Last night, Chris Rock showed up again at Stand Up NY and did a long set of new material (he did one a few weeks back too).
Here's how that works: He walks in. Everyone starts whispering. Comic onstage finishes his set and Chris goes up (other comics get bumped or have to wait and are fine with that because they get to watch a master work shit out). The audience members whisper and seem slightly aghast. All the other comics and waitstaff fill the room at the sides and the back. There's about 50 people in the room.
He puts a yellow legal pad on a stool and starts flipping pages looking for jokes. He doesn't address the crowd or do crowdwork. All he cares about is shaping the jokes on the pad. Most jokes seem already written out. But then you can see where he starts trying to extend. He gets this little glint in his eye and dances around different act-outs.
When he finishes his bits, he leans back against the wall and returns to the pad. He flips through, finds one of his topics, and says out loud, "Hmm...weddings...kinda hack. It's tough to unhack that." The comics in the room love the reference. But he doesn't really play to the industry people at the sides. He's more focused on the middle of the room, the random audience members and their reactions.
He covers a lot of the same topics as last time (like how cruel kids are, how he hates rich kids but now he has his own, how women can never go back financially and men can never go back sexually, etc.). But doesn't do them the same. There are new twists and turns.
Overall, it's not as funny as one of his HBO sets. He's not as committed. The peaks don't go as high and the rhythm isn't there in the same way. In "Bring the Pain" and those other specials, he grabs it by the throat and doesn't let go. These workout sets hit those highs occasionally but include a lot of lulls too. It's a lot more catch and release. Some of the older audience members sit with arms folded and seem unimpressed.
Still there are some great fucking moments. He says love doesn't exist (it's just a combination of like plus need). He talks about how every woman thinks her pussy can change a man. He talks a lot about women and relationships actually (most brilliant bit of the night revolved around "In every relationship, there's a Hall and there's an Oates."). He talks about how he's just good enough in bed. About why you should drop out of school in 2nd grade instead of 10th grade (you'll be qualified for the job you'll get either way). And lot's more. Tough to get it across here but he's got some amazing, ballsy material cooking.
I'm not sure there's any better comedy class than watching someone that good work on material at that stage. More than anything, you see how much hard work it is. He's grinding out this material. He mentioned how men in his family have been lifting shit for 400 years. He's lifting too.
So what's it like to follow a legend? I went up a few comics later and the crowd seemed exhausted by then. You just gotta roll with it, acknowledge what we all just experienced, and use that as inspiration. Crowd was actually pretty loose considering the length of the show (and prob drunk too) so we still had fun.
Related: How Chris Rock works out new material in a small club
Sandpaper Suit is NYC standup comic Matt Ruby's (now defunct) comedy blog. Keep in touch: Sign up for Matt's weekly Rubesletter. Email email@example.com.
Chris Rock and I "share" a bill again
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