He punches his syllables like a prizefighter working a heavy bag, his words delivered with the oomph of an uppercut.
Chris Rock always sounds like he means it.
Pacing the stage like an expectant father outside the hospital delivery room, Rock is a kinetic presence, physically and verbally.
His humor is dense and involved: A number of Rock’s bits are really three or four — or more — in one. He addresses a given topic from multiple angles, giving voice to a number of comedic tributaries flowing into a larger whole, while periodically repeating his overriding thesis, like a guitarist revisiting the root note of a solo to provide cohesion.
It’s been nine years since Rock last hit the road, and with the bullhorn-voiced comedian back on tour, visiting Vegas on Saturday, it’s time to bone up on five of Rock’s funniest bits from his various stand-up specials and albums:
Watch what you say (“Kill the Messenger”)
Rock slashes the tires of the PC patrol in this biting bit about what you can and can’t say in polite company.
“Last year, the NAACP had a funeral for (the N-word),” Rock says, scrunching up his face as if standing downwind from a pig farm. “Well, tonight’s Easter.”
Rock’s point: It’s not that word, or any other, that’s offensive in and of itself, it’s all about the context in which said word is used.
He provides two examples of when it’s OK to use racially or sexually charged language, when white people are rapping along to Dr. Dre tunes and when you’re in a confrontation with someone.
“What? I gotta be politically correct and mad at the same time?” he wonders of the latter scenario. “If I’m driving and somebody crashes into me and they’ve got one leg, I’m gonna talk about the leg.”
Off the pole (“Never Scared”)
Rock takes on fatherhood here in full-contact fashion, first deflating the pretense of being a dad (“It’s not a big deal, even cockroaches have kids”), then getting to the heart of the matter like a surgeon digging his scalpel into the breastplate of the topic at hand.
“My only job in life is to keep her off the pole,” he says of his raising his daughter with enough love and attention to prevent her from seeking it from strangers with dollar bills in hand.
As with many Rock bits, Rock then broadens his take, lacerating strip club conceits like buffets (“Are you that hungry? Rwandan refugees wouldn’t eat that”) and the cliche that the dancers are doffing their unmentionables in order to pay their way through college, astutely pointing out that there are no clear heels in biology class.
Gun control (“Cheese and Crackers”)
In a post-Columbine America, Rock doesn’t return fire at the school shooters themselves.
Instead, he takes aim at their parents.
Here, Rock gives intensely vigorous voice to the importance of being present in your kids’ lives, skewering club-hopping moms who leave Junior at home while they’re out till 2 a.m. on a Wednesday.
“It don’t take no scientist to tell us who’s gonna have some (messed up) kids,” he says. “If the kid calls his grandmama ‘Mommy’ and his momma ‘Pam,’ he’s going to jail. You ain’t saving college money, you savin’ bail money.”
He ends it all with a practical twist, giving us the skinny on keeping his wallet fat.
“Take care of your kids,” he demands, “before they rob me 10 years later.”
Racism in modern times (“Kill the Messenger” )
If you’re black, you’ve got to be a household name to reside in the ’hood where Rock’s household is located.
Rock begins this bit by cataloging the only other African-Americans who live in the affluent Alpine, New Jersey, community where he owns a home: Mary J. Blige, Jay Z and Eddie Murphy.
They’re all legends.
A “yank yo tooth out” dentist.
“Do you know what a black dentist would have to do to move into my neighborhood,” Rock asks. “He’d have to invent teeth.”
Rock’s beef: For African-Americans to enjoy the fruits of upper-class America, they often have to be generational talents. Others can get there scraping plaque.
Defending rap (“Never Scared”)
Acknowledging how ludicrous it is to try to defend Ludacris, Rock playfully busts hip-hop’s chops as if roasting a loved one.
After harvesting laughs about how comically randy certain hip-hop hits can be, he skewers the authorities’ inability to solve the murders of rap icons Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Jam Master J.
“If you want to get away with murder,” he says, “all you gotta do is shoot somebody in the head and put a demo tape in their pocket.”
“If Billy Joel, Elton John and David Bowie got shot,” he later adds, “They’d have Bruce Springsteen’s house surrounded.”
He then wonders why it’s only the greats who seems to get offed.
“Biggie dead. Tupac dead. Vanilla Ice? Still alive.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.