- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Chris Rock hasn’t toured in nine years, a span that has presented the 52-year-old comedian and actor with enough time to have life both happen to him and to the country in which he — and we — live.

Mr. Rock, as part of his “Total Blackout” stand-up tour, performed two shows at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Saturday evening, in which the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and sometime-Oscar host took to his tried-and-true riffs on race in America, sex and relationships, nerds and bullies and politics out for a new 90-minute spin in the age of Trump.

Sporting a vintage Van Halen T-shirt and a jeans jacket, Mr. Rock wasted little time in haranguing the new president’s rampant unpredictability. In an early joke Mr. Rock spoke of waking up to “see if Trump sold off North Carolina.”

A recurring theme in his act was how he must prepare his children, now teens and preteens, for life as black Americans in a culture that still struggles with its age-old race problems. Mr. Rock brought a spotlight to bear on white cops shooting black teenagers, and suggested that cops might shoot white teens “every so often” just to “avoid” accusations of racism.

Several patrons walked out not long after as Mr. Rock jested about having his children avoid anything that is white, even if it’s a toilet seat. It was far from his riskiest material about race, and likely said more about those audience members than the comedy itself.

The first 40 minutes of the show was uneven energy-wise. Mr. Rock sometimes seemed unfocused, with his eyes often closing mid-routine, not as if he were struggling to remember a punch line but almost as perhaps a device to calm his nerves — something he has never seemed to struggle with before publicly. And with the attacks in London likely fresh in the minds of many, quips about mass shootings in America landed a bit heavier than I suspect he intended.

This may perhaps explain why Mr. Rock slipped on a lengthy lark about a “serial knife attacker,” who then started “shooting” his victims. Mr. Rock ventured to stage right, paused, and announced his realization that he had flubbed the fantasy killer’s weapon. 

“It’s the second show of the night,” he said, professionally and ably covering his tracks while acknowledging the gaffe, and earning hearty applause from the Borgata’s 3,000 attendees.

Mr. Rock soon seemed to find his groove, with the second half of the show an inspired and modulated performance, with jokes carefully — and, obviously, workshopped and reworked during his rather famous rehearsal process — set up, delivered and landed. A nice riff on the ongoing PR campaign of “some bad apples” in police departments was expertly compared to occupations such as pilots, a profession where there righteously cannot be such outliers: “Most of our pilots like to land, but we have a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains.”

His most damning material came in observing how the vice principal at his children’s school tells her charges that “you can be anything you want to be,” but his own advice to his children is far more stark: “You can be anything you’re good at, as long as they’re hiring,” he said, “and even then it helps to know somebody.”

As was the case in his previous tours and HBO specials, the A-material came in Mr. Rock’s observations on relationship, marriage and, new for him since his last tour, divorce. The comedian infamously was caught red-handed with other women near the end of his two-decade marriage to Malaak Compton Rock, saying on stage that he cheated with three women.

“All the women in here hate me,” he said, “and all the men are like, ‘Chris, only three? At your level?’”

The brutal sincerity of his adulterous mistakes and regrets formed the true heart of “Total Blackout,” Mr. Rock’s most personal routine to date. He makes no excuses for his behavior, and spoke frankly about how he, as the larger breadwinner in his marriage, had to pick up the tab for both his and his ex-wife’s divorce attorneys. The settlement bruised him greatly financially — he joked the audience shouldn’t be surprised to see him in some rather subpar films forthcoming — as well as damaged the relationship with his children.

But in the midst of that unpleasantness, he said, came a realization: He had “made it.” There, in a room of attorneys and judges with far more education, he was in fact the richest among them by far, and even if his soon-to-be-former spouse would get much of his fortune — and the attorneys their share — it was a testament to his country where there was that much of a fortune for himself, a high school dropout who only later received a GED, to divvy up.

Now a single father, Mr. Rock spoke about using dating apps, dating women both in his cohort and much younger and trying to “one-up” his ex-wife in the parenting department, relating that Drake and even Lady Gaga have come over to tutor his kids. But this dovetailed nicely with the greater arching theme that he still preaches the gospel of relationships. Even if it didn’t work out for him, he nudged his audience to keep trying, telling men to accept fault “even if you were a state away at the time,” and that a good relationship entails precisely two things: sex and travel.

The finer points of that riff are unprintable here — though in his fifties, Mr. Rock has not lost his fondness for graphic language relating to fornication, nor for using a certain word much in the news last fall — but now several decades into his career as a comedian, “Total Blackout” proves that Mr. Rock remains one of America’s great commentators on the relations between men and women.

Even when, as was the case in his life, he turned out to be the bad guy.

 

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