Monday, December 15, 2014

It Is To Laugh

All it took was reading Chris Rock's opinion about cell phones in comedy clubs to get my interest.

Rock is not anyone I've paid much attention to, but that article raised some provocative points. In it, he'd worried that fans shooting video of comedians working out new material in clubs and then posting to YouTube were going to be the death knell for stand-up comedy.

The point, he said, of comedians trying out new stuff in public was to see what worked and what fell flat. What was groan-worthy. What was too offensive. The absolutely essential step of self-editing.

But with the ubiquity of phones as cameras, stuff is being published online that comedians never intended anyone beyond the first audience to hear. Instead of a hundred people being offended, now millions can and the fallout can be tremendous.

Significantly, he saw it as having the potential to be the death of stand-up comedy and naturally I agreed.

Honestly, I don't think cell phones should be allowed in any sort of performance spaces and I really mean any at all. But that's a rant for another day.

Tonight it was enough to make me look differently at Rock and decide to see "Top Five," the new film he wrote, directed and starred in (can you say "Prince"?), despite knowing little about it except that it was about a comedian and critics seem to be liking it.

I took a seat in my favorite row - the front elevated one- near a guy wrist-deep in popcorn and Milk Duds. Had he offered to share, I'd have gladly taken him up on it. After previews for every upcoming movie with a black actor in it (talk about racial profiling), we finally got to what I came to see.

What surprised me the most was that it was essentially a film about conversation. From start to finish, the comedian is being interviewed by by a New York Times reporter who questions him on everything- why he's not funny anymore, why he's marrying a reality star, how bad things got before he finally got sober - and, per their mutual sobriety, demands "rigorous honesty" in return.

The film got a little too raunchy for me (some sexual things I just don't need to hear or see) and occasionally sexist ("You can go all "k.d. lang" on me"), but Rock was funny, articulate and such a keen observer of culture, that I overlooked the overload.

All kinds of real life comedians people the film, including Adam Sandler, Whoppi Goldberg (warning him never to cheat on his wife because she'll know) and Jerry Seinfeld, looking noticeably older than the last time I saw him.

In a scene in a club for Rock's bachelor party, Jerry accuses a female dancer of taking his wallet. Referring to her negligible bikini costume, she asks where she could possibly be hiding it. "Do I have to say it?" Jerry says in that affronted tone we heard so much in the '90s.

And the film's title? That comes from his favorite question, which he puts to almost everybody. What are your top five hip hop artists? As someone who asks practically everyone I meet what their first concert was, I can appreciate having a stock question with which to get to know and understand a person.

Between reading his insightful comments about the future of stand-up and now seeing "Top Five," I'd say I have a much better grasp on what Chris Rock is about.

And given my cell phone-less existence, he's got nothing to worry about with me.

Okay, Miguel, Drake, Weeknd, The Roots, Outkast. Judge away.


  1. I'll bite. Nearly forty years of hip hop and you landed on Miguel and Drake? Can you even the MC's in the two groups you listed? Your blog is nice and all but this is not a serious top five.

  2. Of course it's not! That was the joke. Sorry if that didn't come across...