Chris Rock tackles guns, divorce, Trump at Atlanta Fox Theatre show

Chris Rock at the Academy Awards in 2016. He will be at the Fox Theatre the rest of this weekend. CREDIT: Getty Images

This was posted Saturday, May 27, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Stylistically, Chris Rock is an emphatic, aggressive stand-up comic on stage, his outraged voice cutting through the air like a Ginsu knife. Yet there is always a genial undertone that softens even his roughest joke. The stage is his home. He’s ultimately having fun. And that helps the audience get through some of his more personal confessions with a smile.

Part of what got him to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta for his first tour in several years this weekend was a divorce of his wife Malaak Compton-Rock in 2016 after 20 years. (Oddly, during the show, he kept saying the marriage lasted 16 years. Was that a funnier number? Or perhaps he didn’t count the final four, utterly painful years from his brain.)

[By the way, he has a strict no cell-phone use policy. And he found a way to ensure that nobody would take pictures, Snapchat, Facebook Live or talk on the phone. He had ushers at the Fox foyer place each phone into a protective pouch, which locked magnetically. You kept your phone but had no access to it! The only way to retrieve it was to have an usher demagnetize it on the way out the door. Brilliant! The audience paid attention like it was 1996! So for those coming for tonight or tomorrow’s shows, feel free to leave your phone in the car if you don’t want the added hassle or that tease when the phone vibrates and you have no idea what is going on. Was that another news alert about Trump? Was that your child calling? Did the Braves just score a run?]

On Friday night for the first of three sold-out shows here, Rock, 52, started with politics (guns, cops, Trump) but ended his finely honed 90-minute set focused on his life as a co-parent and what led him to astray. He never mentioned his wife’s name, didn’t insult her one iota. Whatever angry laments he may have had in his show have long been edited out.

The end of the marriage “was my fault,” he admitted in a moment of vulnerability, where a joke was not to be found. “I will take all the blame. I wasn’t good to her. I wasn’t kind.” He felt, as a successful comic making plenty of money, he felt entitled for some side action. He didn’t go hog wild. He cited three women, which he jokingly said made the ladies in the audience hate him a bit but also befuddle the dudes, wondering “Just three?”

Rock provided advice from the other side of the transom to still married men and women, that “you got to love hard or get the f*** out.”

He said a marriage was not about being equals but more like being in a band where sometimes you are the lead singer and sometimes you play the tambourine. And you can’t play the tambourine angrily (as he demonstrated on stage) but with just as much enthusiasm and cheer as if you were the lead. He failed to play his part, he said, never wanting the tambourine.

“Stop competing,” he said. “Your success is her success and her success is your success.” [Clearly, this was an issue in his marriage.]

Later, Rock said he has broken his own advice while co parenting, wanting to outdo whatever his wife does with the kids. He wants his two daughters to brag to his mom, “Drake helped us with our homework! Lady Gaga made us a grilled cheese sandwich!”

As noted in a recent Rolling Stone interview, Rock said he’s trying to find God before God finds him. “Why does that have to be?” he told the reporter. “Maybe I can find God without being in shambles. Maybe I can reach a higher plain spiritually without being in a near-death experience.”

Rock opened the night with tirades against Trump and unlike Amy Schumer last year at Philips Arena, this audience was heavily primed for them. He even complimented the white people who showed up in what was a very mixed crowd. “You’re helping a black person put his kids through private school!” he joked.

His funniest political observation was that George W. Bush was so bad, he led to Barack Obama, an “aberration.” He compared Obama to that woman who is way too good looking wanting to sleep with you. “You keep your eyes open the entire time!” he said. Now with Trump, he said, we’ll probably end up in 2020 with Jesus.

His lament about guns dragged a bit. He did note the argument hunters make that they need guns for food. Most hunters, he notes, do it for the sport, not for the meat. “On their way to hunt, they pass by four Wendy’s!” Heck, they even call their targets “game” – except for the targets, its not a fair fight. He’s never been to a deer’s home with heads of humans. “Hey! There’s a Puerto Rican!” he said.

Some of his strongest material came in the middle when he said black boys need to be toughened up with a punch in the face every day, that this is the physical equivalent of what they’ll have to face out in the real world. He also hates that parents tell their kids they’re “special.” Outside the home, they aren’t special at all and they need to know that. He also attended a high school orientation for one of his daughters and found the adults blatantly lying to the students by saying, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” That may be the case for a couple of them but the reality is “Find something you’re good at that someone will hire you to do.”

He also counter-intuitively found efforts by schools to stop bullies a problem. He said schools need bullies – to toughen up the other kids. The result of life without bullies, he said, resulted in Trump. “A bully shows up. Nobody knew how to handle him.” And now he’s president.

Jeffrey Ross, the insult comic, hosted the show and brought volunteers on stage to be (lightly) roasted. Veteran comedian Bruce Bruce followed, hitting familiar notes about the differences between blacks and whites and men and women. During intermission before he came on stage, Rock showed his love for comic’s past by displaying on a big screen classic album covers of comedy albums (that was a thing back in the day) from the likes of Don Rickles, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Flip Wilson and Lenny Bruce. As he left the stage shaking the hands of folks in the front row, the final image was of the of Richard Pryor waving goodbye, his true comic hero. Rock, hopefully, made that late great comic proud.

 


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