He's Too Funny For His Cat

With ODB, Prince Paul and Ice Cube.

Saying Chris Rock is funny is like saying ... well, it's like saying George

Carlin or Richard Pryor are funny. He's earned his place alongside the great

stand-up comics that came before him and is definitely among the best

working today. And in true '90s synergistic fashion, he's become something

of a cottage industry -- his self-titled HBO talk show will enter its fourth

season later this year, he has two CDs and one book, and currently he's

developing The Illtop Journal,a humor magazine at Howard University

that he hopes will be a launch pad for the next generation of black comedy

writers.

Bigger and Blacker draws much of its material from his HBO special of

the same name and augments it with new sketches and song parodies. Taken

together, it's as blisteringly funny as often as it's weirdly

self-indulgent, and amounts to a record that's almost as frustrating as it

is hilarious.

Rock's real strength as a comedian is his ability to break an argument down

to a brief, cutting line. In an extended riff about the flap over gays in

the military, he deftly takes the wind out of any protester's sails:

"Everybody out there," he says in his insistent half-shout, "got a gay

cousin." It's no knee-slapper, but it instantly communicates the point --

that none of us can claim to be outside the discussion. That kind of shock

of the familiar is the observational comic's biggest weapon -- it's one that

George Carlin perfected, and Rock has mastered it.

Which makes it all the more annoying when he goes for the easy laugh -- as

on the reductionist "Snowflake" (RealAudio excerpt), a parody starring Biz Markie of the Rolling

Stones' dumb, racist ode "Brown Sugar." On tracks like this, or when his

stand-up goes off track, you get the feeling that Rock is smarter than the

material. It's frustrating, but no one, not even Dennis Miller, has been

able to win by being high-brow all the time. (You haven't seen Rock doing

10-10-220 ads for a while, have you?)

Rock has called in plenty of friends for his latest. Prince Paul, Mr. Hip

Hop Sketch, co-produces (you can hear his influence in a stoopid-funny bit

about Savion Glover); ODB offers "words of wisdom"; and Ice Cube also show up. Of the sketches and songs, "No Sex in the Champagne

Room" (RealAudio excerpt)

-- a parody of Baz Luhrmann's "Wear Sunscreen" -- and an interview with Monica Lewinsky in which her answers are all taken from nasty female rappers are the funniest. "No Sex" is the first single; the horoscope

("Leo: You're gonna die. Aries: You're Gonna die") alone should generate

plenty of airplay.

So for all the duds, and there are a few, Bigger and Blacker still

pays off. Rock is sharp as a tack, at least when he's trying. And we could

use more subversive, articulate and funny voices like his.