Here’s a story about Chris Rock that doesn’t involve The Slap
OPINION: Maybe you've heard the legendary comedian is on tour with a new show called 'Ego Trip'? This is a spoiler-free post about that.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Note: This piece has nothing to do with The Slap. It’s about Chris Rock, the legendary comedian who’s touring with a new show called Ego Death. I’ve known and followed Rock for decades, I’ve seen all of his specials, so I went to Atlantic City, N.J., on Saturday night to see where he is now as an artist.
He’s unquestionably one of the greatest standups of today, if not of all time—a political thinker known for smart, incisive ideas about the world that are extremely funny. Rock’s one of the few comics who could easily transition his sets into TED Talks about where the world is going, but he’s so dedicated to comedy that he’s had a mic and a stage in his house so he could practice alone.
Rock has historically been a heady, intellectual comic, but his last special, Tambourine, marked a change. He was dealing with a painful divorce, and for a long stretch of Tambourine, he wrestled with what it meant to be a husband and a father, like what his place in that unit was supposed to be. For long stretches, Tambourine wasn’t funny, but it was always compelling and powerful. It was the intellectual baring of his soul, being confessional, revealing his personal pain in a way he had not before.
I was curious to see whether Rock would continue to become more personal and confessional or return to the intellectual observations that made him a megastar. Rock’s been single for years, and he doesn’t have marriage on his mind now, so I wondered, what’s he thinking about? I promise to talk about his new set without spoiling a lot of jokes for people.
Ego Death is an interesting name for his new set because, for me, Rock is part of a group of comics who are egotistical. Where many comics seem to be overtly performing for the audience like the descendants of court jesters, Rock seems to be the descendant of philosophers—both academic and street corner—but he just knows how to make it funny. He’s not willing to debase himself to make you laugh. He doesn’t play the clown. He doesn’t do physical comedy. He curses but doesn’t get dirty. He just prowls the stage full of swagger, dropping thoughts and observations about the world that prove he’s the smartest guy in the room, a posture that surely feeds his ego.
He’s very much of the hip-hop aesthetic—rappers see performance as spitting the gift and showing off how great they are as opposed to R&B stars, who are clearly performing and wanting your love. Rock is like, “Here I am, take it or leave it, but I’m great at this, so I know you’ll love it.” Some comics have to have great material to kill, and some have such a funny persona that they could read Google results and kill. Rock is definitely in the “needs great material” camp, even though his voice is a valuable melodic instrument.
Bernie Mac or Katt Williams could make the alphabet hysterical, but Rock is a joke craftsman like his friend, Jerry Seinfeld, and they look closely at each line to make sure every word is in the exact right place. But where Seinfeld microscopes the world—he’ll do a bit on how people say hello—Rock takes a drone’s eye view, making big pronouncements on where we are. And right now, he, like many of us, feels like America is falling apart.
Rock says everyone’s lying, everybody’s a victim, fake outrage dominates, and the tyranny of hyperwokeness is destroying everything. When the man makes 20 political statements in an hour, you can disagree with a few and still love him. To wit: It’s hard to hear this man, who’s known for being a brilliant Black man, tell a roomful of white people, “Everything’s not about race.” Uh, what? Race impacts virtually every aspect of this country, and the “everything’s not about race” line is common among right-wingers who want to silence Black people critiquing the slaveocracy of America. Race impacts America far more than we even talk about—a defining factor of America is that we’re one of the world’s biggest economies, and we achieved that as a direct result of slavery.
To know that, just that fact, and say everything’s not about race is problematic. It’s hard to hear Rock seem to take the right’s side on this and embolden them to say that for the rest of their lives. But his eye is so sharp, he can still take that comment, make a funny moment—after that, he points out that Meghan Markle called out the royal family for inappropriately wondering how brown her baby would be. Meanwhile, he says, Black people have been known to worry about how brown the baby will be, too, which is true. But then he does a bit about how dark Lil Nas X is, which is hard to hear anywhere but especially in a roomful of white people. To love Rock is to accept a few dud ideas alongside a lot of brilliance.
For me, the most memorable and powerful part of his set came when he told some long, great stories about his teenage daughters based on the notion that they’re rich kids and he hates rich kids. He fears the impact that wealth and privilege will have on them. (It doesn’t impact him; even though he’s rich, he says he identifies as poor.) Talking about his kids and the class distinction between them is when he’s at his most interesting and memorable. Rock on family is more compelling than Rock on politics. I can only hope that as he continues to grow as an artist, he continues to look inward at his family and himself for material because when he mines that, he’s really powerful.
Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.
TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!