Comedian Chris Rock brings his "Bigger and Blacker" tour to town. 

Rock Rolls into Richmond

Chris Rock
The Bigger and Blacker Tour
Landmark Theater
7:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 30
$35.50
262-8100

You may wonder why Chris Rock still bothers with standup these days. After all, he is a big television and movie star. He has three movies in the can awaiting release and is gearing up for the fourth season of his Cable Ace Award-winning HBO series, "The Chris Rock Show." Last year was an unprecedented success for the 33-year-old comedian: He had starring roles in two blockbuster movies ("Lethal Weapon 4" and "Dr. Doolittle") and was proclaimed "the funniest man in America" by Vanity Fair. Having come so far from his comedy club roots, why leave the cushy offices of Hollywood for a concert tour, hopping madly from town to town eating bad food and drinking stale coffee?

The answer may lie in the part of Rock's career he calls his "wilderness period." After the cancellation of "In Living Color" in 1993, Rock found himself abruptly out of work. Though he was coming off three good years with "Saturday Night Live" and had just co-written and starred in the movie "CB4," suddenly his phone stopped ringing. Going back to stand-up seemed his only option. He soon discovered that his sharp wit had lost its edge. "I wasn't really prepared. I'd been working with too many white guys. There were gigs where no one showed up," Rock told Vanity Fair last year.

Since that time, the rail-thin, quick-to-smile Rock has returned regularly to the stand-up stage either to record one of his best-selling albums ("Born Suspect," "Roll With the New") or tape a cable special (HBO's "Bring the Pain"). He uses the time on the road to refine a biting comic sensibility that often hits fellow African Americans hardest. The centerpiece of "Bring the Pain" was a sketch called "Niggas vs. Black People" that included sentiments like "niggas always want some credit for [what] they're supposed to do. A nigga will say... 'I take care of my kids.' You're supposed to, you dumb motherf—er!"

His rants against black-on-black crime and black defeatism have prompted some media critics to label him conservative. But he has often come to the defense of President Clinton, saying he "would whup [Kenneth] Starr's ass" during an appearance on "The Today Show" last August, calling the special prosecutor a scumbag. And during his stint in 1996 as traveling correspondent for "Politically Incorrect," the comedian was unflinching in his lampoons of candidates of all stripes.

Rock's insightful mix of political and social commentary has consistently generated controversy; his "Today Show" appearance was censored. But the comedian insists he develops material for the sole purpose of getting laughs, telling Vanity Fair, "There's nothing controversial about it if people are laughing."

Still, controversy seems to follow Rock like a stray dog. One of his soon-to-be-released movies is "Dogma," the latest from director Kevin Smith. The release of "Dogma" has been held up for nearly a year due to its contentious take on Christianity. And for "Nurse Betty," Rock worked with director Neil LaBute who has been labeled a misogynist for his mean-spirited first film, "In the Company of Men."

With Rock getting warmed up for a new season of "The Chris Rock Show" at the same time the presidential campaign is just getting started, his "Bigger and Blacker" tour will most likely also be hipper, edgier, and, most important,

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