Chris Rock all but ignores the slap during first return to Dolby Theater

Dressed head-to-toe in white, with a Prince symbol dangling from a chain around his neck, there were signs that Chris Rock was ready to lower his vigilance to the point that on the first night of his four- Night Stands at the Dolby Theater opened in LA to conclude its Ego Death Tour.

Nine months ago, it was the stage where he made Hollywood history — or where history was made for him in the form of Will Smith’s slap in the face, which was heard around the world at the Oscars after Rock cracked a joke about the balding of the wife of the actor, Jada, had made Pinkett Smith.

Rock now re-entered the same stage, looking relaxed and fearless as he paced in front of a plain, all-white backdrop, telling jokes to a tightly packed crowd. But one thing was hard to ignore, his larger-than-life shadowy silhouette that appeared behind him, often looking more like a chalk outline as it followed him around the crime scene.

There were times when the shadow took on a life of its own, much like the controversy that danced around it, which it hasn’t said much about publicly. He’s toured with the Silhouette behind him at multiple stops on his Ego Death tour, but it felt like it carried significantly more weight onstage at the Dolby, only brightened by the audience’s roar of laughter, a master comedian singing his craft watched.

Reviews abounded about the tour, signaling very little slap-centric material to LA fans throughout the nearly two-hour set. But his opening salvo felt like the beginning of a man willing to let his ego die long enough to address the shadow hanging over the last nine months of his life.

“People say words hurt,” Rock said. “But someone who says words hurt has never been slapped in the face.” It’s a line he’s recited many times over the past few months that effectively loosened up the crowd (it helped that the front rows of the warm-up act, comedy store regular and crowd work king Rick Ingraham have been thoroughly roasted). Rock’s opening jokes about censorship and abandonment culture likely achieved the desired wake-up effect Rock was aiming for at the start of the show — as long as the audience didn’t get too awake.

Rock quickly turned away from his attack to attack “the woke police.” For him, this term refers not only to an amorphous mob on social media, but to the people we all know in real life who have been indoctrinated into the cult of selective outrage. “The kind of people who play Michael Jackson songs but don’t play R. Kelly,” he joked. “Same crime, you just have better songs.”

As he paced, his shadow on the wall sometimes appeared large, sometimes shrank to almost life size. It felt symbolic as the show ebbed and flowed, with rock moving through jokes steeped in parables, politics and personal stories. When it came to addressing the shadow of the Oscars that still follows him, he only let up a few times. In particular, a line in which he described being hit by “Suge Smith” — a reference to notoriously violent Death Row Records exec Suge Knight — lets you know where he still stands in his relationship with the embattled actor, despite Smith’s unanswered public apology, Rock.

“People said, ‘Did it hurt?’ You’re damn right it hurt,’ he said. “Will Smith is significantly taller than me. I’m not the same size, okay? This mother f__ played Ali! I played Pookie from New Jack City!”

Much of Rock’s material dealt with the notion of victimhood in many forms. When it comes to applying the label to him, the comedian says he will never accept it. “I went to work the next day f— that sh—!”

However, Rock did mention that when the media and many celebs opened up about Pinkett-Smith’s previous affair with R&B singer August Alsina in 2020, the comedian made a point of staying out of it. “Everyone talked about it, but I… 50 Cent talked about it… he didn’t hit him!”

On the subject of retribution right now at the Oscars, Rock said onstage that his family raised him better.

“People asked me, ‘Why didn’t you score? [Smith] back?’” Rock said. “Because I have parents, I was raised, you know? Do you know what my parents taught me? Don’t fight in front of white people!”

If you’re looking for more insight into how Rock feels about the incident, that’s about all you’ll get from him on this tour (but there are three more shows coming up this weekend, so who knows?).

For the rest of the crowd who just wanted a chance to see one of the world’s greatest comedians kill, Rock was still ready to deliver. He touched on recent event highlights (and lowlights) from the past two years, including pandemic punchlines, roasts from Trump, Biden, Meghan Markle and the Kardashians. In the hands of an inferior comedian, the material could have felt a little stale. Yet Rock found a way to keep things spicy and not just burn the usual suspects, but people in general.

“Everybody’s full of sh…” he said. That includes sports companies like Lulu Lemon, who are championing “yoga pants politics” and hurling slogans about inclusivity along with their $100 pairs of trendy tights, or people who spend their time “writing bright tweets on phones that were made by child slaves”.

Our social media obsessions with “likes” rather than real love and our need for attention was another topic Rock spent a lot of time on. Sure, as a superstar comedian who’s performed for thousands around the world over the decades, he might sound a little hypocritical. But the way he’s addressing these cliche issues is the way it should be done – his Path. With a buzzsaw tenor who dished out punch lines as adeptly as Jay-Z spits out verse, every joke seemed to annihilate the eager LA crowd. Quotable lines suddenly make age-old material about Hillary Clinton’s election losses to Obama and Trump relevant again.

Speaking of the current abortion terrain, Rock was quick to remind us that the Roe vs. Wade repeal isn’t just a women’s issue. “I’ve paid for more abortions than any other woman in this room!” adding that if they came up with a punch card, he definitely deserves a free smoothie now.

Rock says he won’t say much more about the slap stuff – not yet. There’s still a chance he’ll grow deeper into it during his shows with Dave Chappelle scheduled for December. But if Thursday’s performance was any indication, he’s conquering the darkness behind. Chris Rock all but ignores the slap during first return to Dolby Theater

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