Attending the Rock Hart: Only Headliners Allowed tour two weekends ago was the highlight of my week, weekend, and possibly whole year. We’re a little more than halfway into the year, and I feel confident saying that. I’m drawing a blank on what else I’m aware of to look forward to for the rest of 2022. Another highlight was my short story Green Gold winning honorable mention in a writing contest.
My saved screenshot timestamped March 7, 2022 at 1:45 pm announces the New Jersey and New York dates that Chris Rock and Kevin Hart would share the stage. Rock posted it. The post timestamp says it was four hours old. I planned to snag a ticket. I fully expected it to be a Sher Date. Lo and behold, my cousin Tania in Boston had other plans. The day of the pre-sale, she called to let me know she was already online queued to buy two tickets. She didn’t ask if I wanted to go. She asked if I was ok with the ticket price. I sure was. Once she confirmed booking, I transferred reimbursement. I had planned to charge it to the good ol’ credit card. After she booked, she realized she hadn’t asked her sister if she wanted to attend. She also didn’t ask her boyfriend if he’d be interested. I was a definite, and I live in NY.
Chris Rock has been my favorite comedian for years. I still own some of his DVDs. The first time I saw him perform, I was in college and paid $10 to see him perform at another college. My second time seeing him live was December 2017 at Barclays Center for the Total Blackout Tour. It was a Sher Date. I would never disrespect a comedian by trying to recount his jokes. Besides, Chris is a storyteller type of comedian. The tour is now a Netflix special. I never watched it because I was there! I didn’t watch the BET Soul Train Awards when they aired. I was there, no need to rewatch. Yvonne Orji being the opening act for Chris Rock is what made me excited for her HBO special, Momma I Made It, released in 2020. They locked our phones at the Blackout Tour and BET Awards.
The first time I experienced that was when I went to see Dave Chappelle perform during his 16-show residency at Radio City Music Hall in 2017. Each night Chappelle invited different comedians to perform, followed by a musical performance of rotating artists. I opted to attend the night Erykah Badu performed. I had never seen her live. The lineup was Donnell Rawlings, Cedric the Entertainer, and Marlon Wayans. But never mind that night. Dave Chappelle was the surprise opening act for the Rock Hart show at Madison Square Garden!
Tickets stated that the show started at 7 pm and doors opened at 6. We arrived after 6 thanks to MTA weekend track work and having to take another route from Harlem. Pre-show, we enjoyed chicken and waffles at Melba’s. After arriving at Madison Square Garden and clearing security, our phones were promptly locked up in pouches. No taking pictures together in our seats. No taking pictures of the stage. We had great seats. Seats that started to feel like torture as we sat waiting for the show to begin. I have no idea how long we were sitting there since our phones were locked up, as was Tania’s smart watch.
When the lights finally dimmed, the large screens that were previously marketing Kevin’s solo tour and his tequila, now displayed the letter C, the unmistakable logo of THEE mother freakin’ Dave Chappelle. I lost my shit. I think I smacked Tania’s thigh a time or two. I hooted and hollered and grew even hotter in my KN95 mask. I had just recovered from covid weeks prior, no way was I risking it again surrounded by thousands of people. Before the giant C appeared onscreen, the DJ started to play “white people music” which further hinted that Dave Chappelle might be coming out. Our seats were in the 200 level, angled on the left side of the stage. I saw a figure begin to ascend steps enveloped by a cloud of smoke. Cigarette smoke.
Dave, dressed in black jeans and a white Nirvana t-shirt, opened his set commenting that he was there in secret for obvious reasons. He’d been attacked on stage weeks before at the Netflix is a Joke festival. He recounted the scary event, but made it humorous, of course. He addressed Chris Rock immediately grabbing the mic and making a Will Smith joke. He was annoyed that Rock, not him got to make the first joke. I’m not sure how long he was on stage. He paced the stage, smoking the whole time, and shared anecdotes about his wife and kids.
Once Chappelle’s set was done, dozens of people in our section and others jumped up, headed for the stairs, but they all came scurrying back when they realized the show was continuing. There was no intermission. Much to my surprise, the large screen filled with a black and white photo of Chris Rock’s partial face, eyes closed. I thought he’d be the closing act. He walked onstage, dressed in all white, even his boots. His opening line was to tell the crowd that he was ok, and that he’d finally regained hearing in his ear. He mentioned not being a victim and that other people were real victims and had real problems. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (pun intended, sorry not sorry), he was obviously referencing the infamous Oscars slap by “Suge Smith,” as he dubbed Will Smith. (I wrote my thoughts about that incident the day after it happened. I have yet to post it.) A large part of Chris’ set was dedicated to how he’s happy to be raising privileged Black daughters, but he can’t relate to them. His daughter is in culinary school in France. He joked that that meant he’d one day own a restaurant. He acknowledged his mother in the audience bridging the generations of family.
Wearing black leather pants and a black hoodie with graphics I couldn’t discern even on the large screen, Kevin Hart made his entrance carrying a large bat. He warned not to attempt to bumrush the stage. It’s sad that the two acts before him, legends and icons, have been attacked on stage in recent months. Per usual, Kevin’s material was based on his family, mostly his father. He too, made mention of Will Smith. He joked that celebrities are losing their minds and he’s worried that he might be next. He might be out at a gas station one day with his penis hanging out.
I’ve seen Kevin Hart perform live two other times. My first time was his first time at Madison Square Garden for his Let Me Explain Tour. At the end of the show, an emotional Hart told the crowd that it was a dream come true to sell out and perform at the Garden. The second time was also at MSG in 2018 for The Irresponsible Tour. For both shows, people were warned that if they were caught using their phones they’d be ejected with no refunds. Both shows are now specials.
At the end of the show, Hart called Chapelle and Rock to rejoin him onstage. Dave let us know he wasn’t expecting it as he’d been backstage indulging. As he does on his podcast Comedy Gold Minds, Kevin said he likes to give people their flowers while they’re still here, so he presented Chris Rock with a goat. A goat for a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). He called both men friends, mentors, and brothers. Dave shared that decades before he had opened for Chris Rock, and the two clowned Rock for being “old as shit.” The poor goat didn’t know what was going on and proceeded to defecate all over the stage. Dave lives on a farm, so he grabbed the leash and petted it and attempted to put it at ease. Jokes were made that the goat would soon be curried at a Jamaican restaurant. When Dave asked Chris what he’d name the goat Kevin said its name was Will Smith. I always wondered whose side if any, he took. Rock is a fellow comedian, but Will is a fellow Philadelphian. I lost a lot of respect for Will, but now is not the space to go into it.
The “let out” was extended by at least another 10-15 minutes with the three of them making impromptu jokes and teasing each other. I loved every second of it. A photographer was summoned to commemorate the momentous occasion. I did so by purchasing a bootleg t-shirt outside the venue just as I had after the Maxwell concert months earlier at Barclays. If I had kids and grandkids, I’d tell them that I was in the building when the iconic photo of Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and a goat was taken at Madison Square Garden. I usually keep ticket stubs for souvenirs, but this was a computer printout. Otherwise, I would definitely frame this one. I’m sure the show at Barclay’s days letter was also great, but Saturday’s show was a night for the record books.