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Review: Stand-up legend Chris Rock jokes about Will Smith slap seven seconds into Birmingham gig

It took Chris Rock seven seconds to address the slap.

Chris dodged any slapstick comedy in Birmingham
Chris dodged any slapstick comedy in Birmingham

Will Smith's assault on the comedian at The Oscars was the slap which launched a million memes and kept countless chat show hosts' chinwagging for weeks.

Taking to the Utilita Arena stage on Friday night he said: "Hello, a night in Birmingham, what dreams are made of.

"I'm OK, don't worry, I'm OK."

The 12,000 strong crowd cheered, Chris smiled probably wondering how many empty seats there would have been without his A-list celebrity stung cheek in March.

"I'm fine, I'm not about to come on stage in a wheelchair."

Anyone wanting to hear the gory details about the most famous slap in the movies since Gone With The Wind was sorely disappointed. There was no explanation about his alopecia punchline, in fact Will Smith did not warrant a mention all night, or his bald better half.

Rock has so much else to talk about, he has been on our screens for more than 35 years since his toothy grin greeted his mentor Eddie Murphy in Beverley Hills Cop 2 in 1987.

In the 1990s he staked his claim for the best stand up comedian of his generation through first on Saturday Night Live and then a string of hilarious and controversial HBO specials.

He earned his spurs before the internet and social media, when a brilliant special had to capture the imagination and spread by word of mouth with videos and DVDs being swapped and routines reeled off in playgrounds and workplaces long before 20 second clips could be shared across a billion people's phones.

His 1996 Bring The Pain special won him Emmy awards and acclaim, with Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Hicks either exclusively Hollywood, breaking TV pay deals, retired, or in Hicks' case, dead way too young, Rock was the best out there.

Stand up comedy, along with jazz, is one of America's two home grown art forms, and comedians hold a rare place in US culture, entertainers but also social commentators and bellweathers or battering rams of public opinion.

Race, gender, gun control, abortion and religion all had a Chris Rock take which entered the public discourse as America entered its divided century, as well as phrases like The Friendzone entering the US and UK's lexicon.

However, in his 40s he put down the microphone to be the voice of various animated characters in Box Office smash hits and invented a whole new genre of TV comedy with Everybody Hates Chris but Netflix came calling a few years ago and we've got Rock back on stage.

The Ego Death world tour has four UK dates

Birmingham's Utilita Arena was one of four UK gigs in his Ego Death world tour, and the Royal Family were firmly in his sights.

Meghan Markle was got well and truly Rock-ed – taking aim at his fellow American he mocked her for moaning about her new family being racist.

He said: "She is not experiencing racism, she is dealing with in-law stuff, she's not black, she's just not white. Calling the Royal Family racist? Didn't she Google them before getting married? Didn't the British Royal Family invent Colonialism?

"Her complaining the Royal Family is racist is like marrying into the Budweiser family and saying, wow, these lot like a drink?"

Keeping it topical Amber Heard exercised Rock's ire, let's just say he will not be buying any second hand beds from the Depp household anytime soon.

And, just like when Bill Clinton was catching flak as President in the 1990s, Rock laid America's current troubles at Hilary Clinton's door.

Using a dose of surrealism, Rock regaled how God told Clinton he'd make it easy by giving her a black opponent with a Muslim name, all she had to do was campaign in 50 states. She didn't so eight years later he came back again saying this time he'd give her a sacked game show host with funny hair who loved talking about assaulting women as an opponent, all she had to do was campaign in 50 states, which she didn't so the world ended up with Trump.

However, take away the gags, comedy timing and swearing, any politics professor would agree Clinton's not campaigning in places like Michigan cost her dearly.

Describing the attack on the Capital Building by Trump supporters as a "White People's Planet of the Apes moment" got one of the biggest laughs of in the 90 minute set, during which mobile phones were banned.

Now a youthful 57, Rock is mellower than his angry pacing younger self. Instead of an all black shiny suit his uniform now is all white designer gear, giving him the air of a streetwise angel.

He donned glasses to read out a text exchange with a frisky but foul-mouthed fan which flashed on a screen behind him, which worked as a closing routine in such a cavernous venue for comedy.

The father of two daughters is now single. In Bring the Pain he memorably warned men ending up "as the old guy in the club" was the consequence of dodging commitment.

Now, he is that "old guy in the club", but thankfully for us, he is still the funniest guy in the room.

Rating: Four stars.

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