Chris Rock performs for the masses

June 14, 2008 7:26:44 PM PDT
Comedians will often talk about "the room" - how it feels, whether it's good or not, how to work it. Chris Rock played to a room Friday night that few comedians could command. Rock performed his act in front of tens of thousands on the main stage of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. Following him was Metallica, who had the benefit of screeching guitars, a dynamic light show and pyrotechnics.

Rock had only himself and a microphone, but nevertheless appeared to have the festival crowd hanging on his every punch line. Addressing the Bonnaroo crowd, which has traditionally been on the hippie side since it was founded in 2002, Rock mock-chastised them for taking what he called "performance-enhancing drugs."

"You all should be ashamed of yourselves for taking an antidepressant to see a comedian," said Rock. "I am an antidepressant!"

Rock, who recently took his "No Apologies" tour abroad where he in London set a record for the largest standup performance in the United Kingdom with a crowd of about 14,500, didn't do much to tailor his act to the Bonnaroo crowd.

However, there was surely more people there than the London audience; the festival typically draws nearly 80,000 and the majority of Friday's festival-goers watched Rock perform. Metallica's Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett introduced Rock while many of the other comedians performing at the festival - Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn among them - watched from backstage, naturally curious at how Rock would work the outsized room.

"60,000 people is too many for standup," said Rock's friend and frequent collaborator Louis C.K., who flew to the festival with Rock and performed his own set Saturday. "Even if 40,000 love you, you're still bombing really hard."

But Louis C.K. was impressed by how well Rock commanded the audience: "That's a big crowd to be winning over with jokes."

Rock quickly launched into politics and the presidential candidates' false claims of modesty.

"How many Kanye injections must you endure" to decide you should be president, Rock joked, referring to Kanye West, who was to perform late Saturday night at Bonnaroo.

Some of Rock's best material was about the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, who Rock supports. The comedian said he was impressed by Obama's unmistakable blackness, joking that his name makes him sound like "the bass player for the Commodores."

Though Rock thinks America is "ready" for a black president, he doesn't think it's ready for a black first lady. When the crowd oohed, Rock insisted, "Yeah, I said it. At Bonnaroo I said it." His reason? Rock believes a black woman could never be in the background of a relationship, and that Obama would have been better off marrying a white woman: "Look what it did for Tiger Woods," he said.

One of Rock's best bits came while discussing rising gas prices despite the war in Iraq, which some predicted would help keep oil under control.

"Let me tell you something," said Rock. "If I invade IHOP, pancakes are going to be cheaper in my house."