Comic Chris Rock amused, provoked sold-out Arena Friday
In days of old, when Soren Kierkegaard or Arthur Schopenhauer walked the streets, did fellow citizens KNOW they were in the midst of great thinkers? Were folks aware there were important philosophers, um, philosophizing amongst them in real time?
This occurred to me Friday night in a sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena when I was watching and listening to comedian Chris Rock during a stop on his "Ego Death" tour.
Why? Because, other than maybe Noam Chomsky, I'm not sure I could name a contemporary philosopher.
So I wondered: Are standup comics the real philosophers of our time?
Depending on the comic — I'm not looking to Larry the Cable Guy for an accurate and wise take on the world — I think maybe ... yes.
Rock, for example, has a long history of smartly (and riotously) addressing Big Issues in his routines, mixed liberally with personal and everyday experiences like romance, families and the inconveniences of modern existence (which can also provide life lessons).
After being inducted into the Mohegan Sun Walk of Fame in a private ceremony, and following a video montage of history's finest and most groundbreaking comedians, Rock took the stage dressed in white, stalking back and forth with floor-lit spots casting his giant shadow on a plain backdrop like the cover of a pulp noir novel.
"First of all, I'm OK!" the 57-year-old said reassuringly with a demon's grin — immediately addressing the Oscar night incident when Will Smith slapped him. "Got my hearing back. My fillings have been put back in. It was rough but I survived."
That's all he had to say about Smith, and Rock shifted to our selective outrage and the political divide in America. He stated both parties are full of (expletive) and, in a take with a clever twist, blames America's current woes on Hillary Clinton for blowing two perfect opportunities to be president.
As for the Jan. 6 insurrection, Rock, his face breaking into that familiar look of exaggerated and amused astonishment, cried, "What kind of white, 'Planet of the Apes' (expletive) is that?!" He placed the responsibility wholly on misinformation from the right because, otherwise, the rioters wouldn't have been smart enough to do anything.
If it hadn't been for one "chunky Black security guard" leading insurgents in the wrong direction, Rock insisted, "Everyone in a tie was gonna die that day! You think those dumbasses know who Mitch McConnell is?"
From there, Rock talked wittily about race with some intriguing observations. He theorized the Kardashian women are cursed to (have sex with) Black men in perpetuity as punishment for their father getting O.J. off. He also chastised Meghan Markle for whining about the Royal family and finding it difficult to believe how racist they are.
"You can't believe they're racist?!" Rock asked incredulously. "Did you GOOGLE those (expletives)?!"
Rock also reflected on the divide between rich and poor, COVID-19, abortion and children. There was a very funny bit comparing his trips to Disney World — first as a poor kid on a three-day trip in an unairconditioned bus and later as a wealthy celebrity for whom there were no lines or whims that wouldn't be catered to. He also noted "Kids are the meanest people on earth; schools are just prisons with milk" — and segued into more personal territory by pondering how spoiled his own children are.
Rock admitted he set out to pamper his daughters because he loves the idea of spoiled Black children. But he wondered if he'd gone too far. "My daughters get on a private jet and say —" assuming a sniffing tone of disdain — 'How OLD is this plane?!'"
The final segment seemed to lose momentum. Rock explored the differences between the sexes and certain stereotypical demands from each and, while there were great punchlines, the material felt standard within the parameters of observational comedy.
But is that Rock's fault? Maybe I AM placing too much responsibility and expectations on his talent and job, which is by definition an entertainer. Would I have loved to hear his take on the ongoing horror of gun violence? Yes — but he's traveling with a set routine he spent months writing and rehearsing.
In any case, Rock — comedian and/or philosopher — made me laugh Friday night. And think.
Oh, gun violence. Opening the show was a pretty great comic named Rick Ingraham. His forte is to insult audience members based on their appearances and responses to his questions. Four teenage males down front loved being targets for much of Ingraham's 20-minute set. After establishing the young men's individual and collective "Loser" qualities — they laughed as hard as anyone — Ingraham wonderfully and brutally announced, "You guys are lucky you have friends. Otherwise we'd all be dead."
Backstage, Rock, who disdains woke affectation, must have been laughing his ass off.