Before Chris Rock even began his new hour-long set onstage at the Wilbur Theater in Boston on Wednesday night — the opening performance of his new US tour, and his first public appearance since The Slap — he had to wait through not one but two standing ovations, plus a guy who shouted out “Fuck Will Smith!” Then everyone roared for that guy, too.
“How was your weekend,” Rock began, grinning exactly the way you’re picturing right now.
Almost by way of apology, he explained that he didn’t plan to say much about the incident “because I’m still processing what happened,” and also because “I had, like, a whole show I wrote before this weekend.” At some point in the future, he promised, “I’ll talk about that shit” and it’ll be “a little serious” and “a little funny.”
Then, with the same grace he displayed on Sunday night, he segued from slap-happy Will Smith to talking about the shit he wanted to talk about, like why Covid wasn’t deadly enough. “AIDS,” he said, “broke up Queen… I’ve been wearing a mask on my dick for 25 years.” He mocked anti-vaxxers who protest that they don’t know what’s in the shot. “I don’t know what’s in Fruit Loops,” Rock said, “but I know what’s not in there: fruit.”
Rock was dressed head to toe in bright gleaming white: white shirt, white suit with the white sleeves pushed up to his elbows, white hightops. A single spotlight cast a giant 20-foot Chris Rock shadow behind him. He seemed both weighted down by the last few days, and elated to be back onstage telling jokes to people who actually wanted to hear them, no matter how rough they got.
At the Oscars, he told a lame joke about GI Jane and gets assaulted by a movie star. At the Wilbur Theater, he could say that he doesn’t think Meghan Markle is Black—“I think she’s not white”—and get a huge laugh. “What did you expect” from the British royal family? “Didn’t they invent colonialism?” One of Rock’s boldest claims of the night was that it wasn’t racist for a Royal family member to ask her how Black the baby is going to be. “Even Black people wanna know how Black the baby is gonna be! Is it a Steph baby? A Lil Nas X baby?” If Markle wanted to be embraced by her white in-laws, she should’ve “married into the Kardashians. They love Black people more than Black people.”
The best bits in Rock’s new act are when he reckons with the ironies and compromises of his insanely wealthy life, and its corrosive effect on his judgment, his ability to raise his kids (“my kids are rich kids, and I always hated rich kids”), and his dating life as a single 57-year-old Black man who has to put on bifocals to read the lurid texts he’s been getting from a thirsty woman he’s never met and does not know named Candace. Rock has savaged himself in past specials for his gated-community life, but now, he said onstage Wednesday night, “every lawn in my white suburb of New Jersey has a Black Lives Matter sign on it.” He started to wonder if they thought they had to put up a BLM sign, or else a Black pharaoh would send a plague to kill their first-born son. He said he feels guilty skipping the line at Disneyworld—but he also loves “jumping in front of fat white people.” (“I don’t usually make fat jokes, but the white people at Disneyworld — goddamn.”)
After 59 minutes, Rock had pulled off something incredible under the circumstances: he managed to banish nearly all thoughts of Will Smith from our minds. It was lurking the whole time, though. About halfway through the show, in the middle of a long story about his daughter getting in big trouble at her very expensive high school, a few audience members started getting loud with each other; Rock tried to talk through the commotion but eventually he stopped and asked if everything was okay. Yes, he was told. He didn’t seem reassured, and nodded to the assassination scene in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X: “Is someone about to shout Get your hand out of my pocket and shoot me?”
There was nothing but love for Rock in the air all night at the Wilbur, which made this moment all the more sad and unsettling. He was still rattled from the violence onstage Sunday night—because of course he was—and now less than 72 hours later, here he was, back onstage, flinching. A few minutes later, the commotion began again, and Rock had to stop again, and this time a massive security guard in a black suit inched out a few steps from stage right. He was ready to pounce. For a split second, Rock sounded dejected, wondering aloud, “Is this how the whole tour is gonna be?”