Chris Rock – The Palace Theater (Albany, NY), 4.10.17

There may be no more worlds for me to conquer.

Old school readers of the blog know that I go to a lot of concerts. Like a lot a lot. Most of my summers are spent driving myself from one venue to another to see live music. My musical tastes cut across genres and I’ve had the experience of being both the youngest person at a show and the oldest person at a show. But 2017 is shaping up to be the first time since before I got my driver’s license that I have absolutely no plans to go to any shows. I’ve seen pretty much everyone that I care to see. Once I saw Adele last year for my birthday, my bucket list was empty. I’d seen everyone that I had the desire to see. It’s over – the girl at the rock show has hung up her shoes.

Now of course this doesn’t mean that I’ll never go to another concert, but for the foreseeable future I’m out of the concert game. I am beginning to feel the same way about stand-up comics. While a different experience than concerts, I was equally enthusiastic about hitting the road to get my laugh on. I’ll always go see Louis CK when he comes to town, but for the most part I had seen everyone that I wanted to see.

Except for Chris Rock.

I’ve been a fan of Chris Rock’s stand-up forever. I probably first became aware of him on Saturday Night Live, as his tenure on the show coincided with the period that I was the most loyal fan of the show. I cannot even count how many times I’ve seen his 1996 comedy special Bring The Pain. Unfortunately for me, I started really getting into going to see comics around the time that Chris Rock was taking a hiatus from touring thanks to a busy acting career. Any stand-up dates were few and far between and were either impossible to get tickets to or were unannounced drop-ins at comedy clubs in New York City. I figured that I’d see Chris Rock eventually, but my hopes of that being any time soon were beginning to waver. So when it was announced that he was not only doing the Total Blackout tour but was also coming to Albany, I leapt at the opportunity. I found a pre-sale and nabbed tickets without asking a single soul if they wanted to go. I wasn’t going to miss this while other people hemmed and hawed or tried to line up child care. I was grabbing the brass ring while opportunity allowed. I had been trying to avoid making any plans in April in case my sister-in-law went into labor early, but this was just too tempting.

Since Rock was testing out material that would probably eventually make its way into one of his upcoming Netflix specials, no cell phones or smart watches were allowed in the theater. If you did bring a phone, they were secured in a special container that could only be unlocked in the lobby. I figured that was going to be a clusterf*ck for getting in and out of the venue, so I left my phone in the car. This gave me a ton on anxiety since 1) I was sincerely hoping that I didn’t miss a call about the baby and 2) even though it wasn’t a far walk and I generally feel very safe in the city, walking alone back to my car at night without access to a phone is not usually how I do things. This also forced me to entertain myself prior to the show starting rather than just killing time on social media. These were dark times and I was actually forced to make conversation with the guy sitting next to me to get through it. If you know me personally, you know that came from a place of desperation. I don’t just chat up people; I’m good at many things, but small talk is not one of them.

The show started a little late to accommodate all the people who had to check in their phones (suckers) and kicked off with Ardie Fuqua as his first opening act. I wasn’t super familiar with Fuqua’s work, though he did look familiar. He’s appeared on Louie a few times, which is probably where I knew him from. He was one of the comics that was in the car crash with Tracy Morgan and he had a very funny bit about that. He was a good hype man to get the crowd ready for the show and he had some decent jokes, but overall wasn’t super memorable. Solid, but nothing to write home about. The second opening act was Dave Attell, who I have seen live multiple times and is always a fun time. He kept pushing the envelope to see how offensive he could be with the crowd, but we proved to be people who aren’t easily affronted, much to his delight. He perhaps got the biggest laugh of the night with a very inappropriate (but not untrue) joke at the expense of Schenectady – a neighboring city to Albany. Local humor that has a streak of truth to it is comedy gold.

For some reason, after Attell’s set they decided to have an intermission, which personally I always think is a really dumb idea. What’s the point of getting the crowd primed for the opening act if you are then going to let them cool off for fifteen minutes. Maybe it builds anticipation or something – I have to assume that Chris Rock and his people know better than I do – but it seemed silly to halt the momentum that was building in the crowd. Plus that was 15 more minutes without my phone and I was starting to show stages of withdrawal.

Finally, the lights once again dimmed and it was time for the man of the hour, Chris Rock. And he was really everything that I hoped he would be. His delivery is always great and so distinctive that you can’t help imitating him when re-telling a Chris Rock joke, almost to the point of parody. He touched on a lot of topics that night – politics, race relations, his recent divorce, gun control – and though I’m not sure everyone in the audience agreed with him (this is upstate New York, after all), it didn’t really matter because the jokes were so solid. I don’t want to spoil any of his punchlines or set-ups since that would ruin the upcoming Netflix specials, but I can say that based on what I experienced they will definitely be worth watching. He may have stepped away from the stand-up game for a minute, but he hasn’t lost anything off his fastball. And honestly, it was just kind of thrilling to be in the same room as him, watching him do his first love; my seats weren’t amazing, but they were close enough to be able to clearly experience all of Rock’s facial expressions. He must have been on stage for close to 80 minutes, which means that we definitely got our money’s worth. I’d see him again in a heartbeat.

If Chris Rock is the only concert/stand-up that I go to see in 2017, I would be OK with that. After waiting so long to finally see him live, he 100% delivered and met my lofty expectations. I’m still excited to watch his upcoming Netflix special, even if I’ve already heard most of the material. His stuff only improves with repeated viewing. He was very open and honest with this new material – especially when it comes to his divorce – and it’s great to have him back on the stand-up scene, for however long that is.

Chris Rock’s Total Blackout tour continues through June.

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