Chris Rock: Total Blackout, Manchester Arena, review: Tour de force return proves comic has not become yesterday's man

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Chris Rock kicked off his UK tour at the Manchester Arena Credit: Redferns

Ten years ago I saw Chris Rock ride a tidal wave of popular excitement in New York – storming Madison Square Garden – and it looked as though it was going to be easy as pie for him to cement his reputation as the coolest, most incisive and exciting black American comedian of his generation. He was feted and admired over here too, and toured to acclaim, bringing racially mixed audiences together; it looked as though he was a Rock for all ages, and people.

Busy thereafter with his family and film projects (not least the Madagascar series, in which he voiced Marty the Zebra), he put live work on the back-burner; so this new show has the aspect of a make-or-break comeback. 

A decade on, he’s no longer the embodiment of the Obama era he helped herald. Yet there’s no sense of him having become, by force of changed political circumstance and shifting entertainment tastes, yesterday’s man.

Fans might have gathered from reviews of earlier try-outs of Blackout that Rock, now 52, was showing us a quieter, more defeated side to himself as a result of going through divorce battles last year. Such hearsay, though, should be put to one side. Not only does Rock look uncannily like his former self – he seems barely to have aged a jot – but he proves as ferociously funny as ever.

Wearing black T-shirt, jacket and trousers, he bobs up and down the Manchester Arena stage, nifty on his pins, as if spoiling for a fight – like Muhammad Ali in his younger days. His eyes blaze, his frown is fierce, but the grin is broad, gleamingly white and radiates a rare warmth that sets him apart.

He moves rapidly across a range of topics – gun ownership, God, above all the trade-offs and compromises needed to sustain relationships - seeming to think on his feet, dispensing uncomfortable home-truths (much X-rated material included) and propounding his philosophy of life: hard-knocks are good for you. 

If we’re fazed by Donald Trump, he argues, that’s because we’re too busy eliminating bullies from our schools. “You think kids were nice to Bill Gates when he was at school?... Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook after someone smacked him in the face with a book.” RIP Rock? No, he’s on rip-roaring form.