Chris Rock knows what we want to know. He reads the news like he reads the crowd, and cut to the quick at the start of his performance Friday at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
“I’m good! I’m OK!” Rock said to the packed house, roaring as he walked onstage. “I got my hearing back.”
After taking a beat for the laughter, he added, “It was not as bad as it looked.”
That was the extent of Rock’s references to an Oscar experience that still lives in infamy. He never mentioned Will Smith or the Academy Awards in the first of two sold-out shows at Caesars. About midway through, Rock did comment, “People who say that words are hurtful have never been punched in the face!”
A woman a few rows behind me called out, “Or slapped!” Rock didn’t hear the comment.
The superstar comedian also said the biggest addiction in the country “is not opioids, it’s attention.” He listed the ways a person can draw great attention. “You do something infamous, like run onstage and tackle Dave Chappelle.” A clear reference to the attack on Chappelle on Tuesday night a the Hollywood Bowl.
Write in time
But we learn through Rock’s performance how he will get through the Oscars incident. He’s writing his way out of it. Those asides are pieces of a long, brilliantly conceived narrative of what is happening in Rock’s life and also our own. His is an entirely scripted and recited show, crowd work kept to a bare minimum (on Friday night, it was nonexistent).
Rock sets the mood simply, walking onstage in an all-white ensemble of a T-shirt, jacket and jeans with a silver Prince-logo necklace. The floor lights cast a giant silhouette across the white surface at the back of the stage, creating Rock’s imposing figure. The whole show seems like it is being performed in classic black and white.
Rock also keeps the crowd’s focus by taking everyone’s phones away, a practice in Las Vegas dating to his performances at then-Park Theater in June 2017. You need to hand-scribble notes to actually chronicle his material. But he delivered a stream of memorable moments. Of the fascination with the royal family, he said, “Why do we care about the Royal Family, in America? They aren’t our Royal Family. I grew up in Brooklyn. My queen is Lil’ Kim.”
Rock says he is left-wing politically, a registered Democrat, but talks of keeping racial and political balance in his neighborhood. “All of my neighbors are white. All of them. And every one of them has a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign in their yard. I put up a Trump sign just to balance it out! Make it more white! This neighborhood was too black for me!”
Rock said the country is irreversibly divided. In some ways, he said, Ukraine has it better than the United States, saying, “At least they’re together. He asked, “How did we get this way? Hillary Clinton!”
Rock explains that God twice came down from the clouds to talk to Clinton. “Do you know how rare it is for God to talk to the same person twice? Moses, Noah and Hilary! That’s it!”
As Rock said, God told Clinton 16 years ago that she would be president, because she was running against an inexperienced candidate with a Muslim name nobody had heard of. All she needed to do was visit all 50 states. “And she couldn’t do it!” In Rock’s narrative, after thinking on it for eight years through the Obama presidency, Clinton was again visited by God, who told her once more she would be president. She would be running against a game-show host who talked about women’s body parts. Again, all she needed to do was visit all 50 states. Again, she couldn’t do it.
“So, we got a game-show host as president!” Rock said. “He was not qualified! Not his fault! But the day-to-day of being president is easy, until there is a catastrophe that causes complications! That’s what the pandemic was! Then we are ignoring science, ‘Don’t listen to Mr. Science-y here!’ and telling us to drink bleach!”
Rock returned the pandemic argument to 1956. “I am not getting vaccinated! I have the right to catch polio. I have the right to have my leg shrivel up!”
The comic said he used his celeb stature to jump to the front of the line to be vaccinated. “I was like Billy Zane in Titanic. Remember, Billy Zane lived!”
Hart and ‘Rich Disney’
Rock joked about how short males have to work harder to be noticed than any other demographic. “Kevin Hart is kicking my (expletive). He’s got ‘Jumanji.’ He’s got Capital One commercials! He’s in movies with The Rock! My last name is Rock! I should be in movies with the Rock!”
He talked of “Rich Disney,” how celebs are treated at Disneyland and Disney World. “If you knew how they really treated rich people at Disneyland, you would burn it down!” he said. “I don’t wait in line for rides! I don’t wait in line for food! They bring food to me! Pose for photos with the characters? I hang with the characters! I smoked with Goofy! I got a lap-dance from Minnie!”
Rock added, “I know what it’s like to do Poor Disney — church trip! On a bus from New York to Florida. God was not on that bus!”
Dealing at 57
The headliner also joked about his age, 57. “Fifty-seven is young only if you die at 57. You’re not young if you are 57 and dating a 25-year-old. It’s, ‘What is that old (expletive) doing?’ ”
Rock conceded he cannot relate to his young daughters, as he has a GED and his oldest daughter, Lola, is attending culinary school in Paris.
“Culinary school? In Paris? This means some day, I will own a restaurant!” Rock said. “Or, at least a food truck!” He called his daughter’s education, “My greatest achievement.”
Rock has now become an elder statesman in the comedy culture. As part of the production and before the show, the Colosseum screens show a loop of all-time comedy greats. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, Robin Williams, Phyllis Diller, Flip Wilson and Joan Rivers are among those featured.
Rock belongs on that roster. His full performance keeps all of his experiences in the right perspective, infusing humor and forcing you to think. As the comic closes out, having registered a knockout, you remember the Oscars slap only fleetingly, while laughing at the rest of it.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.