Few stand-up comedians can match the patter and delivery of Chris Rock. And that’s perhaps why so many people flocked to see him all over the world as he toured the planet, playing to hundreds of thousands of people. Three of the shows from his most recent tour – Johannesburg, New York and London – have been edited together for this HBO special, which showcases both the comedy excellence of Rock, and the worst traits of the modern stand-up comedy DVD.
This is a single disc set (in spite of the DVD in it being marked as disc one) of an HBO special, that meshes together the three shows. At first, it’s interesting, not least to see the American audience on its feet when Rock takes the stage, while the Brits sit there and politely applaud.
The material that Rock delivers is frequently golden, too. His targets aren’t always that ambitious, but he generates a lot of laughs out of George W Bush (which, considering the tour took place in the back end of 2008, is some achievement, given what a well-worn resource Bush had proven for comedians), and has plenty of fun, too, with the difference between men and women (his patter on women going to see the Sex And The City movie is unambitious, perhaps, but brilliantly delivered).
The edgier parts of the gig, and the moments that showcase just how refined Rock’s delivery is, are where he talks about matters of race. He’s utterly aware that much of the material he touches on is taboo for many comedians, yet in his hands, he takes a few risks and delivers some excellent laughs. And in each venue, he seemingly has the audience eating out of his hand.
Taken on just the show itself, this is one of the better stand-up comedy discs of the season. However, the presentation has all sorts of problems.
Firstly, we get on overload of reaction shots here. This is all well and good, and I’m not averse to looking at pictures of people laughing, per se, but I love the subtle physicality of Rock as a comedian, and every time the edit cuts away from him, it’s a disappointment.
Worse than that, though, is the gimmicky way that the three shows have been combined. It’s as if the editor is having a showy off day, by cutting different gigs together in the middle of a joke. This is, clearly, technically impressive, especially given the skill in catching the right moment to cut from one show to the other, but it’s also irritating, and hits the tempo of the performance. Surely, the trick here would have been to sit back, let the comedy do the work, and cut to a different venue after a particular routine?
It’s not the longest of shows, and the running time is bolstered by vox pops of audience members professing their love for Chris Rock on the way out. And there’s also not an extra in sight on the disc. That’s a major disappointment.
However, the comedy just about wins out. And while the DVD itself is fudged, Rock’s performance is excellent, and his material often very funny, indeed. Next time, though, you just wish they’d point a camera at the man and let things be.