One day, in a century, someone will check netflixIt is Chris Rock: Selective Outrage special. They’ll do it on a streaming service dedicated to giving viewers their entertainment in five- or ten-minute chunks — quick bites, so to speak — because that’ll be how everyone ingests their entertainment in 2123. This person won I do not watch with interest the news of the special. They won’t look hungry for what Chris Rock had to say about awakening or Will Smith, because if we’re still talking about cancel culture and loose holes in 2123, it will make zombie mushrooms look like a utopia. But either way they’ll watch and they’ll very, very briefly be confused by Rock making a joke about how Slapgate started when Jada Pinkett Smith got pissed that Will Smith didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Emancipation. And they’re going to be damn confused. For five seconds.
“Not Emancipation. I screwed up the joke. Concussion“, said Rock, quickly realizing that the fall on his horizon meant that Smith did not get a nomination for Concussion and then… giving him a concussion.
Chris Rock: Selective Outrage
Dated material and scenic staging limit the excitement of “liveliness”.
Broadcasting date : Saturday, March 4 (Netflix)
Director: Joel Gallen
And that, kids, is the beauty of live TV. Netflix attempted to create a live-action stunt out of Rock doing stand-up material he’s been doing on the road for 10 months, and the only thing that would tell you the special was live – after keeping you waiting viewers 61 minutes for the inevitable Will Hardware Smith – Rock fucks the joke. A joke he’s probably made across the country dozens of times.
It’s not judgmental, by the way, to note that a comedy special is the filmed version of a highly polished and oft-rehearsed stand-up set. If there was ever a comedian who did an entirely improvised filmed special, I don’t know who it was – but then again, very rarely has there been a comedian whose shop floor reactions to a very public event were printed in the newspapers of every town he went to.
“Chris Rock Breaks His Silence on Oscars Slap” is a headline I’m sure you’ll see on every website in the known universe, which will then repeat the punchlines that reporters from Phoenix, Shreveport and Atlanta reported when Rock made these jokes on the road. Sure, “break his silence on national TV,” or whatever, Netflix. But that pre-workshop is how I already knew going into the Netflix special that Rock was going to make the joke about their respective differences in stature, noting that even in the animation Smith was a shark and Rock was a zebra. It’s a joke he’s done many times, and nobody cares shark storySmith voices a TINY little fish that hangs out with the shark voiced by Jack Black.
For live TV, Chris Rock will correct the Concussion/Emancipation joke, but he will continue to lie about shark story.
Anyway, as for the Will Smith material everyone’s been waiting for? Yeah, Rock left, mostly blaming Jada Pinkett Smith for the whole thing and mocking Will for venting his frustration about his wife’s very public conversations about him.
“It’s crap,” Rock said. Not controversial, but pointed.
I could talk about the text of the special itself, but I’m a television reviewer, not a comedy reviewer. I might point out that a shocking amount of Rock material felt somewhere between dated and balmy. It was a very long series of Elon Musk sperm jokes. It was a series of weirdly stale Kardashian and OJ Simpson jokes. And it’s all well and good to make jokes about the culture of victimhood in 2023, but it’s material that’s funnier if you haven’t watched Rock’s latest Netflix special, Tambourinein which the entire second half was Rock lamenting his victim status in his recent divorce settlement.
The stuff about people going off and waking up the companies that started the show? Not terrible. Just expired. Material that’s been done to death by 50 late-night comedians and other comedians who released their new shows early. Rock is a provocateur, damn it! Nothing in Selective outrage made me cringe. I didn’t even get half a hackle. My hair was flaccid.
Like Rock “Why didn’t Meghan Markle Google the Royal Family?” bit? The number of people on Twitter who made the joke when Meghan sat down with Oprah, then during her Netflix documentary, and every day in between, could be in the millions. The thing you need to remember: Rock’s version of the oldest, oldest jokes will always be written better than 99% of the comics and delivered better than 100% of them. Rock is, in this current landscape, a stand-up without equal. It will, however, likely be the first Rock Special stand-up that didn’t have a moment or moments that instantly became part of the culture. Culture moves fast.
That’s part of why Netflix wanted to ramp up the liveliness of this special, with a pre-show that nobody needed and a post-show that, well, nobody needed.
Ronny Chieng’s pre-show intro, mind you, was fantastic. “We are doing a comedy show. Saturday evening. Live. Genius,” Chieng deadpanned, mocking Netflix’s “innovation” here. It was pretty good. The post-show also had some good times, especially everyone on the panel mocking nominal hosts David Spade and Dana Carvey for the weirdness of two white guys orchestrating a black comedian’s analysis of the jokes. The real joke, however, is how pointless the post-comedy special analysis turns out to be in the first place. This is, again, what Twitter is for!
As for how the liveliness impacted the show on a formal level? Well the easiest thing to do is go back and watch Tambourine, a usually uneven but often brilliant special that stands out for its fantastic realization. Bo Burnham did a Chris Rock special that was unlike any previous Chris Rock special. There are so many close-ups. Almost all close-ups for long periods of time. The lighting is incredibly evocative. It’s a moody piece of material, and it looks moody! The camera is in exactly the right place to capture every micro-expression when subtlety is what Rock is after, and every bit of physical comedy when he’s dancing or miming oral sex.
Chris Rock’s comedy specials have been done very well as a rule, and “comedy special achievement” isn’t something we talk about very often. Give it to Keith Truesdell for capturing the almost wild, prowling intensity of a young Rock in Bigger and blacker. Or to Joel Gallen for mirroring the more mature version of Rock a few years later in Never scared.
Gallen was back behind the camera Selective outrage and it has just been beaten by liveliness. I can’t say whether or not all of Rock’s performances on his recent tour were as lit as this one, but it felt like the comic stood in the spotlight for 72 minutes tonight and the only vindication reasonable was that it was just easier to film. so you don’t have to worry about what happens when the performer wanders into the shadows or fails to travel in perfect unison with the spotlight. Instead, Rock was blandly and perfectly over-illuminated every second. Again, come back to Tambourine and see what Burnham has accomplished. It’s damn artistic.
Again, Burnham was lucky to be dealing with a slightly more stable piece of rock self-choreography. Rock started his career as a walker, going back and forth and back. He seemed to slow down and soften with age. For Selective outrage? Back to roam! Back and forth and back and forth! And if you have three or four cameras rolling around all the time and you can edit things together, it doesn’t have to be a sickening experience. Here, it was as if the main camera was stuck in the same medium shot, on a tripod, and it was just going back and forth with it. Like rocking, so to speak, back and forth on a rickety ship while the audience at the Baltimore racetrack laughed, but never in the immersive way you’d expect from the crowds during the Rock specials, which have always been half-entertainment and half-church.
A well-executed comedy special simultaneously makes you feel like you’re in the audience And having access and privacy that no one at home (or even in the room) gets. There was hardly any of that intimacy here. It was like watching a comic book appear on The show tonight or something where there’s a camera setup and that’s the perspective you get and you accept that because that’s what the format looks like. It was live, but it seemed canned.
Except for that moment when Rock confused Concussion And Emancipation.
So when you see that guy in 100 years staring Selective outrage and he gets to the goof and he briefly looks confused, that’s when you lean towards him — yes, you’re immortal in this situation, which gives you the right to intervene — and say, “That ! This imperfection. That’s the magic of live TV! Oh, and Will Smith was a Bluestreak cleaner wrasse and not a shark in shark story.”