Friday, February 25, 2005

WHY CHRIS MAY (OR MAY NOT) ROCK THE OSCARS

Once again, I'm stuck in Asia when the Oscars roll around.

I've missed them the last, what, six years, having been in Japan and Cambodia without cable. Now I have cable, true, but I think the show's airing taped, a couple of days after the event. (Incidentally, cable in Cambodia is weird -- you get channels from Italy and the Philippines and Taiwan and Indonesia and Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore. Rich Cambodians can even watch selected Canadian dramas, should they so choose. Nobody in Canada watches Canadian dramas, so I'm not sure why Thai TV carries them, but...)

I'll get to see the show, I guess -- just not live.

That's when Chris Rock works best.

Chris Rock is, I think, one of the funniest stand-up comedians I've seen in the last decade. Probably the funniest. Because he tells the truth.

Notice I said 'stand-up'. On Saturday Night Live and in the movies, Rock comes across as rather stiff and uncomfortable. Not a good actor, I don't think, although the movie he directed, Head of State, had its moments. They were few and far between, but when they hit, they hit.

Chris Rock live, however, no-holds barred, is a sight to see. He is blunt and political and nasty. He stalks the stage like a panther looking for its kill. More importantly: he's funny. Laugh-out loud funny. Sometimes piss-your-pants funny. Sometimes silly, often crude, always blatant. Seinfeld says what we're all thinking; Rock says what he's thinking, which is always riskier. And usually funnier, too.

(At the same time, I don't think he oozes comedy. Guys like Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy and Martin Short and Mike Myers -- if you think they're funny, that is -- seem to me to be touched by the comedic gods. They are comedy personified. And, yes, three of those dudes are Canadian, but I'm not nominating them for nationalistic reasons. I swear. Look, we guys also gave the world Celine Dion, so I know we're not perfect.)

Rock works for his jokes. He gets that wild look in his eyes as he stalks out the laughs before slaying them, and us. They are, quite often, pointed commentaries on racism in American society. I can't vouch for their accuracy, not being American, but I can vouch for their impact. He's funny.

(Not that he's only about race. Funny is funny is funny, and he's funny no matter what he's talking about. He's got a quick, agile mind. I saw him on Regis once talking about his newborn daughter: "I just hope she doesn't end up on the pole." Regis asks him what the 'pole' is. Rock says: "The stripper pole. If your daughter ends up on the pole, you have officially failed as a father. End of story.")

The Academy Awards, God love 'em, can be a bit stuffy, though. I have no doubt Rock's jokes will be clean. I have no doubt they'll be funny, too. I just wonder if some kind of comedic disconnect will take place, because everybody's so uptight and waiting and wondering if they're going to win that little bald and golden trophy, and then they have to sweat it out and listen to Rock try and slam the industry that they're a part of. If the audience's not into it, if they wait a little too long to laugh, that silence might seem really long and really deep as it passes on through the TV screen.

But good luck to him. Chris Rock tells the truth (as he sees it), and he seems to me to be in the tradition of Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart and Jerry Seinfeld, who were all reporters whose primary beat was life itself, the small stuff and the big stuff. Fundamentally, the human stuff.

Let's hope Rock rocks so he'll keep on having a forum for telling the truth for as long as we want to hear it.

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