Chris Rock's 10 Best Stand-Up Routines - Rolling Stone
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Chris Rock’s 10 Best Stand-Up Routines

We look back at the most hilarious, heated and how-did-he-get-away-with-that bits from the comedian and director of ‘Top Five’

Chris Rock

Chris Rock performs at Laughter Is The Best Medecine II: The Comedy Gala at Allstream Centre on September 27, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.

George Pimentel/WireImage

Chris Rock hasn’t put out a special since 2008, but in a way, it hardly matters: He's one of the best comics in history because he found a way to not only infiltrate fans' heads but take up permanent residency there. Rock's provocative jokes, the rat-a-tat cadence, that gravelly preacher's bark, his disbelieving squeal, the panther-like stage prowl and the hip-hop inspired mic drop are immediately accessible to those who love him — and maybe even more for those few that hate him. The man may be on his way to becoming a film auteur with the release of his new Top Five, but his legendary shows still loom large.

It's impossible to whittle down 30 years worth of a steady stand-up career and his impressive body of work — but if we had to choose Rock's best onstage riffs and rants, these would be our favorite 10 bits:

Chris Rock

Chris Rock during "Saturday Night Live" Cast & Crew Party for 1990-1991 Season - September 29, 1990 at Tavern On The Green in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Ron Galella/WireImage

10

Born a Suspect

Though far from polished, Rock was already displaying a comic spark at the age of 21. One of the first jokes that got him noticed was a gripe that begins, "I can't stand life because I was born a suspect." He talks about how scared white people are of black teenagers, and what lengths they'll go to feel safe. The punch line: "I look up and there’s a bunch of old white ladies on the phone. They'll dial 9-1 and just wait for me to do something." (You can check the clip out here.)

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9

Finding $50

While Rock's first special — entitled Big Ass Jokes — trails everything he's done since then, this 1994 show exhibits his burgeoning talent for social analysis couched in jokes that get a crowd worked up. In a bit about friends who unbelievably forget that they owe you money, he also proves himself an adept scene-painter. If you ever found $50, he says, you'd never forget when and where it happened: "Right here, April 14, 1972. It was a cloudy day, about 68 degrees, I had my light blue hat on — I loved that hat…" The vision goes on, concluding with, "I look at the ground, I see 10 dimes, four quarters and a 48 dollar bill!" [This section starts at about 9:30 in this clip.]

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8

Domestic Abuse

Rock is not above telling jokes that are focused as much on provocation as they are on getting laughs. Case in point: his bit from his 1996 special Bring the Pain: "You know what they say, 'There's no reason to ever hit a woman.' Shiiiit. There's a reason to hit everybody. Just don't do it. Shit, there's a reason to kick an old man down a flight of stairs. Just don't do it. Ain't nobody above an ass-whooping."

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7

Bullet Control

Rock digs into politics as often as he does race and relationships, and this one is an example of an absurd idea that has a logic that seems just twisted enough to work. At the top of his 1999 special Bigger and Blacker, he argues that the nation doesn't need gun control, it needs bullet control. There would be no more innocent bystanders, Rock says, if bullets cost $5000, and then he takes the character of a would-be murderer: "I would blow your fuckin' head off — if I could afford it. I'm gonna get me another job, start saving money, and you're a dead man."

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6

Married Sex Life

This is a joke framed by one of Rock's rhythmic, repeated thesis statements — it's the kind of thing that sticks in your head like a Beatles tune, if Paul had cursed like a sailor. "If you like fucking, marriage ain't for you," Rock confesses. "I haven't fucked in seven years. I've had intercourse…!" He follows the same pattern as he says that wedded bliss means "vagina" takes over where there once was "pussy," and "fellatio" replaces beloved "blow jobs."

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5

Conservatives and Liberals

Sometimes, Rock likes to lay down some common sense PSAs in the form of jokes. In Kill the Messenger, he tries to convince individuals in the crowd to think for themselves before making up their minds on any given issue. "No normal, decent person is one thing, OK? I've got some shit I'm conservative about, I've got some shit I'm liberal about. Crime, I'm conservative. Prostitution, I'm liberal."

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4

The Dick in a Glass Case

Another of Rock's regular themes: Cheating, who does it and when. Though he'll later posit that men are "only as faithful as their options," this Bring the Pain routine centers on the way that women keep their platonic friends around forever because "you never know." The image he crafts to explain how females feel about their guy pals is by far one of his best. To a woman, Rock argues, a platonic friends is "a dick in a glass case: In case of emergency, break open glass." 

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3

Robitussin

Rock doesn't play all that many characters, so it's fun when he does ham it up. In Bigger and Blacker's critique of the health care system, he talks about how his family had no insurance when he was a kid and he had to be "way past Robitussin" to see a doctor. Rock's father solves everything from cancer to a broken leg with the cough syrup ("Let that 'Tussin get on down to the bone!") and "if you run out of 'Tussin put some water in the jar, shake it up — more 'Tussin!"

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2

Relationships Are Murder

In Never Scared, Rock tells us, "You can be married and bored…or single and lonely. Ain't no happiness nowhere." This notion leads to his best rant about the difficulties of long relationships, including the idea that partnerships succeed because both parties focus on the female and "if you haven't practiced your alibi in front of the mirror, you've never been in love." Then he drops one of those hard-earned nuggets of wisdom nobody really wants to hear. After delivering a litany of complaints a man might have to field, he says, "The Number One reason your woman is pissed the fuck off: 'Cause you ain't her first choice."

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1

Black People vs. N—-s

The bit from Bring the Pain that brought Rock into the comedic hall of fame is a biting and divisive routine that finds the comedian tap-dancing through a minefield. "There's black people, and there's n—-s…and n—-s have got to go." Other than just ruining life for black people, Rock says, the offenders "will brag about some shit a normal man just does… ‘I ain't never been to jail.' What do you want, a cookie? You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!" There are a number of amazing bits in Rock's breakthrough special, but this was the one that put him within spitting distance of Richard Pryor — a cutting piece of social commentary that pushed the envelope, confirmed Rock was the perfect comic for our cultural moment and got a helluva lot of people in trouble around the office watercooler the next day.

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