Chris Rock at the Orpheum: No Apologies needed. Review by Jordan Selbo
Chris Rock July 18th, 2008 The Orpheum Theatre Review by Jordan Selbo Photos by Steven Cohen
Better Than: “Last Comic Standing” and “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” combined.
Redundantly calling his current tour “No Apologies,” Chris Rock came to town again Friday night and spent two hours entertaining his ass off, making his seamlessly paced and tightly packed material appear effortlessly pulled off, though obviously the set was the meticulous work of a comic genius, subdued in his old age yet no less bawdy. Owing plenty to recently deceased George Carlin, it was (for me at least) a fitting, unofficial tribute to the late comic great.
Warming things up without stealing any of Rock’s shine, opener and “host” Mario Joyner kept things light, crisp and short by joking good-heartedly about such blandly and commonly-shared ailments as flight attendant rudeness, cell phone bullshit and the ridiculous nature of Home Depot. Then Rock used a short video montage of recent news scandals to announce his spirited entrance. The sprightly and dapper comic ran through the obligatory riffing on the Mall of America and Purple Rain before going more than surface deep by ad libbing on Twin Cities’ sports figures, showcasing an impressive grasp of both comic timing and local teams and their fan favorites.
Chris Rock at the Orpheum. More images by Steven Cohen in the slideshow.
Pop references flowed easily into politics, into gender and race relations and back to politics, sports, and more observations on sex and culture in the meandering but unflagging set. The uniformly quality material relied heavily on topical observations and the ensuing brief and hilarious played out scenarios, excelling occasionally when both were silly and profound, such as the view that the government doesn’t really want you to vote, obviously, since they hold the elections on Tuesday: “No one ever throws a party on Tuesday, because they want people to come to their party. I’ve never gotten laid on a Tuesday,” a truly sexless, partyless day. Throw in a few bizarre non sequiturs (“you never see homeless gay or Asian people”), a willingness to indulge a few yelling hecklers (but not too much), and a refreshing lack of shame or self-consciousness for a star of his magnitude, and you have one impeccable standup performance.
The crowd was along for the ride most of the way, but the relatively high ticket price ensured a healthy number of rich old white people from the suburbs, who may not have enjoyed or even gotten his extended meditations on Black women or raunchy sex humor and slightly antiquated views on gender—which could be summed up nicely with: “pussy costs money, dick is free,” so act accordingly. Regardless, even when the topics got downright touchy (political jabs, frank talk about white privilege and a questionable discussion of when it’s OK to call someone a “faggot”), Rock’s tone never strayed from genial, holding an almost childlike sense of goofing and a keen grasp of the power of novelty. Such as illustrating how much Bush doesn’t “give a fuck” by saying that if you were hanging from a cliff and only needed “a fuck” to survive, a passing Bush, with pockets stuffed with “fucks,” wouldn’t even chip you off one (“you know I don’t give a fuck!”). His voice and delivery, which I have previously found occasionally jarring, were actually quite pleasant, mellowed with time.
Chris Rock gave an animated performance. More images by Steven Cohen in the slideshow.
The jarring contrast came from the essential dual nature of Rock the man vs. Rock the entity. Here before us in many ways, no more and no less, stood a very clever, diminutive and funny man conversing with us about how messed up stuff was, and sharing his crackpot (but completely true) theories about this and that. On the other hand, his brief reference to living in the same neighborhood as Jay-Z, Denzel and Mary J. Blige, along with the fact that he hosted the damn Oscars, betrayed the fact that a genuine star shone upon us, almost surreal in his utterly impressive presence. His sentiments were still grounded in common sense and working class attitudes, yet were delivered with a deft touch that could only come from a master craftsman. It was as if God himself had come down to earth and pulled out his enormous dick on your arm as a practical joke, cracking the both of you up something awful.
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: My favorite joke of the night was a throwaway insult meant to be said by a short person to a taller one: “I hope Bin Laden flies a plane into your lips.”
Random Detail: I had to stop myself from audibly guffawing before the show, trying not to listen to the inane and unintentionally hilarious dialogue of some square foursome behind me, who had obviously bought tickets simply because they were bored and had too much money laying around their Edina McMansion: “Howie Mandel was alright, but Gallagher…wow.” Or, “What movies has he [Rock] been in?” “Wasn’t he in Rush Hour with that Asian guy?” “Nah, I think that was somebody else.”
By the way: Rock is so adept at displaying almost any situation through the prism of race, without sounding forced or bitter or unoriginal, that even a discussion of Britney Spear’s recent woes quickly segued into how white and black parents and kids are perceived differently by government and social services, making her situation seem both relevant and humorous. Now that’s like whoa. -- Jordan Selbo
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