Chris Rock’s Total Blackout review – blistering start to a new world tour
Chris Rock may need no introduction but apparently he still fancies a warm-up.
The evening before his performance in front of 8,000 people at the Perth Arena, where tickets ranged from $95 to $145 (not including the dreaded booking fee), the American comic swung by a local pub, the Charles hotel, to do a surprise set at their $20 comedy night.
By all reports the 150 people in attendance, awash in tears of laughter, got something close to a religious experience – but it’s testament to his talents that the Perth Arena attendees got their money’s worth too.
Total Blackout marks Rock’s first major world tour in nine years and in Western Australia, the first place he’s performed it outside of the US and Canada, it begins with a question local audiences frequently hear from visiting artists: “What the fuck am I doing in Perth?”
The legendary stand-up clarifies: the only reason he’s beginning the “world” part of his world tour here is because it is the furthest away. We’ll take it.
Anyone hoping Rock will immediately ingratiate himself to Australians with stories of Vegemite and koalas will be disappointed; instead, Rock immediately confronts the largely white audience with Australia’s cruel treatment of its Indigenous people, telling the Aboriginals in the audience that they are safe, with a caveat – “tonight”.
At times unsure if they are allowed to laugh, the crowd is reminded that Rock is not simply a joke machine or standout Oscar host (or even a talking zebra); rather, he’s one of the most incendiary speakers of his generation. And in the wake of Donald Trump’s election; the frequent shootings of young black men in his home country; and his own messy divorce from his wife of 16 years, Malaak Compton, Rock has plenty to speak about.
When the laughs are muted it seems to be of his own devising, as he plunges deeper into his failings as a husband, his protracted custody battle and his fears as a black parent raising black children in the world of the “white man”.
(The audience, he assures us, aren’t that kind of “white man”; we are at least helping to pay his daughters’ way through private school.)
Rock spends the grand majority of his show focusing on the dissolution of his marriage, sharing with the audience the circumstances of his and Compton’s separation (for which he accepts the blame, reciting the number of affairs he committed during their years together). At one point, he earnestly passes along advice to those in relationships on how to succeed where he did not. And then, with our guard lowered, he offers a riotous — and detailed — summary of his new sex life, and its updated complications.
Rock knows his fans are there to receive some carnal, dirty delights; he uses them as cover to brilliantly smuggle in his more pointed, insightful and occasionally moving observations.
Not that his routines will be repeated here in detail: all phones at the event had to be cloaked inside impenetrable locked pouches, to keep from any recording or photography. He has a $40m reason to want to stop the show from leaking.
But those with tickets to his remaining tour stops can look forward to Rock’s updated take on gun violence in America, as well as what he calls “the new Jim Crow”: his argument that black people, once excluded through segregation with explicit storefront signs, are now kept away from certain, white-frequented stores through increased prices, and $7 oranges. (Both are hilarious riffs on one of his most ingenious bits on gun control.)
Audiences will also see Chris Rock do “Chris Rock”. In his more recent movie roles (Top Five, 2 Days in New York), he’s played a more muted variation of his persona; in the flesh he bristles with energy, enthusiastically repeating his setups as he delivers punchline after punchline. The Total Blackout tour delivers the Chris Rock you always hoped you’d see live.
In front of a video screen projecting 24 giant Fender amplifiers, his status as a literal rock star is affirmed by his command of the stage, his gift for insight and emphasis, and his craft. Rock remains one of the best to ever do it.
Chris Rock is in Melbourne on 26 & 28 June, and in Sydney on 28 and 29 June, before touring New Zealand and the UK