My first trip to the Comedy Cellar in 2008 turned out to be a good one, as Chris Rock walked in from the frigid night all bundled up in a parka and hat, ready to get back onstage and work out some material.

Rock had just performed at Madison Square Garden for New Year’s Eve (read the New York Times review here) and when I asked him how that went, he retorted: "It went well. I’m still in the business!" Don’t you just love how comics love to bust each other? He later confided that he really enjoyed playing the Garden and admired its acoustics. During the Cellar’s late show Wednesday night, he jumped up for an unannounced set that lasted 37 minutes. Really low-key. He brought two notepads onstage with him, but only referred to them briefly about halfway through, when he said, "I better do a couple of jokes and get the hell out of here." The audience chuckled. Rock knew enough to reply then, "As if that’s not what I was supposed to be doing this whole time." I don’t think that was the issue for Rock this night. After all, he’d just played the Garden. The previous few nights, he’d played theaters in Albany, Indianapolis and Phoenix. In mid-November, he played two nights in Las Vegas. And on Jan. 7, he begins a tour of England, returning to the U.S. for a slate of dates across the country that keeps him busy from February through May, with four nights in late April and early May back at Madison Square Garden. I got the sense watching him last night that he merely needed to get onstage to maintain that feel of the stage, the heat from the crowd, especially in the much smaller and intimate setting of the Comedy Cellar. That the club had a lot of foreign tourists in the seats probably didn’t hurt, either.

Most of the material I’d heard was new, too. Rock is always working on his routines, refining premises and thinking about how to incorporate new bits into the routine. He opened with some topical thoughts on Christmas and New Year’s, then relayed the events from a recent dinner meeting he and his wife had with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Rock noted how he felt like, especially as a comic, he had a need to keep a close eye on Cruise. "Was he holding his fork funny?" Things like that. At the end of the meeting, Cruise told Rock that he thought they should do a movie together. "Like I have any say in the matter!!!" Rock joked, explaining that his movies (Pootie Tang) have paled in comparison to the box-office bonanza of Cruise. If Tom Cruise wants Chris Rock in his movie, Chris Rock says he’ll be in his movie! Rock searched for another celebrity encounter to tell the crowd, and ended up choosing an old story about playing Tecmo Bowl with Will Smith back in the days when Smith was merely a rapper who said he dreamed about being an actor and movie star. If only Rock knew that Smith wasn’t as crazy as he must’ve sounded that day…or something to that effect. Rock did seem to want to make a larger point toward the end of his set about the difficulties of relationships between "on-time" people and "late" people.

Here is a review from his Albany gig.

Of course, if you click on the Chris Rock category tag on my blog (or even on this post), you’ll see that Rock has worked out many of these thoughts over the past several months.