Selective Outrage: The Year in Chris Rock

chris rock

Two weeks ago, I interviewed stand-up comedian and actor Jay Pharoah for Philadelphia Weekly. One of the things that Pharoah brought up, when discussing the concept of influence was the idea of going back to the well and finding inspiration in old Chris Rock stand-up specials from HBO.

“Chris Rock is someone you have to check in with so that you can feel the temperature of things,” said Pharoah. “You wait to see what new stuff he has coming. But the old specials, like Bring the Pain? They are still relevant now, and twice as funny as they were when Chris first dropped them.”

Fans of Chris Rock’s stand-up won’t need to wait much longer as his long-anticipated, much discussed new, all live, all global Netflix comedy special ‘Selective Outrage’ just got its streaming drop date: March 4, 2023. Not only is “Selective Outrage” the comedian’s second stand-up special for Netflix after 2018’s “Tambourine”. This new, live stand-up special will be released almost one full year after Rock was slapped by actor Will Smith at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles.

When it comes to its posters and ads, the announcement of “Selective Outage” arrives with a 30-second teaser sound tracked by rapper Bun B’s “The Best Is Back.” Here, Rock is just sitting in his dressing room, staring into a mirror before a knock on the door and a voice: “Chris, they’re ready for you.” From there, a serious looking Rock moves through the backstage area to the stage and into the bright lights.

Boom.

The elephant in the room comes with the fact that Chris Rock really hasn’t really made any jokes during his 2022 stand-up tour about The Incident: being slapped by Will Smith during the 2022 Oscar ceremony for making a dumb, bald joke about Smith’s wife.

Without falling or flinching much, Rock stood tall and continued his time on the Oscar stage – and declined to press charges – but resulted in Smith being banned from attending the annual Academy event for a decade after taking home the best actor win for King Richard, but finding his newest film, Emancipation, all but ignored by critics, audiences and Golden Globe nominating bodies. While hardly banished from the business of show completely, so many people are not quite anxious about the idea of working with Smith – including old friend Tom Cruise who is rumored to be refusing to take the Fresh Prince’s phone calls.

Savoring the moment to a great punchline – or an hour’s worth – and just teasing crowds with Will Smith slap jokes is holding audiences enthrall when it comes to Chris Rock’s next stand-up comedy special. “Selected Outrage” will be a release, for crowd and comic.

Yet, like Jay Pharaoh said, a Chris Rock stand-up comedy special is tantamount to a hallmark, an iconic comic moment for people to look forward and backward to; one that, like a great song, you can clock the times of your life as to what was going on the week you first saw Bring the Pain (1996), Bigger & Blacker (1999), Never Scared (2004) and Kill the Messenger (2008).

That decade-plus run of stand-up specials at HBO included razor sharp and controversial jokes at the expense of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, the O. J. Simpson murder case, race relations, “Crazy White Kids,” rich rappers and more. Like Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce before him, Rock spared no one. Sacred cows did not exist, least of all among his own personal foibles.

In particular, Bring the Pain was considered a stand-up comic game changer, leading Variety to title that 1996 HBO special, “one of the truly remarkable hours of comedy ever to air on television.”

Since that decade-plus run, Rock has mostly concentrated on acting roles and film writing and producing enterprises – everything from horror (Spiral: From the Book of Saw) to crime (Fargo) to drama (the upcoming Rustin) to Broadway theater (The Motherfucker with the Hat) to documentary (Good Hair) to a handful of Adam Sandler comedies.

Nothing however in Rock’s long list of film, television and theater credits since 2008 have been as radically subversive or crushingly socio-culturally observational as those four HBO specials. Truth be told, even 2018’s Tambourine for Netflix wasn’t quite so memorable. While Rock’s HBO decade yielded more quotable lines than a Jay-Z album, there is almost no one who can quote any of Tambourine’s jokes back to you – I guarantee that.

Slaps aside, a deep, dense look inside the personal life and culturally critique-ing mind of Chris Rock has been a long time coming.  If you have witnessed any of his 2022 live stand-up shows (and I have, to packed, enthusiastic houses in Atlantic City and Philadelphia), you know that Rock is on like popcorn.

Selective Outrage, then, should be the prickliest peak of a very chilly iceberg. Hot to the touch, and deathly cold.

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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