Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chris Rock - Simply the Best

A common criticism of bloggers is that they do nothing but moan. So I like to share my enthusiasms as often as possible.
While I was 'resting' I discovered the stand-up comedy of Chris Rock. Most of the British audience will know him, if at all, from films or the TV comedy he wrote called Everybody Hates Chris. I have seen neither. But not too many people will have seen his stand-up act. His material is too strong for terrestrial channels. I caught it by chance on a satellite/cable channel.
I knew he was revered by many British comedians and soon discovered why. Indeed, I don't think a single British comic can hold a candle to him.

Starting with the content, there's a searing intelligence to his comedy, imbued with a deep and life-affirming humanity.
A comic has to liked, loved even. And it would be difficult not to love Chris Rock. I am unable to watch comics I don't like, however good their material.
Courage is also an admirable quality in comics and Chris Rock has it in bucketloads. That's also easier if your audience likes and respects you. So watch him condemn homophobia to a predominantly black audience and succeed in eliciting applause. Or see him assert that the most racist people on the planet are elderly black men and then explain the very good reasons why that is the case.

I said his material was 'strong'. That's partly because of liberal use of the 'm/f'' word, but also sequences on subjects like oral sex. But don't misunderstand me. The observational stuff on sex is only a small part of his act. However, I did wonder why I didn't find it offensive in the way that I find Jim Davidson or the late Bernard Manning offensive. I think the reason is that innuendo and double meanings are alien concepts to Chris Rock. And sex is not dirty or smutty but something to be celebrated. It's a million miles from the sniggering that charaterises so much British 'blue' humour. There's also something cathartic about the explicitness of Chris Rock. If the first reaction is 'did he really say that?', the second reaction is 'thank God he did!'

His material is so good that it often produces top-notch aphorisms as well as gags. I could easily fill a page of Willie's Little Book of Quotations' with lines from Chris Rock.
"A man is basically as faithful as his options."
"When you meet someone for the first time, you're not meeting them, you're meeting their representative."
If truth is the kernal of all good comedy, there's almost more truth in Chris Rock's act than you can take in an hour.

If you haven't yet seen his recorded concerts, I won't give away much of the material. But as we've just had World Aids Day I will say that there's a wonderful piece on waiting five days for the result of your Aids test and ringing round all your previous sexual partners to see if they're still alive. He compares this period of reflection to A Christmas Carol and being haunted by the Ghost of Pussy Past. Stunned to be told that a particular girl is dead, he whoops with joy on being further told that she was run over by a bus.

Finally, there's technique. I wouldn't usually watch a stand-up performance more than once. If Chris Rock is an exception, it's as much because of his technical skill as his material. And, after all, one would watch a great actor playing Hamlet several times, so why not a great comic?
When the content is familiar, you give more attention to the technique. Chris Rock prowls the stage like a caged tiger, trying to make individual eye contact with every member of an audience of thousands. Just watch his eyes. It's truly extraordinary. And how long should you ride the laugh? At what point do you start speaking again? Chris Rock knows to within a nano-second.
Even if the only public performance you've ever given was your talk as Team Leader to half a dozen colleagues about the re-organisation of the filing system, watch Chris Rock and learn. And marvel. And quite possibly despair.

Chris Rock: Comedy God! Chris Rock for President!

Note: At time of writing, British viewers with Virgin Cable TV can catch 'Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker' on the On Demand service.


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