Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger

It's somewhat uncommon for a comedian to enter the spotlight and, after 20 years in front of the cameras, continue to find fame and fortune in front of a microphone doing stand-up comedy rather than sitcoms or counting DVD residuals. Lucky for us, Chris Rock understands the value in making sure that his history as the guy in the back of the Red Lobster scraping shrimp off a plate is shared with you, the American (and international) public.

After getting his start on Saturday Night Live nearly 20 years ago, he's gone on to movies, In Living Color, HBO specials, and the narrator and creative force behind Everybody Hates Chris on UPN The CW. Oh, and he also scored a minor novelty hit with "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)" which didn't seem to teeter over to the realm of being unpleasant. (Examples: "Boogie in your Butt" by Eddie Murphy and "You Look Mahvelous" from Billy Crystal.) Because Rock is consistently funny, he doesn't have to apologize for his past works, they can just be dusted off and enjoyed. And with any luck, this special will receive similar accolades from the comedy fans of tomorrow.

Kill the Messenger aired on HBO this past weekend and is one of very few comedy specials that, in the first ten minutes, I said to myself "this ought to win an Emmy for outstanding editing." Rather than having two or three cameras set up in a single venue, Rock performed the same show in South Africa, England, and New York-- and stitched together a special taking elements from each, often cutting mid-sentence from one continent to another. The effect is a little jarring for a comedy special, but it worked. The sound editors made sure that the audio was consistent, and because Chris Rock tends to repeat the general themes of his jokes (i.e., "there are a lot of differences between men and women,") this technique really, really works well. It shows the world responding to his humor while keeping his technique intact. Oh, and it's really funny.

The 90-minute set is unlikely to spawn another single, but that's OK. With themes as overdone as "men and women are different," it's tough to come up with new, good material-- especially while saying that very quote to your audience. However, Rock pulls it off in a way that, to describe it here, would only make me look like an asshole. This performance is by someone who has refined his craft-- which is appropriately raunchy and hilarious-- in such a way that to even discuss it would be to do you a disservice. It's very funny, well-paced, and absolutely worth seeing. Unfortunately, no DVD or CD releases are currently scheduled so you'll just have to watch it on one of the many HBO channels or crash at a friend with a good cable package.

Of course, the standard disclaimers for Chris Rock stand-up apply. Don't let your kids watch it. Don't let your parents hear you listening to it. Heck, be careful about your spouse or significant other. But if you have cool friends at work? This is a fine topic of discussion for all. It's great to see someone get to talk about things at his job-- like how his audience owes him for getting them laid, for example-- that aren't great fodder for some of us office dwellers.

The special does run a little long, but it doesn't feel that way. Typically, comedy specials last about an hour or so-- 90 minutes of comedy is a hard thing to assemble, so it's great to see someone put it together like this. It might be tough to fit on a single CD but that's why man invented the MP3.

No comments: