There aren’t many comedians who can captivate an audience like Chris Rock. At the Murat on Jan. 23, Rock charged on stage like a boxer into the ring and never relented. “A lot’s happened since I’ve done stand-up last,” he opened. It’s been four years since Rock, now 38 and married with a new daughter at home, last toured, but anyone suspicious that his act might have mellowed or become suddenly introspective was mistaken. -Chris Rock performed the first of two Indy shows last Friday. He will also be at Clowes Hall Feb. 29 Call 239-5151.- Rock’s defining trait, his aggressive pursuit of topics that would make more timid, less sure comics flinch, was in full bloom. Sure, he spent a good deal of time on his twin obsessions, strippers and rap music, but he also riffed at length on abortion, politics and war, affirmative action, gay marriage and the dangers of over zealous patriotism.
On new California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “[He] can’t even play a smart guy in a movie.” On Michael Jackson’s second arrest on child molestation charges: “That’s how much we love Michael. We let the first kid slide.” On differing business opportunities for blacks and whites: “White man makes a gun? No problem. Black man raps, ‘Gun’? Congressional hearing.”
The set was comprised largely of fresh material, but Rock did dive into the recycle bin for a comparison of married and single life. Maybe it is new to his act, but comics have been working this line so long that most in attendance knew the chorus even if a few of the verses were new.
Rock’s act is deeply infused with anger; it’s sometimes difficult to see where that anger stops. It’s obvious he takes his subject matter seriously and his delivery seems to confront the audience, demanding, “Where do you stand?” That bitter inflection of bile rising in his voice might actually be venom.
The last third of his 95-minute set was the slowest and, maybe not coincidentally, the one heaviest with social commentary. Nobody missed his point as an American flag flashed on the projector screen that served as his backdrop and then slowly bled to black and white.
Rock’s vocal delivery is so amusingly peppered with deep growls, startled pips and exclamations of confusion, alarm and mock horror that he could get laughs reading a phone book. Rock knows that comedy disarms people, and he uses it to engage his audience in a consistently hilarious exploration of historically explosive issues. You could never shake the feeling, though, that at any moment, as the crowd roared its approval to another take on a touchy subject, that Rock would stop and shout, “Stop laughing, damn it. I’m trying to tell you something.”