December 7, 2022

With all due respect to Jeff “You might be a redneck if….” Foxworthy, your city might have a crime problem if…. Chris Rock opens his local show with a joke about it.

On Friday, the first of his two nights at the Saenger Theatre as part of his Ego Death World Tour, Rock greeted his cheering fans with, “Y’all are just glad you got here without getting shot.”

New Orleans, he continued, seems to be auditioning to host a new season of “The Wire,” David Simon’s acclaimed TV chronicle of Baltimore’s deadly violence: “It’s getting crazy out there.”

Barely three hours later, a 21-year-old man was shot in the legs at the bustling intersection of Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue, just blocks from the Saenger. Life in New Orleans, unfortunately, imitated Rock’s art, which is rooted in uncomfortable reality.

He is not afraid to address taboo subjects head-on. Gleeful outrage, delivered with a mischievous glint, is his default mode. It was in ample supply throughout his 90-minute set Friday.

But so, too, was a more reflective tone indicative of Rock’s current status as a middle-aged, divorced father dealing with parenthood, dating, easily offended Gen Z-ers and a very public slap courtesy of Will Smith.

chris rock

Comedian Chris Rock tops the marquee at the Saenger Theatre on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, the first night of a two-night stand at the New Orleans venue.

‘Selective outrage’ and victimhood

Clad entirely in white, Rock arrived onstage immediately following opening act Rick Ingraham’s one-note 15-minute set, which consisted almost entirely of improvised riffs on audience members’ sex lives.

Rock stalked the stage with a microphone attached to a long cord, the classic tool of the stand-up comic’s trade. Lit from below, he cast a tall shadow on the plain white backdrop; his shadow at times seemed to take on an exaggerated life of its own.

Rock is not a fan of the easily offended, especially members of Generation Z. He bemoaned the “woke police,” that “you gotta watch what you say,” that some people “are triggered over a word.” His liberal use of the n-word, he implied, should not be considered hurtful. Words hurt, he cracked, “when you write them on a brick.”

He mocked the “selective outrage” of those who “will play a Michael Jackson song but won’t play an R. Kelly song” and the virtue-signaling of Lululemon and other corporate entities who make showy statements on social issues. Mass victimhood of the easily offended, he proposed, results from an addiction to attention.

“I got smacked by Will Smith,” he declared, “and I am not a victim.”

When people ask if the infamous Academy Awards slap hurt, Rock refers to his and Smith’s respective movie roles: “He played (Muhammad) Ali. I played Pookie,” the tragic crack addict of “New Jack City.”

In other words, yeah, it hurt.

Rock didn’t hit back “cause I was raised (right). The No. 1 rule of civilized Black people is you don’t fight in front of White people. You take that s— outside.”

Bringing race into it

Directly or indirectly, race informs much of his material. The proliferation of “Black Lives Matter” signs in his affluent, all-white neighborhood, he joked, prompted him to put up a Trump sign “for balance.” Trump wasn’t all bad, he noted, since he pardoned Lil Wayne.

In Rock’s view, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was “like a White ‘Planet of the Apes.’” Meghan Markle “won the light-skinned lottery” by marrying into Britain’s royal family, even though they are “the Sugarhill Gang of racism.” (Rock assumes his audience knows the Sugarhill Gang are hip-hop pioneers.)

That members of the royal family reportedly speculated on “how brown” Markle’s child with Prince Harry would be was not necessarily offensive, Rock posited: “Even Black people want to know how brown the baby’s gonna be. Is it a Steph Curry baby or a Wesley Snipes baby? Is it a Drake baby or a Lil Nas X baby?”

Other than imitating a Joe Biden statue coming to life, Rock confined his physical comedy to the cadence of his delivery. As he hit his stride, the pitch, tempo and volume increased, especially during a send-up of the Kardashian family, who “love Black people more than Black people love Black people.”

Unlike his buddy Dave Chappelle, he was careful not to open himself up to charges of transphobia. He’s fine, he said, with people being who they want to be, even if his brothers might have a problem with their father turning up for Thanksgiving dinner as a woman. That would force Rock to be the voice of reason: “N—-, she’s your daddy!”

Abortion not off-limits

Abortion may be a women’s issue, but he feels justified in discussing it because, “I’ve paid for more abortions than anybody in here.”

Forging ahead into the absurd, he proposed that abortions should be allowed until the child’s first report card arrives.

He may be rich now, but continues to “identify as poor. My pronoun is ‘broke.’” Thus, he’s come to regret spoiling his daughters.

A long story about one of his daughters getting kicked out of private school involved questions of privilege and accountability. His ex-wife wanted to hire an attorney to get their daughter reinstated. Rock privately asked the school’s headmaster to let the expulsion stand – his daughter needed to learn that actions have consequences. This was the more reflective Rock.

When dating in the age of Me Too, “I never make the first move. You’ve got to ask…preferably in writing.”

That he is wealthy and famous plays differently with women in different age groups, he theorized. Younger women are happy with a new pair of shoes; older women want him to get their roofs and cars fixed.

He donned glasses to read an apparently authentic text exchange with a woman who was not shy about extolling the virtues of her vagina. In the show’s only, and unnecessary, special effect, the raunchy texts were projected on the stage backdrop.

The segment ultimately didn’t pay off, leading to an anticlimactic conclusion.

But Rock had already given his audience plenty of reasons to laugh, even if they weren’t always comfortable.

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