Chris Rock Selective Outrage Review: Funny even if it’s offensive

Chris Rock blew up Saturday night for “Selective Outrage,” the second of two stand-up specials Netflix paid $40 million for: an event made special, not to mention expensive, by being bracketed into a pre-show and an after-show, and by releasing it live.

(West Coast viewers got Rock a little early at 7 p.m.; back east — where the show took place, at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theater — a little late; the rest of the world — the show has been streamed to 90 countries — has its own abodes made.)

Had “Selective Outrage” not been broadcast live, a fact Netflix couldn’t stress enough, it would have been news – given that it had in fact been successfully sold as such for weeks prior to its arrival – as Rock was expected to become concerned with the slap, whose first anniversary is approaching. (If you’re the only person who somehow doesn’t know, at last year’s Academy Awards, Will Smith attacked Rock for making a bad joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith — although Rock has his own theory on that, see below.) This contradicts that has refused to evaporate, perhaps precisely because the world has been waiting for rock to speak to her.

Away from news, sports, and awards shows, live television since the 1950s has been something of an affectation: a stunt, a gimmick, an occasional aesthetic experiment. This is Rock’s sixth special and the fact that the previous five were produced in the usual manner hasn’t proved to be a hindrance to his career.

And, like a sporting event, there was an element of unpredictability, even danger, to “Selective Outrage,” the possibility that the comedian would have to be figuratively carried off the field. (The potential for bombing is so much part of the fabric of “Saturday Night Live,” created to bring a countercultural twist to ’50s comedy-variety shows, that it survives at a remarkably high percentage for nearly 60 years hat of duds; fans show up as they would for a team that loses often.)

The sports metaphor was, so to speak, underlined by the pre- and post-game analysis; through a credit sequence in which the star seemed to be arming himself for battle, not only with audience expectations and with the specter of his Oscar attacker, but with himself as he slow-motioned past echoes of previous specials onto the Well, the stage went – and after the triumphant pose he struck at the end, with a stern face, he didn’t look happy, but confirmed.

At 58, an age by which many comedians have reached their sell-by date, Rock isn’t exactly an old lion – his looks remain remarkably boyish – but he hasn’t been much of a newcomer for almost four decades, and even if one might take his height as a reading , the question is whether he keeps the crown, beats his personal best, says something new, keeps up, changes with the times, or dominates them through the power of his own artistry and personality.

Formally, the special, directed by Joel Gallen (whose credits include Rock’s 2004’s “Never Scared” and many live musical events and awards shows), was kind of dated compared to Rock’s first Netflix special, 2018’s “Tamborine.” Television,” bathed in golden light by director Bo Burnham, and his final HBO special, 2008’s Kill the Messenger, directed by Marty Callner, which often takes place mid-sentence between performances in New York, London and Johannesburg was interrupted. give you a sense of just how well rehearsed Rock’s routines are. Where “Tamborine” found the comic in a relatively intimate setting with the audience almost at its feet and settled into a more modulated, thoughtful delivery style, “Selective Outrage” felt like an angular attempt to regain old fire; He cranked up the volume, roamed the stage, and loaded his text like a revivalist with repeated words and phrases, both to make a point and to make music.

“I’m going to try to put on a show tonight without offending anyone,” Rock said at the time of his hour (and eight minutes), as if to announce that many certainly would. “You never know who might be triggered,” he said, before aiming for a mix of hard and easy, and occasionally confusing targets. (There’s a lot to be said about Elon Musk, but his sperm is the last thing on your mind.)

Although he likes to downplay his intelligence and mentions his lack of education, Rock is no fool; He’s clearly thinking a lot — the comedian’s job, really — and his routine Saturday covered a range of familiar topics: race, sex, the state of the nation, hypocrisy, his own and his children’s childhoods, and the more recent topics of being single and dating slightly younger ones compared to much younger women. Personal responsibility has been an issue throughout Rock’s career — he can sound surprisingly conservative at times, as if discussing getting his older daughter expelled from high school for bad behavior — but at this point in life, a little Get Off My Lawn, You Kids These Days inevitably creeps in.

Some of his goals were oddly insignificant: Going after Meghan Markle for not understanding that she would encounter racism in the royal family felt mean and a waste of breath, and the Kardashians, even if they entered popular culture pasted in are the days before yesterday’s news. (Though Caitlyn Jenner’s upbringing gave Rock an opportunity to present himself as non-transphobic, which came across in a vague way as a distancing reference to his friend Dave Chappelle’s controversial special.) “Wokeness” is already a tired subject, but publicly over-sensitivity is the comedian’s bugbear, after all, and pretty much everyone over a certain age has probably spoken about how cautious the world has gotten.

“Everybody’s scared,” Rock said, noting, “Someone who says hurt words has never been slapped in the face. Words hurt when you write them on a stone.”

The highlight of the evening — which was teased throughout the evening as he tagged jokes about Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z with the comment that he didn’t need another rapper mad at him — was something of an anticlimax, because it was was expected to be like The Loud Battle at the end of a Marvel movie and many of its best jokes were fleshed out on other stages after they were already released.

When Rock finally got to the slap in the closing minutes of the special, he certainly leaned in. He was at his funniest comparing his own physical handicaps, but self-mockery led to a less effective, if brutally delivered, theory of the case that would have been quite confusing had you not been on the Jada Pinkett Smith-Will Smith backstory — that Smith’s attack on him had more to do with public humiliation at his wife’s extramarital affairs than Rock’s bad joke about her — which he linked to the opening theme of selective outrage. (He has an essayist’s sense of structure.)

The generalization and exaggeration necessitated by humor (when, for example, he takes his abortion rights to absurdly logical extremes) are balanced with common sense and fresh insight. Whether or not you believe his theories about what men or women are like, or what makes a good relationship, or what plagues the country, or even accept the premises from which he draws his conclusions, and whether this was his finest hour or not not (and eight minutes) of television, rock remains worth listening to because there is nothing casual about what he does and, above all, he knows how to joke and sell. You might even laugh when you’re offended.

“Chris Rock: Selective Outrage”

Where: Netflix

Stream: At any time

Rated: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17, with a notice of harsh language)

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