A week of radically different stand-up comedy specials with Chris Rock and Marc Maron

chris rock

If you feel as if you got hit over the head by the marketing of Netflix’s pre-show, post-show and actual show of stand-up comedian Chris Rock’s sage, spite-driven Selective Outrage over the weekend, the feeling is mutual. That said, after several re-watch sessions and considering where he went with the most pointed elements of his story – the drama between Rock, Will Smith, a surprising no-name take on Jada Pinkett Smith and what led up to the slap – not only was it bold. It was downright mathematically and strategically planned for maximum knife digging.

Nearly one year to the occasion of the Oscar slap heard round the world, Rock, broadcasting live from Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre, didn’t start Selective Outrage – named for what he believes is at the root of the Fresh Prince’s problems as in “Will Smith practices ‘Selective Outrage.” Everybody who really knows, knows I had nothing to do with that shit. I didn’t have any ‘entanglements.’” -– with its big story. Rock worked up to it, only occasionally bringing up not wanting additional trouble with rappers such as Jay-Z. And Smith.

Rock started with easy pickings – the topic of woke culture and his support of marginalized communities and how it related to his central theme: selective outrage. Rock created a thesis and made its points, boldly. He would make an ideal doctorate student.

“One person does something, they get canceled. Somebody else does the exact same thing, nothing. You know what I’m talking about: the kind of people who play Michael Jackson songs but won’t play R. Kelly. Same crime, one of them just got better songs.”

The stand-up comedian Rock did (and has done forever, only more-so this time out) this thing in his set-up to a joke, where he’ll rhythmically repeat the straight line three and four times, to let the premise sink in deep, then, hit you hard with its punchlines. Like a balled-up Will Smith fist.

chris rock

Jokes about loving Beyoncé (but not too much in case Jay-Z got mad), abortion (“America’s biggest addiction”) the Kardashians (the most open family in the world, accepting of all), his spoiled rich daughters and his ex-wife (“the smartest woman I know, she has as much money as me, and isn’t even funny”) and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wife to Prince Harry.

“Why didn’t she Google these motherfuckers?” teased Rock at Markle’s surprise in the face of Royal Family racism. “What the fuck is she talking about she didn’t know? It’s the Royal Family. They’re the original racists. They invented colonialism. They are the OG’s of racism. They’re the Sugarhill Gang of racism.”

On the power of words and insults, Rock mused, “They say, ‘words hurt.’ But, anybody who says ‘words hurt’ has never been punched in the face.”

Setting up the main round, the jokes about Slapgate, Rock called Will Smith “Suge Smith” and told the crowd that, “It still hurts. I got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears.”

Rock reminded the crowd that in the year since the punch, that he never made himself into a victim (“You will never see me on Oprah or Gayle [King] crying…Fuck that shit, I took that shit like [Manny] Pacquiao”), and how significantly smaller he is than Smith. “You’ve never seen me do a movie with my shirt off. Will Smith played Muhammad Ali in a movie. You think I auditioned for that part? I played Pookie in ‘New Jack City.’ I played a piece of corn in ‘Pootie Tang.’”

After this, and I won’t go deeper because its jokes cut the hardest, Rock – without ever using her name – called out Pinkett Smith and the “Red Table Talk” episode featuring Will and his wife where she admitted to having an affair with another, younger man as THE REASON why Will Smith just lost it on the stage of the Academy Awards. “She hurt him way more than he hurt me.”

Take a listen to that one scene a few times – it’s a master class in stand-up comedy; especially when Rock follows that up with the bad blood between him and the Smith family going back to his 2016 Oscars host gig (“She started it. I finished it. Nobody’s picking on this bitch”) and his ultimate love for the Fresh Prince. (“I have rooted for Will Smith my whole life. I root for this motherfucker. And now I watch ‘Emancipation’ just to see him get whooped”).

Stand-up comedian Marc Maron’s attack on the many stages of grief – the new HBO special, Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark – is a far less physically aggressive toward his set of grievances and complaints with the world and its pop cultures. Recorded at New York City’s Town Hall in December, Maron’s focus is the 2020 death of his longtime creative and romantic partner Lynn Shelton, right at the start of Covid’s dense isolation. Lonely, emotional and put upon from the thought of death and the pandemic, Maron questioned whether or not he would ever perform stand-up again. It also didn’t help that Maron, at the very same time, began losing his father to the throes of dementia, making the title From Bleak to Dark a doubly troubling dose of reality.

mark maron

“My dad is 84 years old…Hold your applause, because I have to preface this material [by telling you] for most of my life, my father was a very self-centered, bipolar, emotionally abusive narcissistic fuck. The only reason I’m telling you that is I because I don’t want you to have the wrong amount of empathy when I do these next few jokes. I don’t want you rooting for the wrong guy.” Still, Maron lulls his audience into feeling good about the new father and son relationship as the old man is now open, funny and warm.

“I know it’s a terrible disease, but don’t miss the sweet spot.”

The Holocaust, antisemitism, religion, wokeness and men aging (look for the hair dye Dracula joke) all make smart appearances throughout From Bleak to Dark. But it is his longform poetic recollections of Shelton’s passing – from teasing about TedTalks to saying goodbye to his beloved in the hospital once she had already passed with a four-minute-long, starkly seriously soliloquy without a laugh. Then the one-word punchline.

Masterful.

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is an award-winning journalist who, along with working for the Philadelphia Weekly, writes regularly for Variety, Jazz Times, Flood and Wax Poetics, and hosts and co-produces his own SoundCloud-charting radio show, Theater in the Round for Pacifica National Public Radio station WPPM 106.5 FM and WPPM.org.

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