Nothing beats the start of a comedy show than the heavy knock of a hip-hop tune for the intro. It sets you in the mood. It’s like wrestlers walking into a ring, the music kind of gives you an idea of what to expect when they break apart the three ropes and enter the arena. With comedy, it is the same.
With Rock’s show, he had you feeling that he was not there to play games. He was ready to hit hard without pulling any punches. He walked out onto the stage with Rick Ross bellowing out in the background escorting his bouncy gait, to the cheers and applause from the crowd adorning all white with a mean mug plastered on his face to boot. At that moment you just want to pour a glass of Henny, light a blunt, and zone out into the melee that is about to transpire. But assumption has its own disappointments.
Chris Rock’s voice is recognizable. It has a presence. His unique raspy tenor that comes from the depths of a strangled Adam’s apple is hard to miss. So, when he says “What’s up Baltimore ” the crowd once again goes into cheers as he paces up and down the stage claiming his domain. Marking his territory. A predator on the hunt for laughs with the instinct to leave no man standing. With no Henny, no blunts, I just fell back into my chair and waited for the animal on stage to attack. This is it! My inside voice unknowingly mimics Chris Rock as it shouts: “It’s go time!”
I love the energy of the audience, but what I love even more is the celebrity status American comedians have been able to achieve. They have perfected the art of showmanship from Kevin Hart, Sommore, Dave Chappelle, Tiffany Haddish, and the like. Also, is there a reason most black comedians are so loud? Is it like a prerequisite to comedy superstardom?? Anyway, that is beside the point. The audience is definitely geared up for a fantastic 68 minutes and if they were anything like me, then definitely they had deposited large amounts of non-refundable laugh tokens just waiting for the right moment to spend them. After all, it is Chris Rock.
Like any celebrity comedian, Chris Rock starts off by peacocking on stage, he has to let the crowd know that it is a Netflix special and the first one to be streamed live. It is one helluva achievement and true to his affinity to hip hop a little braggadocio is not such a bad thing. In fact, in these circles, it is more than welcome. If you got it, you show it. He then goes ahead and emphasizes to the crowd that he would try. He says it a lot. Maybe it’s a delivery technique. But he keeps repeating that he will try to do his best in the show not to offend anybody. In my experience watching stand-up comedy shows, this is the version of “no offense” that comes just before an offense is intended. Things were looking up.
Chris Rock gets into his element and kicks off the first joke. He casually talks about the American cancel culture using this to subtly introduce the incident between him and Smith during the previous Oscar awards – the anticipation in the crowd is building up because let’s face it the only reason anyone was there and the reason, I was even watching it was because of this. But just as quickly as he made the reference in a dodgy way he quickly transitioned into a different joke on selective outrage where he pits Michael Jackson’s fans against R. Kelly’s fans. The joke did make the crowd laugh albeit it was a few years too late but the fact that he was talking about famous artists with sketchy backgrounds had some semblance of relevance and of course, it kept building up anticipation. But then he just took a totally different trajectory and if the audience was anything like me, hopes were dashed. Next, he took a dig at the woke social media era and businesses that embrace it.
It was okay. Just okay. Again, the jokes felt a little bit too late to the party and I was not the only one who picked up on this because with every punchline being delivered the laughs from the audience felt coerced. Like they had a gun pointed at their heads. Some of it felt like pitiful laughter. Just because it is Chris Rock on stage and maybe just maybe this was performance anxiety, to say the least. Something that he could recover from and resuscitate the audience with electric zingers. I wish I did not wait. But we all know hope is a dangerous drug. So, while the show felt like wading knee-deep in silt with old-school denim jeans on, I kept my eyes glued to the screen.
Most of the show was Chris Rock struggling to make jokes out of current and not-so-current affairs in the US. He touched on the war in Ukraine as all black comedians do. He went in for racism, a little dig at the Kardashians with trans women, a little bit of social media’s obsession with attention, abortion, and of course dating after divorce. He made a comparison about dating younger women being cheaper than dating older women. My issue with that joke is that I can barely relate unless it is an American thing – here in Kenya, men know dating expenses are inversely proportional to age.
Back to the show.
To be fair, those were heavy-hitting topics with lots of angles to juice out a few laughs but Chris, other than being vulgar and peppering the show with cuss words, played it safe. The jokes were like trying to wring out water from a damp towel. Nothing he said had not been said before and the audience was quick to pick up on this. The sad part is that this went on for a while and the audience continued to give pity giggles with genuine laughter coming far in between. Most of the time it felt like the audience giggled or guffawed, not because the jokes were funny, but because in his delivery Chris would pause, then repeat the same statement once or twice and pause again. Maybe a cry for help to the audience to just cut him some slack and fake it.
Comedians have been known to rope in family to make their humor relatable. But when Chris did it, there was a lack of fluidity. For a comedian as well seasoned as Chris, the audience shouldn’t be aware that a joke is being made until the punchline lands and leaves them in stitches. I am not sure when was the last time he performed live for an audience, but he could be stuck in his former glory days and this comedy special was him testing the waters. Remember Top Five? His 2014 movie? This live show felt like a reincarnation of the script.
With a sold-out arena, which was expected since it was a Netflix live special, there were unspoken expectations from the audience, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that they wanted the whole special to revolve around the Will Smith saga.
Finally, he got to it which started out like a small tease. The crowd was cheering and definitely wanted more. This is when Chris became unhinged. He just did not take a few jabs at the Smiths; he took his gloves off and went berserk. From his earlier quip when the show started on words not hurting, I am sure Will and Jada Smith would have a different opinion. But that’s the type of hard-hitting comedy that gets the people going. We thrive in chaos. It’s the world we choose to live in.
The downside however is out of a whole 68 minutes he only gave a meager 6-7 minutes on the whole saga. At a point where the crowd was now fully invested in the show. He managed to resuscitate it but then as soon the crowd got riled up, he drops the mic, and the outro song Niggas in Paris plays as he exits the stage.
The comedy show felt like being at a bar with a man who is going through their own issues and needs someone to talk to. They mask their emotions and try to play it off as it not being that serious until the liquor kicks in and then they go all out baring their soul before blacking out.
In short, Chris Rock wasted the opportunity to air out his issues in a way only a comedian can. Either he was playing it safe and did not want to look like another angry black man with a bruised ego but, it is safe to say he practiced his own kind of selective outrage giving the whole thing some sort of cognitive dissonance.
It is a 4.5/10 from me.