Let’s start at the beginning: Richard Pryor is the greatest comedian this country has ever produced. His sharp social criticism made us bleed profusely and happily, and he articulated to a wide audience all the reasons that we, as a culture, are thoroughly fucked up—racially, recreationally, and otherwise. Then, quite suddenly, poor Richard’s brilliant career was derailed. He suffered a horrible misfortune, one that would scar him for the rest of his life: a starring role in 1982’s The Toy, wherein Pryor is acquired by a rich white man as a toy for his spoiled heir. The film is cloying and criminally insensitive, and it almost diluted the genius message of the 1976 album Bicentennial Nigger, Pryor’s acerbic masterpiece. Now it seems that Chris Rock has inherited Pryor’s mantle of Relevant Black Comedian. Eddie Murphy never seemed to have a social conscience, but Rock (who was discovered by Murphy) has developed a keen one in recent years. It is most evident in his work for HBO: the Bigger and Blacker concert and the award-winning Chris Rock Show. Like Pryor, Rock hasn’t exactly been the most prudent in picking his flicks—witness Down to Earth, Head of State, and the execrable Bad Company. I only hope he doesn’t let that string of stinkers disrupt his poignant stand-up routines, ’cause that Chappelle kid is showing a lot of promise. Rock performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, and Thursday, March 25, at DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. NW. $39–$45. (202) 432-7328. (David Dunlap Jr.)