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COMEDY REVIEW

With wit, wisdom, Rock is on a roll

Underneath Chris Rock's biting, brutally honest rants, there is a sweet, gleeful guy who enjoys cracking himself up. Sometimes he bellows into the microphone, getting so carried away his voice screeches an octave or two higher, but it's always clear that he cares, passionately, about the sometimes heavy subjects he delves into. He's not just trying to be funny; he's trying to make a point. And it's because he's funny that he succeeds.

No subject was sacred during Rock's 90-minute set at the Orpheum Theatre last night. He was shocked by Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime stunt: "It's Sunday afternoon," he said in disbelief. On the tiger that attacked magician Roy Horn: "That tiger didn't go crazy. That tiger went tiger."

And he doesn't buy the myth that women strip to pay their way through college. "I've never had a smart lap dance," he said. None of them have ever said, "If I were you, I would diversify my portfolio."

But there's a much deeper layer to Rock. He gestured with his long fingers, squinted into the lights, diamond studs glinting in both ears, and dove into a long social and political commentary covering abortion, drug policy, wealth, race, affirmative action, the "hypocrisy of democracy," gay marriage. "Marriage is not sacred," he said, "Not in America, not in a country with `Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?' "

With a wide grin, he made fun of idiotic rap lyrics and in the next breath derided the government for not trying to find the killers of rappers such as Biggie Smalls, Jam Master Jay, and Tupac Shakur. It shouldn't be that hard, he said: "Biggie weighed about 400 pounds, so they had to shoot him for a while."

To make a point, he repeated it again and again. Of Michael Jackson, he said: "Another kid? Another kid? That's like another dead white girl showing up at O.J.'s house."

He went on about a serious subject, threw in a good punch line, and moved on, taking swipes at President Bush and the war in Iraq along the way. He wasn't surprised that other countries didn't want to help the United States: "Would you help Mike Tyson beat up Urkel?" But he admitted he was a little sad when Saddam was captured. "It's kind of like the coyote catching the roadrunner."

He loves his country, but he has some stinging insights: "America's the only country in the world where people go hunting on a full stomach," and "If you're black, America's like the uncle who paid your way through college" -- pause -- "but molested you."

Sometimes he didn't even sound like a comedian, as when he said, "Anybody who makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a [expletive] fool." His seriousness got fewer laughs than his silliness, but together they made for a powerful message.

Rock has always been political, but his tone is more low-key than it was on his last tour four years ago. He's 39 now and has a daughter, and he seems to have grown less angry and more wise. He makes you laugh and cringe and think at the same time. And when you leave, you remember what he had to say.

Rock has always been political, but his tone is more low-key than it was on his last tour four years ago. He's 39 now and has a daughter, and he seems to have grown less angry and more wise. He makes you laugh and cringe and think at the same time. And when you leave, you remember what he had to say.

Chris Rock

At: the Orpheum Theatre, last night (first set)

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