Late in the evening of Oct. 11, Chris Rock arrived unannounced at the Comic Strip Live on Second Avenue and 81st Street to try out some topical material. In the weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, comedians had stayed away from humor that dealt directly with the tragedy. But a month later, they were tenderly edging their way back.
“If you die for Allah, you go to heaven,” Mr. Rock said after taking the stage. He was wearing a Mets cap and what looked like a dark track suit. “No matter what! If you kill, rape, murder-no matter what! It’s all erased, and you go to heaven. Not like a middle heaven. Not like a murderer’s heaven. No matter what you do, if you’re a Muslim, if you die for Allah, you go to heaven.” He looked down. There were maybe five ratty notepads on a stool next to him. “This makes Islam the only religion in the whole world with a G.E.D. program.”
The joke worked-well. “Good to know,” he said.
Mr. Rock tried another. “How come the people that claim to believe in God the most … are called extremists?” he asked in his high-octane voice. “Notice that they only say ‘extremist’ with religious extremists. You never hear ‘extreme’ about another thing … an extreme baker. He really loves to bake cakes.”
Mr. Rock stopped cold. Someone-not The Transom-was fidgeting suspiciously near the door at the back of the room. Mr. Rock glared at him. “Hey, why are you hiding by the door?” he said. “Are you like taping all this? I’ll fuck you up. That’s the worst part about when you get famous-tapin’ shit and getting it out the door before you get it right. I got the G.E.D. joke right now, but you know, a week ago, boy, I could have got shot over it. I may still get shot over it. But at least I know it was funny.”
Mr. Rock returned to his act. “Where was I?” he said. “How many people that claim to believe in God the most, actually believe in God the least? ‘Cause you got to really not believe in God if you think God needs your help. ‘I’m going to help God out, I’m going to blow up a building.'” Mr. Rock flashed an incredulous look at the audience. “It’s God! Ain’t that the whole premise of God? The guy who can handle all shit?”
The crowd laughed, but not as hard as they did at the G.E.D. joke.
“I’ve never been ready for war,” Mr. Rock continued. “This is the time you want to be gay …. If there is a draft, I will say I’m a homosexual. Not only am I a homosexual, I want to fuck bin Laden. That’s how bad I don’t want to go. I will show up with a picture of bin Laden and jerk off at the draft board if I have to.”
Mr. Rock then managed to marry current events to a pre–Sept. 11 topic that was popular with comics. “Our scientists are … all busy cloning sheep,” he said. “‘We got two sheep!’ What good is that gonna do? We should have been making bin Ladens, you know? … So right now, we could go, ‘Well, we’re going to send bin Laden on you.'”
Just then, a woman in the audience asked Mr. Rock if she could take his picture. She’d given the waitress $100 to get her a camera from next-door. “Otherwise, no one would believe me back home,” she told him.
“What do you do for a living?” Mr. Rock asked.
“I own a nightclub,” she replied.
“Well,” Mr. Rock said, “why don’t you just pay me to go perform there?” Still, he let the woman take the picture.
Next, the comedian tried his luck at some Presidential humor. “George Bush is doin’ good,” he said. “Did anyone see his speech tonight? A month ago, I wouldn’t have let Bush pull out the drain in my tub.” The crowd erupted. Mr. Rock looked around the room, gauging the response. “Some of these jokes,” he said, “some are good, some suck.”
From there, he turned to a more reliable subject. “Even the government hates rap music,” he said. “‘Cause Tupac and Biggie Smalls were pretty much shot in broad daylight and there’s not even a suspect …. I think the government knows who killed Biggie and Tupac, but they wanna keep ’em around in case they gotta kill Eminem or Jay-Z.”
Mr. Rock flipped through his notepads and found another topical joke. “You would think Muslims would not be a violent people. They pray at the same exact time five times a day,” he said. “That means, no matter what they’re into, they gotta stop it and pray. ‘I’ma kill this motherfucker, kill this motherfucker, kill this motherfucker right now! What time is it? Oh, 4:15?'” He bowed down to pray.
Then he talked about Tom Cruise. “I met Tom Cruise the other day. He’s not gay.” Mr. Rock explained how he knew: “His girlfriend’s Puerto Rican.” He was referring to actress Penélope Cruz-who, in reality, is Spanish, but Mr. Rock was telling the jokes, not us. “Puerto Ricans love to fuck,” he said. “You wanna get a girl and not fuck, get an Irish chick.”
Mr. Rock repeatedly promised that he’d be leaving the stage shortly, though the crowd showed no desire to see him go. He began to riff bitterly about love: “We don’t need love,” he said. “Love got us into this mess. It blew up the World Trade Center. Fuck love!”
He rifled through his notes one more time and came up with something safer-a joke about the impregnable institution of marriage.
“This is how fucked up marriage is …. ” Mr. Rock said, taking a final look around the room to make sure that people were laughing and that no one was recording him. “It’s so fucked up that Nelson Mandela got a divorce. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a South African prison. Got beaten and tortured every day, made it through hard labor in 100-degree heat, and did it with no problem. He gets out of jail, and after six months with his wife he said, ‘I can’t do this!'”
Mr. Rock got a loud laugh, gathered his papers and headed out the door.
-Ian Blecher and Rebecca Traister
“It’s definitely more toned-down,” said socialite Nicky Hilton as she stood at the end of the Waldorf-Astoria’s Silver Corridor on Oct. 9. She was peering into the largely unlit Basildon Room, where an Audi A8 sat in the darkness, waiting to be auctioned off as part of the Champagne Safari, the name given to the annual Rita Hayworth Gala for the Alzheimer’s Association.
There was a quartet playing somewhere, but the decorations and lighting had been kept to a minimum-save for the garishly lit Jade Room, which lived up to its name and made everyone who bellied up to the hors d’oeuvre buffet there look green.
“If you look around, you see a lot more black and navy,” Ms. Hilton said. “People are being more conservative.” She was wearing a black-and-white Chanel outfit, and shoes with straps that looked like a strand of white jawbreaker candy. Asked how she was contributing to the toned-down mood, Ms. Hilton pointed out that, in addition to dressing “much more conservatively,” she had also donated blood. “Just doing things to help out,” she said.
In the buffet room, Helen Lee Schifter, one of the event chairs, milled around in a long Yves Saint Laurent black dress, with New York Times Styles section editor Trip Gabriel in tow. Georgette Mosbacher peeked at the showcases of de Grisogono jewelry, cooing “Oh my God, look at these things,” as another guest pointed to a fat diamond ring and declared she could “totally do that one.” Overall, though, the guests did not seem entirely comfortable at the event, even though it was for a good cause.
“Tonight was very special because a lot of people, they were afraid that we should not celebrate,” Ivana Trump told The Transom. She was dressed in a black number constructed of lace and tassels. “But this is an important cause, which we are supporting for so many years, that I did feel it was important to continue, and to continue to live our lives.” Ms. Trump added that she was watching the news a lot and “not taking any unnecessary risks,” although she walked away without explaining just what risks she had eliminated from her schedule.
The revelers, who included chairwomen Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Kathy Hilton (Nicky’s mom) and Paris Hilton (Nicky’s sister), eventually headed to the Waldorf’s Grand Ballroom for dinner. There, another chairwoman, Live with Regis & Kelly regular Claudia Cohen, took the stage and semi-apologetically explained why the gala was taking place. “We’re here because one thing hasn’t changed: the suffering of four million Americans who have Alzheimer’s,” she bellowed into the microphone. “And we’re here because Mayor Giuliani, our hero, has urged us-has ordered us-to go back to our own lives.” After nodding approvingly, the guests grabbed their forks and plunged into the roasted vegetable shrimp timbales, as the face of Rita Hayworth looked down on them from the stage, encircled in a halo of red, white and blue lights.
The Transom Also Hears …
… Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke broke bread with his successor, John Negroponte, in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant on Oct. 16. Their audience included former U.S. Ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn, GQ editor in chief Art Cooper, media investment banker John Veronis and Warnaco chief Linda Wachner. As befits a meeting between two men discussing matters of international importance, Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Negroponte were given one of the best seats in the house, Table 32, which is otherwise known as Four Seasons architect Philip Johnson’s booth.
… The Tribeca air reeked of smoke, but the old-school downtown crowd that spilled out of Odeon and onto the sidewalk on Oct. 11 didn’t let it bother them as they attended a party hosted by the restaurant and Paper magazine intended to spark business downtown. Hanging out were author Tama Janowitz, performance artist Ann Magnuson and the current Paper cover boy, SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon, who yelled “Awesome!” when gray-haired rocker David Byrne walked into the room. Mr. Byrne was wearing black-and-white saddle shoes and a white sport coat. He was carrying his bicycle helmet and had attached a red night light to the back of his pants, which could be seen flashing through the translucent fabric of his sport coat.
Also in the crowd was artist and Tribeca resident Donald Sultan, who reminded The Transom that people “come to New York for risk.” Of course, Mr. Sultan said, “no one could have predicted the terrorist attacks on the Trade Center.” But then, he added, “who could have predicted Jeff Koons?” Mr. Sultan was referring to the artist who, in 1991, built an exhibit around photos and sculptures depicting him and his wife at the time, Italian porn star and politician la Cicciolina, engaged in various sexual acts. Said Mr. Sultan of Mr. Koons: “He’s just as much of a terrorist.”