Surprisingly, there were no fisticuffs.

Which was no small miracle, considering that Chris Rock once confessed that when he ran into Marion Barry not long ago, "if he wasn't the mayor, he would've beaten the [expletive] out of me. . . ."

After all, in '96, Rock came to town, turned on the cameras, and in front of a packed house at the Takoma Theater, dissed Barry in his own city. And so watching Marion Barry chatting up Chris Rock on his eponymous late-night HBO talk show last night, you had to wonder: What was Barry thinking?

Or, as Rock put it, "Everybody knows I crack Marion Barry jokes. . . . Why the hell are you here?"

Barry, never one to shy away from the spotlight, told him: "You said some crude and cruel things by dogging me. . . . It's your final show of the millennium. . . . I'ma send your ratings to the roof."

Rock slammed Barry back in '96. Musing about the mayor at the Million Man March, the comedian said: "That means that even in our finest hour, we had a crackhead onstage." That was broadcast on HBO, where Barry's humiliation was replayed again and again for anyone with a remote control and premium cable to see. That first Chris Rock special was called "Bring the Pain," and for Marion Barry, it had to hurt.

It was mean. It was hilarious. It won Rock an Emmy--and Barry's name became synonymous with punch line.

But that was then, this is now. Last night, Barry, dressed in a navy double-breasted suit and cowboy boots, came bopping out from backstage, pumping his fist in the air. He held forth on the virtues of black entrepreneurship, empowering black Gen X'ers and getting paid.

Rock was--dare we say it--respectful, even deferential.

The two did everything but kiss.

And surprise of surprises: Rock actually admires Barry. He announced that he wants to make an HBO movie of Barry's life.

"I consider you a metaphor for the whole black experience," he said.

Afterward, Barry didn't jump around and do a victory dance, basking in his vindication. Well, not quite.

"He's such a politician," said Nancy Geller, an executive producer for the show. "After the show, he came out and started shaking hands. Usually, our guests leave and you never see them again."

The more things change, the more things remain the same.