Tuesday, March 4, 2008

LIVE REVIEW: Chris Rock


Apparently, it’s time for Chris Rock to conquer stand-up comedy again. It’s been four years since his last HBO special “Never Scared” and for about the last year he’s been working on new material for another tour (dubbed “No Apologies”) and another run on HBO. Last week he was at the classy Academy of Music in Philadelphia for three shows.

Comic Mario Joyner started out the evening with a serviceable 20 minutes before pointing out the two turntables behind him and introducing…DJ Jazzy Jeff! Jazzy’s set with MC Skillz got the crowd amped up until Joyner returned to report, “ok, we’re going to take a 20 minute intermission now.”

The end of Jazzy’s set seemed like the perfect time to bring out Rock, but I’m going to assume he knows what he’s doing. And when he came out after a looooong twenty minutes break with his green “CR” logo on the screen, the crowd was again excited and on their feet. After all, it was Chris Rock.

Undoubtedly the audience was familiar with his stage persona: the pacing back and forth with the microphone in one hand and his other hand guiding the cord. And the sermon-like delivery that gets louder and faster as he gets his point across. But he’s not one to ride on reputation. As he told The New York Times recently, “Maybe for about three minutes after I walk onstage, they’re into my résumé. But after that it’s like, ‘What’s he got?’…”

So he makes sure he has good stuff and comes out right with it. He started out by talking about the upcoming election and quickly went through the candidates: John McCain (“Wasn’t McCain too old 10 years ago? I don’t want a president with a bucket list”), Hillary Clinton (“America is ready for a female president. But does it have to be that woman?), Barack Obama (“He’s cool, he doesn’t play up the black thing. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like he realizes that he’s the black candidate. He thinks he can win this thing fair and square”).

From there he went on to big ideas, broad themes and new rules that were relevant and unforced. Like the idea that there’s a difference between a job and a career, and the people with careers need to shut up about it to the people with jobs. Or on the only time that it’s ok for white people to say The N Word, which is destined to be a classic bit. There are plenty of comics that talk about race and gender relations and Rock is the best of them, but it’s his material on class that was most interesting. Like the rule that “the people with the most shit, get to say the least shit. And the people with the least shit get to say the most shit.” He also had some material about Walmart that was a change of pace for him.

While Rock can talk about broad themes, it’s the details that matter and make him funny. He’s got his delivery and timing perfected and not a word is wasted. His material can be silly when you least expect. And even when he talks about tired topics like steroids, Don Imus and prescription drugs, often he’s got a better take than any other comedian out there. He can do it all and he doesn’t overdo any of it.

He did an hour and a half, which will probably be around the length of next HBO special, and by the end the crowd was tired and satisfied. And even though he doesn’t quite manically prowl the stage in front of a 2900-seat theatre as he would for the Madison Square Garden, he puts on a great show. And he can still be powerful even if he doesn’t throw down the mic at the end like he used to.

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