Day 25: Chris Rock

Day 25. I’m sharing stand up that I like each day this month, and I’m using the weekends to discuss bits from specials instead of standalone TV spots. Today’s bit is “Rich vs. Wealth” from Chris Rock’s Never Scared special and here’s just some of the many reasons I admire it:

• THE REFRAIN. At the Comedy Cellar once, I remember Chris Rock telling the comics seated around him that good jokes should be like good pop songs. Rock directly applies this theory in this bit: “I ain’t talking about rich. I’m talking about wealth,” is a refrain, and the and the rest of the jokes are verses. The repetition (like Bernie Mac, Day 22) makes the joke memorable and helps reinforce the dichotomy he’s presenting, which leads me to the second bullet point…

• THE LABELS. Rock creates two labels: Rich and Wealth. Dividing a group into two categories is something he’s famously done before. By assigning these clear labels, he can then juxtapose them to create comedic and thought-provoking contrasts. He also then draw on extremes (like Sam Morrill, Day 16) to further his argument and make me laugh: Bill Gates is SO wealthy, he’d commit suicide if he woke up with just Oprah’s income. Black guys are SO bad with money they’d put rims on a toaster. Wealthy are SO rich, they own the color blue. (For Labels, see also: Greg Giraldo, Day 8.)

• THE DISTILLATION. The ideas Rock expounds on are smart, but he doesn’t muddy the set with jargon. He instead distills these intellectual ideas into short, digestible jokes. “Shaq is rich. The white man that signs his check is wealthy.” It’s just 12 words. They’re all one syllable, except for the last. There’s no mention of “income inequality,” “racial disparities,” or “structural biases.” But in these 12 words, he’s able to more clearly illustrate these ideas than most academics. Packing these ideas into concise jokes that I can understand elevates his comedy, and compounded by his signature delivery, turns his bits into classics.

For more Chris Rock stand up, rewatch his famous specials and follow on IG: @chrisrock