Chris Rock’s new HBO special, Kill the Messenger, began with a bold statement, displaying the breadth of his popularity on his current stand-up comedy tour: 8 countries, 4 continents, 554,781 fans. Filmed in three venues — Johannesburg, South Africa; London, England; and New York City’s Apollo in Harlem — Rock is telling the world, and in turn, us viewers, that he is a global comedian. What he has to say about race and gender politics, as well as American politics, translates around the world. How many other American stand-up comedians can make that kind of claim? Doing so in black-tie (Johannesburg), a crisp monochromatic suit (London) and a shiny leather jacket (Harlem), Rock and his production team can show just how well it translates, as well have fun with comedy remixes, repeating phrases up to three times. I’m surprised they didn’t also try to capture some footage from Bonnaroo, where Rock performed for 65,000 music fans this summer in Tennessee, to show even more how broad his appeal has become.
I had seen Rock officially debut this tour set 10 months ago in Las Vegas, as well as an early run-through of premises and ideas last summer in NYC.
Much has changed in the world since then, and Rock has quickly adapted
the news of the day, and the presidential election, into his act. He’s
topical enough to get in a thought or two on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
(who only entered the news a month ago, remember), and also local
enough to begin his set in South Africa with a bit about he’s tracking
animals on safari, while white people with cameras are tracking him.
Rock goes after McCain not only for being old, but also for being a war
hero who got captured. "There’s a lot of guys in jail who got
captured!" He uses Palin to reframe his bit from last year on Michael
Vick, and uses Obama as a way to talk about the difference between what
he represents for black people compared to Flavor Flav. And he calls
Bush not only "the worst president ever" but also "the worst president
of presidents," including leaders of your PTA and neighborhood block
watches. The bulk of his 76-minute set, though, remains the same,
talking about how his neighborhood in New Jersey reflects the
differences between rich white people and rich black people, how the
have-nots can joke about the haves but not vice versa, how bad words
such as fa&&ot and ni&&er are bad depending upon the
context, and the only time that white people can say "ni&&er."
If you’re thinking, well, Rock is very much a have, so who is he to say
much of anything, then Rock can describe how he still relates to
everyone. His routine about how jobs are much worse than careers begins
with his own tale of dropping out of school in the 10th grade and
scraping shrimp at a Red Lobster in Queens, and segues into very
relatable examples of how time crawls when you have a mindless job.
Rock shows how our society has gotten spoiled (perhaps rotten) over
buying bottled water and ringtones. But he closes with the
ever-relatable subjects of sex and the differences between men and
women. Those might be considered safe topics for any stand-up comedian.
Rock, though, manages to make a late twist on it for his closing
routine on how women cannot go backward in lifestyle, while men cannot
go backward in sexual experiences. It’s not so much a here’s how men
and women are different as much as it is a sociological look at how the
two genders are really the same, albeit using diferent standards for
perspective. As Rock announces before dropping the mic once more: "Half
of the women here are grossed out; the other half are in loving
relationships." So, which half are you?