white counterparts — just "take away the gangs and add the mob."
"It got worse as he got older," said Tony Rock, 31, of Chris's real-life experience.
"In elementary school, kids imitated their older brothers and said, 'My older brother calls black people n---ers, so I'll do it, too.' But in junior high it starts to get physical — and more physical by high school."
Finally, after years of bullying, Rock's parents pulled him out of James Madison HS at 17.
"If we didn't, he was going to get killed," said his mother, Rose Rock.