Chris Rock specifically told his representatives he didn't want to play colleges on his current tour. At 39 years old, he wants audiences who can relate to jokes about adult life, like ''When you're a married man, you live to about 38. Oh, you'll keep breathin' for another 40, but the living is over.'' He doesn't want a bunch of students who just showed up to see a famous guy. So when his limo pulls up to the sound check for his Feb. 29 show in Indianapolis, and he sees that it's at Butler University's Clowes Memorial Hall, he's peeved.
''My managers and my agents, they lie,'' he says. ''They're so f -- -ing greedy for their 8 percent, so they have me come to Indiana because they can make an extra eight bucks. Hopefully it's gonna go fine, but they know I hate schools.''
Within moments, Rock's genuine aggravation has morphed into a comic routine. His act centers on life's obstacles (from relationships to racism), so any irritation that offers riff potential works like a warm-up stretch. When his old friend and longtime opening comic Mario Joyner suggests that even if the venue is on campus, the tickets were probably available for anybody, Rock shoots back, ''If you sell tickets in Germany but say they're available all over the world, I'm guessing there'll probably be a lot of Germans there.'' Then he lets loose his low, soft huh-huh, huh-huh chuckle.
Five hours later, Rock goes on stage and after 90 minutes of raucously thoughtful comedy, he leaves to a standing ovation, which has pretty much been the case at every sold-out show on his Black Ambition Tour (culminating at the end of this month in Washington D.C., a stint taped for his fourth HBO special, airing April 17). Fact is, Chris Rock could probably kill at an ''I Hate Chris Rock'' rally -- and that's without any tempering of his combustible material; his new stuff is as witheringly incisive as his last two tours, 1999's Bigger & Blacker and 1996's defining Bring the Pain (the resulting special won two Emmys). ''I always wanted to grow as an artist, which you see in music, but you generally don't see in stand-up,'' says Rock. ''This is like Sign O' the Times for me. The best Prince album.''
Watching Rock in 2004 -- 21 years into his comedy career -- is like watching a great prizefighter in peak condition. He forgoes an intro and just walks on stage with the houselights on, waiting for the audience to notice him and go nuts (a trick he copped from a U2 concert). And when he gets going, he prowls the stage with wiry confidence, jaw jutted out, as if staking his territory, occasionally driving a joke home with the smack of his mike on his open palm.
On marriage: ''If you've never wanted to kill your mate, you've never been in love. If you've never held a box of rat poison in your hand and stared at it for a good long while, you've never been in love.'' POW!
On David Blaine: ''Are we so starved for entertainment that we allow ourselves to be entertained by a trickless magician?'' BAM!