Chris Rock review: The Chicago Theater show, not quite a revelation, still satisfies

The comedian who once called a “Never Scared” special doesn’t act like someone scared. Chris Rock still jokes freely and provocatively about such sensitive topics as abortion, race and, in one unfortunate case, Jada Pinkett Smith.

But, as he said Thursday during the first of four shows at the Chicago Theater, “I have to be careful what I say!”

Cancellation is an ever-present threat to every comedian, no matter how revered. And that anxiety extends to the lobby, where patrons must pass through a metal detector and put their phones in pouches in order to see the ostensibly fearless comedian.

Over the years, there have been Chris Rock sets that have packed surprises — that the wacky guy from “Saturday Night Live” could be such a deep thinker or that complexity could be distilled to such a perfect catchphrase or that the relationship roaster could be so humble in assessing the collapse of his own.

It is not such a set. Called “Ego Death”, it is a collection of effective products from Chris Rock touching his life, some burning issues and the state of the country. It’s not a revelation, and there’s never a prolonged, heartbreaking period of hysteria like it has before. But it’s still a night spent in the company of an excellent storyteller of excellent jokes.

When this tour began, Rock had just taken the slap heard around the world, a slap in the face from an offended (and later apologetic) Will Smith at the Oscars. At first, he avoided discussing the incident on stage, saying he had to deal with it.

Now he does – but in the context of one of his larger themes: victimization. While some rush to the ER for a paper cut, Rock said he brushed off the pain and got back to work. “I took that s- – – like Pacquiao,” he boasted.

One of the biggest laughs of the night came when he discussed his vulnerable role in “New Jack City,” noting that while Smith once portrayed the mighty Muhammad Ali, “I played Pookie!”

He could have fought back, he said, but he remembered his parents’ rule: “You don’t fight in front of white people.”

Pop culture is always on the mind of the man who cites celebrities as varied as Vera Wang, the Tinder Swindler and Migos. Rock’s recent heroes include Lil Nas X (to be quite himself) as well as Kris Jenner, a model in-law to welcome all kinds of broken black people into her family (or so her TV show describes it) . Speaking of Caitlyn Jenner’s ex, when Rock talks about trans people, it’s with admiration, unlike his former collaborator. Dave Chappelle.

Politically, Rock’s gags about Donald Trump’s flaws and Joe Biden’s age say nothing new about the country’s most mocked men. More successful is a little Hillary Clinton who ruined her presidential chances by ignoring God’s instructions.

Later, the show takes a personal turn, following up on the divorce he recounted in his latest Netflix special, “Tamborine.” Without mentioning Lake Bell’s current love interest, Rock says he’s single and dating, but is being cautious to avoid a #MeToo scandal. To illustrate what he is dealing with, he displays on a giant screen texts from a female acquaintance with a very explicit proposal.

If Kevin Hart’s 2020 “Zero F- – -s Given” special didn’t give you enough insight into how a rich comedian can spoil his kids, Rock offers some of his own luxury confessions. given to his offspring. An overly long anecdote about his daughter breaking school rules has some interesting insights into decisions about discipline. But Rock loses some relatability as he talks over and over about the benefits of his private school, where a class trip means taking teenagers to Portugal.

And when he raves about his daughter’s arrival at culinary school in Paris, all the elation seems enough, but at least serves to recall one of Rock’s classic punchlines: “I got it. kept off the post!”