There's a nice symmetry between the Presidential hopeful Barack Obama riding the crest of a wave in the US, and the UK coronation of an American King of Comedy, Chris Rock. Who better to give us Brits the low-down on the man behind the headlines than Barack-backer Rock with his warts and allapproach to comedy?
Neither man is a stranger to a deafening reception and that is what Rock received for this, the opening night of his debut UK tour. Perhaps staying true to his word that he doesn't want to "hurt" Obama's chances, Rock focuses more on Hillary Clinton's limited appeal, restricted to the fact that she's good at forgiveness: "Even Jesus is going 'you're really good. I talk the talk but you walk the walk'". While Obama can be thankful that "so far he hasn't been shot", his main problem, according to Rock, is that his black wife might find it hard being First Lady: "Honey I'm President", Rock imagines him telling her, to which her reply is "No. We is President!"
In order to make the contrast work Rock suggests white women are much more easily led in the role of First Lady. It's an intimation that probably didn't go down well with the whole of his mixed audience but fared better than his more general, race unspecific, comments about women "wanting everything", and working out who can get it for them rather than how they can get it themselves. This comprised the latter, rather hackneyed, parts of his set. However, the momentum from Rock's initial reception did carry him through more thoughtful, if no less controversial, ground where he either struck gold or struck out trying.
In the latter case, Rock muses on our censorious use of language. He tells the story of a black actor fired from the show Grey's Anatomy for calling a fellow actor "faggot". Rock argues that context is everything and that someone could call him a faggot were he to, for example, miss the traffic lights changing because he was too busy singing Gwen Stefani tunes: "Elton John could call me a faggot at that moment." The problem here it seems is that, (like some of Rock's earlier material about athletes in the US taking steroids) the word faggot has a different resonance over here and somewhat lacks the playfulness that the word gay still maintains.
However, there are plenty of routines that are more direct and are more in sync with his crisp delivery that keeps audiences rapt whatever the content. He asserts that sport without black people is just a game and that you can't boast: "I won the marathon but there were no Kenyans in it."
All through his set, the sartorial elegant beanpole figure of Rock paces the stage from side to side, his incredulity with the world around him often exaggerated in his enunciation. Occasionally projecting himself beyond the limitations of some of his material the gig ebbed and flowed. Some routines spoke for themselves others needed the help of Rock's thrusting energy. If the show were a Presidential primary it would be a closer run thing than Iowa and while convincing for me to buy a 10 programme it was not enough to, make me want the 40 Chris Rock hoodie.