Nearly a decade ago, American stand-up comic Chris Rock stopped touring. Last December, the South Carolina native announced his highly anticipated return to the microphone with a 30+-city U.S. tour.
The Chris Rock: Total Blackout Tour’s first stop is the Durham Performing Arts Center, with shows running on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. Before crossing the finish line in Atlantic City in June, Rock will sweep through North Carolina once more — at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort — on May 25th.
Chris Rock’s profanity-laden comedy has earned him three Grammys and four Emmys, while his voicing of Marty the Zebra in the Madagascar film series garnered a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award. A Drama Desk Award nomination followed for his performance in the Broadway production of Stephen Adly Guirgis play The Motherf**ker with the Hat. Add three Teen Choice Award nominations to the list for undeniable proof that Rock’s talent defies the limits of medium or audience.
His candid and frank writing style was evident in his turn as host of the Academy Awards® (2005 and 2016) and his five HBO specials: Big Ass Jokes (1994), Bring the Pain (1996), Bigger & Blacker (1999), Never Scared (2004), and Kill the Messenger (2008).
In this new tour, titled The Total Blackout Tour, Chris Rock continues to make direct statements about family, class, race, music, and politics. One assumes that the racially charged nature of the recent presidential election would stoke Rock into an absolute frenzy. References to American politics, however, were conspicuously minimal in this opening concert Monday night at DPAC.
His focus, rather, was on his recent divorce from Malaak Compton-Rock and its effect on his finances, romantic life, and two children. This is, by far, Rock’s most personal material to date. Rock stunned his audience by confessing to three affairs that he had while on the road over the last few years; and after getting fairly specific about the identity of one of his sexual partners (“a former member of Destiny’s Child that isn’t Beyoncé“), he joked “this is why I took your phones.”
He is referencing his tour’s use of Yondr, which comic Dave Chappelle began using at his shows in 2015. This growing industry trend requires spectators to place their cellphones into a form-fitting lockable pouch upon entrance to the venue. A magnetic disk mechanism unlocks it on the way out. Fans keep the pouch with them, but it is impossible to take photos or video during the show. A comic’s bread-and-butter is live performance, and the propensity for YouTube uploading stifles performers and reduces ticket and album sales.
Chris Rock’s material steps into the ocean of autobiography on occasion, but he rarely paints himself as the villain. This time around, the venue is part confessional, part psychoanalyst’s couch. He doesn’t play the villain for long, switching quickly to the role of victim. His alimony-induced cries for sympathy are not particularly effective, given his $70 million net worth. Forbes magazine estimates that this creator of Everybody Hates Chris raked in $42 million in 2009 alone.
While this would be better titled The Divorce Tour, Chris Rock does earn big laughs. His class- and race-based material was the most audibly successful. A bit about $7 oranges at Whole Foods is particularly memorable, as it was more relatable than the plight of a Hollywood megastar.
Rock is at his best when he is jarring and controversial — two things that are almost truant on this tour. Even though he still proves himself to be one of the funniest and most engaging comics working today, with pitch-perfect delivery, his current material is less Chris Rock than we would like. He was even outshined by one of his newbie opening acts.
This tour does not feel quite worth the wait, and one hopes some riskier material will creep back in over the coming weeks. Still, Chris Rock: The Total Blackout Tour is likely to appear on your Netflix cue sometime next year; and it is recommended that stand-up fans take the time to watch it. If Chris Rock has proven to be too rough for you in the past, this may be the show for you.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 15th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by David Klein: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/chris-rock/Event?oid=5104420; and Feb. 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Mary Cornatzer: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article130532754.html.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents CHRIS ROCK: TOTAL BLACKOUT TOUR at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/702631
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/chris-rock and https://www.facebook.com/events/775941152572199/.
THE TOUR: http://www.chrisrock.com/tour.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M902ZJHzaLE&list=PL8FFF9D875F4010DC.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/chris-rock-is-kicking-off-his-tour-at-dpac-on-february-14-2017.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Chris Rock (Andrews, SC-born comedian, actor, writer, and producer): http://www.chrisrock.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/chris-rock-471158 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001674/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ChrisRock (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/chrisrock (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Rock (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8FFF9D875F4010DC (YouTube).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.