Chris Rock brings the pain in Denver
On tour for the first time in nine years, Chris Rock is cracking wise about the topics that fans might expect him to in 2017 – Trump, racial politics, police shootings – along with diving deep into some unexpectedly personal, undeniably tender territory surrounding his recent divorce.
Talking about splitting from his wife of 16 years, he parsed his personal failings and his search for humility and even spirituality. “I’m trying to find God before God finds me,” he repeated throughout the latter part of the show.
The comedy legend brought his much-anticipated “Total Blackout Tour” to Denver for two sold-out nights at the Bellco Theatre in early March, as he builds toward the first of his recently announced Netflix comedy specials.
Rock opened with the obligatory altitude jokes every comic has to do when they play Colorado, followed by the obligatory legal weed jokes every comic has done in the last few years (unlike a lot of comics, Rock spun local riffs that were actually funny and original, including a joyful boast about having weed on his pancakes).
He jumped into his Trump material from there. Rock talked about panicking every time he sleeps, running to the internet upon awaking to find out what new horror or tweet-storm the president has wrought.
“Every time you fall asleep, you wake up to a new government!” he exclaimed.
But the heart of his Trump material steered away from the outrage and umbrage most comics have brought to the stage in the last few months. Rock said he wasn’t worried about Trump – that an out-of-touch 70-year-old white guy in the Oval Office has been the status quo for most of his life: “Trump is the natural state of America.”
President Obama, he argued, was the aberration. Rock underscored the point with a hilarious extended metaphor about Obama as a woman who goes to bed with you, even though she’s way out of your league.
And, he argued, as an African-American, it’s easy to be hopeful – even at the dawn of the Trump era.
“When you’re black, the future is always better,” he said, “because the past sucks ass.”
Racial discrimination, he noted, has grown less overt but no less exclusionary. There may not be a “whites only” sign at Whole Foods, he said, but the $7 oranges on the shelf have the same effect: “Prices are the new Jim Crow.”
Analyzing the spate of police shootings of young black men, he suggested that cops might want to shoot a white teenager every once in a while, “just to make it look good.” And he tore apart the “few bad apples” argument that most police are good people. Some jobs, like pilots and cops, he argued, can’t have a few bad apples.
Rock may have been away from the stage for awhile, but his genius for mixing astute cultural analysis with gut-busting laughs and a dose of vulgarity is still in tact. In an insta-classic extended riff on gun control, he argued that only people who had to pay a mortgage should be able to own firearms. And, touching on the racial inequities in the criminal justice system and the lengthier prison sentences given to African-Americans, he suggested courts take a page from Wal-Mart: “If you find a lighter sentence, we’ll match it.”
The latter part of Rock’s 90-minute set, however, marked a striking shift in tone and topic for the stand-up legend. Addressing his divorce, he was funny, revelatory, often self-lacerating and moving.
Rock said he got “pornoed out” and warped by internet pornography, that he stopped listening to his wife, that he got selfish, and that he cheated on her. Out of the specifics of his screw-ups, he turned philosophical on marriage and relationships: “You are not equals. You’re in a band. Sometimes you play lead. Sometimes you play the tambourine.”
His advice: when you have to play the tambourine, play your heart out. Also, have sex even when you’re mad.
He talked about their custody battle and about the ugliness of family court, noting a silver lining in being surrounded by lawyers trying to take his money: “That’s when I realized I made it.”
Before ending his show with a literal mic drop, Rock briefly touched on his current romantic life and the brave new world of online dating. He’s on Tinder, he said, under his own name, with a photo of himself hosting the Oscars as his profile pic. When friends tell him he shouldn’t do that, because women might target him because he’s Chris Rock, he said, he counters: “But I am Chris Rock!”
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