Rock drowns out message

Review: Comedian Chris Rock's HBO special leaves the audience wanting more insights and less volume.

July 10, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker" is smaller and louder than I expected this highly publicized concert event to be.

Don't get me wrong. Like almost everyone else in the world, I think Rock is a brilliant comedian. And he has moments in this concert filmed at the Apollo Theatre that, if not brilliant, are at least more bitingly insightful than almost anything this side of Richard Pryor in the 1970s or Robin Williams in the 1980s.

Rock opens the concert with a red-hot sociological riff on the shootings at Columbine High in Colorado: his reminder that it was white suburban teen-age boys doing all that killing, not black kids living in the city.

"You know, I was in my hotel coming over to the concert here, and I'm getting on the elevator, and these two high-school white boys tried to get on with me," Rock says in his opening rant. "And I just dove off. I dove off and yelled, `You all ain't killin' me.' I'm tellin' you, I am scared of young, white boys. If you are white and under 21, I am running for the hills. What the is wrong with these white kids shootin' up the schools?"

That is the brilliant Chris Rock -- nailing an insight about Columbine and contextualizing it so that we can't help but see how it cuts against the more conventional narrative found in the mainstream media of black, urban teen-age boys being the violent, disruptive, out-of-control element in American life.

But for every moment like that, there are at least three that feature Rock sounding somewhere between sexist and knuckleheaded as he talks about what he calls "relationships." It is mainly talk about sex, with a few obvious observations of gender difference thrown in.

I can't reproduce almost anything Rock says along these lines in a family newspaper, but his views are closer to misogyny than sexism, if you want the truth.

What Rock fails to do -- and what ultimately makes this a B plus rather than an A comedy concert -- is to create characters or voices that take us out of our worlds and into their cultural spaces the way Pryor and Williams have. There is no transformation.

Instead he struts and frets his hour on the stage in black leather, walking back and forth, back and forth, yelling at the audience. This is the comedian as rap performer, not artist.


What: "Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker"

When: Today, 11: 15 p.m. to 12: 15 a.m.

Where: HBO

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