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TV REVIEW | 'CHRIS ROCK: NEVER SCARED' Talking the Talk (and Defining It, Too) By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN Published: April 17, 2004 In "Chris Rock: Never Scared," which will have its premiere tonight on HBO, the comedian posits two vocabularies: black and white. This tactic will be familiar to those who have heard Mr. Rock's 1996 litany of distinctions between black people and a subset of blacks he designated with racist slang. The definitions he makes in his new stand-up act are sanctimonious but mightily inspired. He distinguishes marital sex, which he defines in stultifying Latinate words like intercourse and vagina, from single man sex, which he characterizes in colloquial terms. He also defines "bootlegging" in opposition to "drug dealing," explaining that the first is a white term for the second. (Bootlegging, to Mr. Rock, has been ennobled; it's where white fortunes began.) He goes on to define "rich" versus "wealthy": "Wealth is passed down from generation to generation. Rich is something you could lose with a crazy son with a drug habit." Got it? There's a lot of drilling and repetition here. Several times Mr. Rock shouts, as if reprimanding a remedial class: "I'm talking about rich! I ain't talking about wealthy." By the end of the act, you feel submissive, convinced and drunk on loud, entertaining sermonizing. With his love of verbal force, Mr. Rock might be expected uniformly to favor short, sharp words — he heartily disdains fellatio in favor of a more evocative equivalent — but his jokes are trustworthy because he is not, as he says, "just one thing": he often advocates a prim term over a more wanton one. He says being wealthy, a word once discouraged in some New York publications as euphemistic, beats being rich. "Shaq is rich," he says of the basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, whom he imagines among those who blow all their money on cars, jewels and rims. "The white man that signs his check is wealthy." Mr. Rock is not especially audacious just because he brings up race. Discussions of race are rampant, and people who broach the subject aren't heroes anymore. Yet there are still strained, punctilious circles in which the topic doesn't come up, and in which people are coyly described — black curly hair, etc. — without explicit reference to their race. As Mr. Rock demonstrates with relish, American English is segregated. Black or white, we pride ourselves on the words that we won't use, leaning instead on shabby or deceitful ones. These words come to define us. Mr. Rock sees this as hypocrisy, and it provides him with an excellent occasion for indignation and satire. CHRIS ROCK: NEVER SCARED HBO, tonight at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9 Central time. Executive produced by Michael Rotenberg, Joel Gallen and Chris Rock; co-producer, Kali Londono; director, Joel Gallen; written by Mr. Rock; production designer, John Calkins; lighting, Allen Branton. A production of Tenth Planet in association with Chris Rock Enterprises Inc. WITH: Chris Rock.
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