Rock rules, Rock rolls, Rock reels, Rock roars and sometimes, Rock riles. Chris Rock, the last great stand-up comic of the millennium--unless Dan Quayle does a last-minute shift from politics to show business--racks up another riotous rollicker with the premiere of "Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker," late tonight on HBO.
If you compare this new one-hour virtuoso recital to Rock's last HBO special, "Bring the Pain," in 1996, "Bigger & Blacker" suffers slightly, but it would be more fair to compare it with what all other comedians are doing these days and then there's no contest: Rock is better. He's on a rarefied, roarified plane, and his material remains bolder and more meaningful than that of almost any mainstream comic one can think of.
The special, at 11:15 (after HBO airs "Lethal Weapon 4," in which Rock has too small a role), was taped mid-June at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, so legendary a showplace that it's now a registered trademark. Rock registers with a raft of riffs on subjects that include Bill and Hillary Clinton, taxes, diseases, Jerry Lewis, racism and, of course, sex, sex, sex, that most inevitable of comic topics.
Fortunately, Rock brings his own angle to everything, perspectives that are always funny and sometimes startlingly sane and sensible. What we need, he says, is not gun control but "bullet control." Bullets should cost $5,000 apiece. Then people would think twice, maybe three times, before firing one into somebody else.
Daringly, Rock opens with remarks relating to the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., and as sensitive as that subject is, he manages to bring it off. You wince, but you laugh. Rock likes dangerous comedy, and it would be folly to tell him anything is off-limits. He likes the challenge, and what happens is, the audience is challenged as well.
Some of Rock's jokes seem familiar, having been published in his breezy little 1997 book "Rock This." But it's always funnier to hear him say the stuff, or scream it, as the case may be. Rock's delivery seemed more craftily modulated in "Bring the Pain," and sometimes in "Bigger & Blacker," he becomes strident and shrill. But then he'll zing you with an insight so fresh and sassy that the content justifies the style.
Things threaten to go very wrong in the fourth quarter, when Rock gets on a streak about women that borders on the misogynistic. He summons forth unhappy memories of an infamous Eddie Murphy performance in which Murphy wailed and whined about alimony payments and the alleged mercilessness of women scorned. Rock reportedly has been having some marital difficulties, too; they have not inspired him to his finest moments. Just the opposite.
On the other hand, he's caustically accurate in his assessment of men. What do men want? "Food, sex and silence," he says, elaborating on that in ways that cannot be repeated here. Rock expresses admiration for basketball coach Pat Riley for having led so many black men to "the promised land" and has disdain for demagogue Louis Farrakhan and his antisemitic rhetoric, but for reasons other than the obvious.
He doesn't preach, he observes and dissects. His comments become commentary. The two main motifs for the evening, Robitussin and "The Big Piece of Chicken," are skillfully interwoven throughout the mad harangue. By the end, Rock's shrieking resembles that of one of his comic idols, Sam Kinison, yet it still maintains a character and flavor that are strictly Rock's own. As are we, his adoring fans.
Among the extraneous details that detract from the presentation are an off-screen announcer who keeps screaming "are you ready?" at the crowd prior to Rock's appearance on stage (you keep waiting for him to finish the question with "to rrrrum-bullll?") and Rock's wacky Calvin Klein suit. Who knew that Klein liked to work in Naugahyde? Or whatever the heck it is. The outfit is black and shiny and sure looks hot--but then, those things can also be said, admiringly, of the man parading around in it.
CAPTION: Chris Rock's humor is often outrageous and yet it makes perfect sense.