I did not intend to be The Baltimore Banner’s Chris Rock reporter. That is not what is listed on my resume. Yet, this is the fourth column I have written about the Brooklyn-born comedian, the second this week. I’m as confused as you are.
But on Monday, Rock was nominated for a Golden Globe award in the new Performance in Stand-Up Comedy category for “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” the live Netflix special he recorded at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre in March. He’s up against Wanda Sykes, Trevor Noah and Sarah Silverman, whose specials I have not watched but certainly will before the Jan. 7 ceremony, because apparently this is my beat now. (The ceremony, by the way, does not currently have a host, having been reportedly turned down by a plethora of people, including Rock.)
I have been fairly transparent in both my historical love for Rock, who for decades was my undisputed favorite comic, and my distaste for the special, a largely unfunny buffet of Jada Pinkett Smith jokes, general misogynoir and the kind of old man “get off my lawn” jokes that the young Chris Rock would have mocked mercilessly.
He played the comedy long game, writing a special targeted at punishing a woman who never hit him, in her hometown, near the anniversary of her husband’s Oscar slap to Rock’s face. Rock called her a bitch and outright lied about the nature of the joke that got him slapped so he could be a victim, Smith could be a wounded cuckold and Pinkett Smith could be the evil mastermind.
And he might get an award for it. Oh, OK.
I’m not a naive fawn in this show business game — “Selective Outrage” was coded as a hit from the start, promising to be a reckoning for Smith’s attack on him before Rock even got onstage. It was the timing of the special, as well as the comedian’s relative silence about the 2022 Oscars leading up to the Hippodrome performance, because we know he was saving it all up. I don’t blame him. He got slapped. Using his best material for a check is smart. Get that check, brother. I like checks, too.
What left a bad taste in my mouth in March, both from the audience at the Hippodrome the night before the special’s taping and from my couch watching along with the world on Netflix, was the tendency to hang most of his jokes on ageist, sexist piffle that continuously reduces women to their anatomy while maintaining some sort of cool points.
I watched it again yesterday, within hours of Rock’s Globes nomination, to make sure I wasn’t being a hater. And I laughed five times, two times more than I remember. I admit to nodding in humorous pride when he talked of how his mother, raised in a Southern town where Black people had to legally go to the vet for mouth problems if a Black dentist was not available, visits her granddaughter in Paris where she goes to culinary school. That’s relatable. That rise is real. If your grandmother who had to ride at the back of a bus lives long enough to see you on the “Today” show, you feel that. Extraordinary.
But as proud as Rock is of those two women, he can’t help but slap at almost every other one he mentions from Meghan Markle to women his age who want house repairs rather than shoes, like the ones in their 20s request. And he doesn’t even call them women. He talks about the money “I’ve spent on p---y.” You know, the feline euphemism. I’ll give you a moment. You good? Let’s continue. As I said in a previous column, 50-year-old women don’t need to sleep with someone to fix their roofs. We can do that ourselves.
Rock also makes an allegedly edgy comment that he’s paid for more abortions than most women. It’s not funny. A year before this special was taped, Roe v. Wade was overturned. I am fervently supportive of reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body. But right now there is a woman in Texas fleeing the state to have a procedure that could end her almost certainly terminal pregnancy and protect her ability to carry a child in the future, so “I’m so rich and popular that I give abortions out like roses” is not a flex. I know the joke was both about being shocking and trying to explain how compulsory this right should be. But it wasn’t funny in March and it’s even less so now.
Then there’s the bits about “female beauty,” and how Beyoncé could marry Jay-Z even if she worked at Burger King because of her looks. That’s the kind of attitude, even if it’s supposed to be funny, that hinges on negating the incredible talent and impact that Beyonce has and boiling it down to her considerable physical presence. It’s the kind of thing you’re not supposed to think about too hard, and just laugh at, because it feels funny.
Because misogyny is amusing. Meh.
The bulk of my displeasure about “Selective Outrage,” as I said, is in the last 10 minutes of the show, in which Rock pretends that the reason Smith was mad was because of his embarrassment over his wife’s “entanglement” with their son’s friend, who is much younger than her. And maybe he was upset about that. But Rock’s Oscar joke was about Pinkett Smith’s very short hair, due to alopecia, and he’s been mocking her for various reasons for decades. So to say, “I’m not a victim,” while acting brand new about that is ridiculous. He said “I didn’t do anything to that bitch” and claimed words can’t hurt you compared to a slap. He would know. But those words were honed to hurt, to pierce, to call her a bald-headed ho at her home.
And for this, he gets a nomination.
Since then, Jada Pinkett Smith has answered questions about her life — and answered them — in her memoir “Worthy” and her many interviews and appearances in support of that book, including the Enoch Pratt Free Library talk where Smith and her entire family showed up. They owned both their messiness and their loyalty to each other, and their tangled love. I don’t get it, but it’s not mine to parse. They seem happy. Good for them.
All in all, I’d rather hear them talk about their marriage than someone who twists it for applause and then pretends he doesn’t know what he said. It’ll be interesting to hear that acceptance speech.
I’m sure I’ll be writing about that, too.