For a quarter-century, Chris Rock has been one of the most outspoken comics in America. No subject - sex, race, school shootings - is off limits.
So no one would expect him to make it through his new show without addressing The Slap Heard Around the World: the moment last month when Will Smith interrupted Rock's Oscars hosting routine to wallop him for a misjudged jibe about the actor's wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and her unfortunate hair-loss.
It might have stung at the time, but Rock has had the last laugh. Sales sky-rocketed for his world tour in the wake of the incident, with tickets going for $400, the spike presumably driven by fans' desire to find out how the fracas would translate into comedy. But appearing at the Royal Albert Hall for the show's first UK date, after the briefest of nods to the altercation - "I'm OK, if anybody was wondering… Got most of my hearing back." - Rock avoided it almost entirely.
Perhaps he felt he'd already had the last word on impulsive acts of violence in 1996: "Ain't nobody above an ass-whoopin," he joked in Bring the Pain, the wildly provocative HBO stand-up special that made him famous. "There's a reason to hit EVERYBODY. You just don't do it."
Or perhaps he had been made a juicy offer to hold his tongue, for now. "Don’t expect me to talk about the bulls—," he told Thursday’s crowd. 'I''ll talk about it at some point… on Netflix. Your tickets were expensive, but not THAT expensive."
Nonetheless, he couldn't resist nodding to "the bulls—" in an riff on how easily people take offence: "Anyone who says 'words hurt' has never been punched in the face".
Politics propelled the punchy first half of his set, with corporate virtue-signalling, “selective outrage”, and a creeping culture of victimhood the main targets in his sightlines, albeit with passing shots at Elon Musk, Meghan Markle and Hillary Clinton.
Rock’s mellowed a little with age. Where once he would have brought his full sturm und drang to the above, he instead tackles them with a kind of mischievous incredulity. That said, he hasn’t lost his gift for not-a-word-wasted concision, and still performs with emphatic pauses and roof-raising delivery he surely inherited from his Southern preacher grandfather. But Rock softens further in the show’s confessional second half, largely stories about his misty-eyed pride at being a father.
Because it’s Rock, of course, it’s not quite as wholesome as that sounds. He strays into a brief but jaw-dropping routine on abortion, which he introduces by giving his credentials for tackling the topic: “I’ve paid for more abortions than any woman in this room… two more, I get a free smoothie.”
Revealing that he will be getting a vasectomy next Wednesday, the 57-year-old singleton tries to use the fact as a come-on: “Ladies, it’s your last chance if you want some: from next week, it’s all [sugar-free sweetener] Stevia”. Like the show’s big finale - Rock reading out real sexts he’s received from a woman he’s met, projected behind him on a giant screen - it’s a routine that amuses at first, but leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth.
Chris Rock tours the UK until Sunday. Tickets: livenation.co.uk