And the Academy Award for discipline in the face of a slap goes to Chris Rock, who remained silent for almost a year after receiving that shocking smackeroo live on stage during the 2022 Oscars broadcast.
What helped him stay mum, of course, was that Netflix had ponied up for a comedy special. Though he workshopped some material in local club appearances along the way, he saved his response for Selective Outrage, which streamed live on March 4 at 9 pm.
Chris did pour his heart out about Will and Jada in the last few minutes of the show—something the world was waiting for, parched as we are for human content—the answer to a mystery, and mostly, to have a laugh.
There were gimmicks involved. Indeed, as Netflix’s first-ever special to air live, Outrage offered the immediacy and thrilling flub potential of Saturday Night Live (where Chris starred from 1990–1993) mixed with the TKO possibilities of a much-hyped boxing match on pay-per-view, with a bit of the State-of-the-Union address thrown in.
Netflix really got into event-building, treating Rock’s special like the Super Bowl or Oscars, with pre- and post-game shows filled with comedians. Somehow, the roster of big names (including Seinfeld) on the pre-show managed to be—how to put it—unwatchable.
The Build Up
For me, that only added to the twinge of anticipation for what I expected to be Chris’s brilliant cri-de-coeur.
When the moment finally came, it did seem like a bit of a thrill. As Selective Outrage—a good title—opened, we got to watch backstage. In a bit that normally would seem cliché, but came off okay, we watched Rock check his sticky-noted joke board one last time (it’s a beautiful thing) and adjust his all-white attire, like a bride.
We watched Rock check his sticky-noted joke board one last time (it’s a beautiful thing) and adjust his all-white attire, like a bride.
Symbolically, white is a color of purity and peace. In this case, perhaps his outfit was the three-piece modern-day rich guy casual equivalent to white tie and tails.
Who was he wearing? His white jeans—from the Purple brand—had two tags attached, tails that flew right behind him as he blazed a trail back-and-forth across the stage.
The final touch was a necklace, featuring Prince’s man/woman symbol. As fellow artists, Rock and Prince were friends, and touchingly, maybe Rock saw it as a good luck talisman.
Never mind the barrage of n-words or how many people he calls some form of bitch.
I watched the gripping whirlwind that is Rock on stage—the constant Groucho-speed-walk/ballet, the meta-energetic delivery, the rhythmic repetition involving catchy language and poppy syllables, and I wanted to laugh, just like the rest of the audience.
It’s hypnotic. He lulls us into a collective high.
But it was like cognitive dissonance once the reality of what he was actually talking about hit—some decent insights, but lots of cringe.
The one-hour show was broken up into three acts—some introductory stuff, a terribly bloated middle section when Rock let loose about women, and the final 10 minutes, when he spoke passionately about the hurt Smith caused him.
‘Anybody who says words hurt has never been punched in the face.’
He hinted at what was to come. “Anybody who says words hurt has never been punched in the face,” he said, in a crowd-pleasing joke.
But in general, one of my least favorite things about certain rich male comedians of a certain age—and let’s add in Bill Maher—is the way they go on and on about “wokeness.” There’s not much about regular life that they share with their audience, so they think political correctness is their biggest enemy. It infuriates them that with all their money and power, they can no longer say or do any racist, misogynist, or homo/transphobic thing they want, which they’d been doing successfully for years without facing cancel culture.
So they get super angry and defensive—and more sexist.
Rock had a bit of this; his opening jokes meandered into this area but skirted a finer line. “I’m all for marginalized people getting their rights,” he said. “The thing I have a problem with is the selective outrage. One person gets cancelled. Another person gets nothing.” Seems legit.
For his part, Rock talked about “woke traps:” women, dating, and his children. Many of the jokes about his children were more than slightly hostile, as with the story he claims he’s never told before about going to his daughter’s school principal to get her expelled.
“I love my kids, but I don’t like ‘em,” he said. “My kids are rich and spoiled.”
He made fun of their rich kid trappings, which he gave them. “Yeah, I’m rich. But I identify as poor,” he said. That’s funny.
“My pronoun is ‘broke,’” he added. Not so funny.
What became disappointingly clear was that he uses his status as a father of two daughters to establish his faux feminism.
Rock has long been called on his “misogynoir”—misogyny directed at Black women. But with all he’s been through—a 20-year marriage while raising two daughters—I expected Rock to change and grow, to see women as full human beings, not just manipulative bitches.
But what became disappointingly clear with this performance was that he uses his status as a father of two daughters to establish his faux feminism. As the middle chunk of the show demonstrated, to him, a man–woman relationship is strictly transactional.
Thus, his admiration for Elon Musk (and Rock’s own jokes) seemed to come from a pre-Twitter age.
“You know what Elon Musk does every time he sells a Tesla? “he asked. “He gets his dick sucked. Women are sucking up the cum before it’s even formed,” he said. Yeah, what a dream.
Indeed, to say that Chris Rock objectifies women and sees them as good for one—or possibly two—things is like saying that fish swim.
So why can’t I get this through my head?
This is nowhere more evident than when Rock gets into the truly gratuitous and brutal “killing babies” portion of the show. Of course, the former Saturday Night Live star is welcome to his beliefs—all of them. But it becomes quite shocking and confusing when his flip-flops can give you whiplash: “I want my daughters to live in a world where they have complete control of their bodies, okay,” he said. “And because of that, I am pro-choice.”
In the next sentence, he said, “I believe women should have the right to kill babies. I believe you should have the right to kill as many babies as you want. Kill ’em all. I don’t give a f*ck. But let’s not get it twisted. It is killing a baby.” Really? He went on about “baby killing,” and then, to get himself more inside the action, he said with seeming pride, that he “paid for more abortions than any woman in this room.”
The Pope and Chris Rock
This macho boast is so staggeringly insensitive and tone deaf (and unfunny) that it’s practically Trumpian. (He went on that he deserves a punch card and maybe he’ll get a free mango smoothie for all of those purchases.)
WTF? With the reversal last year of Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive rights have been set back 50 years. Women in Texas testified last week that they were denied medically necessary abortions and almost died. Throughout the United States, women are suffering and fearful. Why did he pick now to push this topic into an extreme discomfort zone?
But he just kept going. “Whenever I pay for an abortion, I request a dead baby,” he said. “Sometimes I call up a doctor like a hitman: ‘Is it done?’”
The conservative pro-life press recognized a fellow traveler when they saw one.
Meanwhile, the conservative pro-life press recognized a fellow traveler when they saw one. Among others, the Catholic News Agency immediately published a piece likening what Rock said to a statement Pope Francis made in 2018, when he declared that having an abortion is “like hiring a hitman.”
The Pope and Chris Rock—maybe they should get an act together and go on the road.
But where was Chris traveling with this? Was he making a political point so astute that it went over my head? I thought about it, and all I got was his virulently anti-choice rhetoric about life beginning at conception—a belief that a 2022 Gallup Poll showed is out of step with 60 percent of the US population.
In fact, during this part of the “dead babies” portion, he said it so much that it became like a nursery rhyme. I could just see 4-year-old kids jumping up and down as they laughed and shouted, “Dead babies!” Yet I saw almost no attention paid to the dead baby/abortion jokes in reviews or summations.
The stuff that everyone clearly came to hear was delivered in a torrent in the last 10 minutes, when Chris addressed the tuxedoed elephant not in the room: Will Smith, the guy who has been banned from the Oscars for the next 10 years for his crazy-live-out-of-line violence directed at Rock in defense of his wife.
Talking about “The Slap” . . . Finally
In this part, the rant was less rehearsed. Clearly, he held the high ground, and a bit of a little kid came out. Rock was passionate, angry, but at times, still seemed confused. The title of the show, Selective Outrage, was aimed at Smith. He talked about not being a victim, not going on Oprah or with Gayle King, and boasted that he took the hit “like Pacquiao,” the featherweight boxer.
Some of his jokes were delightfully self-effacing, like in talking about their physical differences: “He played Muhammed Ali,” he said before taking a beat. “I played Pookie in New Jack City.”
It got so intense that the only place he flubbed a line in the 60 minutes was here, using the wrong movie to take a jab at Jada. He immediately backed up and corrected himself, and the blooper’s been edited out in the version now streaming.
She hurt him way more than he hurt me.
He talked about Jada’s “entanglements,” something she copped to during her online Red Table Talks. “I didn’t have any entanglements,” he said. “She was fucking her son’s friend. I would normally not talk about that shit, but they put it on the Internet.”
“I was sucking someone else’s dick,” he said as Jada. “How did that make you feel?” He called it “some bitch-ass shit.” And more, involving many bitches and many shits.
His takeaway: “She hurt him way more than he hurt me.”
In the crystal-clear finale, he responded to why he never hit Smith back: “I got parents. I was raised. And you know what my parents taught me? ‘Don’t fight in front of White people.’”
Then he did the literal mic drop.
It was a spectacular ending, but not the last word, since in essence, he too was fighting in front of White people.
The slap lives on, no doubt, in jokes that will be made at this year’s Oscars. Obviously, we’ll be on the lookout for new outrage.