By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2008
In these YouTubian times, there's a certain peril in conducting a multi-city stand-up comedy tour: Punch lines precede their progenitor. Which is to say, you probably already heard about Chris Rock's take on Hillary Clinton: "I think America's ready for a woman president, I really do -- but does it have to be that woman?" Or that he thinks John McCain is as old as dirt: "I don't need [a president] with a bucket list." And for weeks, the afrosphere's been abuzz over Rock's oh-no-he-didn't take on Barack Obama's biggest handicap: "He has a black wife. . . . If Barack Obama really wants to be president, he needs to get him a white girl."
But Chris Rock is Chris Rock, which means that even if his oft-quoted jokes lost a little of their traction before he landed on Constitution Hall's stage Friday night, he's still got that unique ability to enthrall. Maybe it's the way he squints his eyes and shifts his voice to the upper registers, pausing right before he's about to say something really outrageous. With his scrawny body and lollipop head, he's always got the air of the impudent imp -- even at 42. (He's scheduled to play four dates here, concluding with a performance tonight.)
Rock's not a storyteller, like Richard Pryor, or someone who easily morphs into other characters, like Dave Chappelle. Rock is always Rock. Even in his movies, even playing a "serious" role like Pookie the crackhead in "New Jack City," he's always the same. Perturbed, petulant, put out. You look at him, and you want to laugh.
Friday night he served up vintage Rockian humor in a nearly 90-minute set before a capacity house, playing the curmudgeonly cynic, bitterly railing against a "crazy George Bush deregulated world" where even ring tones are an indication of a sinister conspiracy at work. (It's just a matter of time before all the phone companies get together and conspire to sell us phones that don't ring at all -- we'll all have to pay for the privilege of being able to hear our phones ring. Believe it!)
In this worldview, men and women are embattled enemies, all politicians lie and white men still rule the world -- even if Obama, whom Rock supports, is leading in the polls. ("It's going to be hard for Barack to be president. . . . Hillary's not going to give up. She's like Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction.' ") As Rock, pacing the stage in a slick green suit, sees it, black folks still have to labor harder than anyone else just to be on even footing. Don't believe it? In his exclusive neighborhood in Alpine, N.J., he said, only three of his neighbors are African American: Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Denzel Washington. His white next-door neighbor? "He's a [expletive] dentist."
Nothing and no one escaped his scathing focus. He took on everything from Britney Spears losing her kids ("Even O.J. kept his kids. And he killed their mother") to President Bush ("He [messed] up so bad he made it hard for a white man to run for president") to his kids growing up rich ("I hate rich kids -- which means part of me hates my own kids") to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright ("75-year-old black man who doesn't like white people. Is there any other kind of 75-year-old black man?").
But here, in the nation's capital, Rock's political jokes took on a certain pointedness: "There, I said it. In Washington, D.C." And he had sharp words for Hillary Clinton's African American supporters ("We hate ourselves that much").
There, in the second row, was George Stephanopoulos, sliding farther and farther down in his seat but laughing nonetheless, even at the Hillary and Bill jokes. And there, in the third row, was political pundit Roland Martin, chortling and raising his hand in the air, shouting, "Right, right, right!"
By the end of his set, Rock started to lag a bit, as he meandered on about the state of male-female relations (mostly mercenary transactions), Don Imus and the only acceptable instance where white folks can use the n-word (hint: It involves a very narrow window of time between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a vicious beatdown and Toys R Us).
But he rallied at the end, whipping into a sidesplitting exegesis on a certain sexual act, ending the show with a three-word bit of advice for all the women in the audience. If this weren't a family newspaper, we'd tell you the punch line, because there's a good chance you haven't heard it on YouTube. Yet.