Chris Rock's Outraged Netflix Comedy, Will Smith's Outrageous Slap--and Me
How'd I get to be part of Chris Rock's Netflix comedy special--and what I think about it.
Selective outrage is all the rage. You mustn’t cancel Kanye’s tweets but banning books is okay. You mustn’t allow political corruption, but letting George Santos into Congress is okay. You mustn’t eat chicken but trout is okay.
That’s the point of Chris Rock’s new Netflix comedy special, Selective Outrage, which was broadcast live on Saturday, March 4 and which I was part of as a guest on the Show After The Show. We pick and choose what we’re outraged about as if selecting from a cold and congealed buffet of trigger points.
How’d I get there and what does it personally mean to me?
I’m a fan of Chris. Not just his blunt yet incisive comedy, but also his powerful and nuanced acting. His role as the doomed gangster in Fargo was commanding and heartbreaking. I was riveted.
Some comedians’ routines come from personal pain and struggles, some come from witty observation of human foibles and contradictions. Both are equally valid because both tread in the murky waters of our shared vulnerabilities, insecurities, and arrogance. We all wear carefully crafted masks of how we want others to see us and how we want to see ourselves. As with the best artists, the best comedians yank those masks off and make us look at each other and ourselves as we really are, so that in those moments of clarity, we can choose to embrace what we like—and change what we don’t. As with the best of art, those lights illuminate us only briefly before they are dimmed and the comedian leaves the stage.
Jerry Seinfeld and Ricky Gervais, both wonderful comedians, have created stage personas of distant observers who gaze upon humanity with amused disengagement. They do it with amazing wit and insight. And, most important, they are very, very funny.
But Chris brings us a more personal humor, forged in the pain and struggles of being Black in America, of being a Black entertainer, of being a Black parent, and even of being a rich Black celebrity. And, most important, he is very, very funny.
In case you think I’m saying all this just because we know each other, you are wrong. Loyal readers of my Substack and my articles in The Hollywood Reporter know that I have in the past called out famous Black athletes and celebrities, even close friends, when I thought they did something wrong. I would then get angry and hurt calls from them asking why I didn’t keep quiet. My answer is always the same: when someone famous uses their celebrity to promote dangerous ideas in public, the response also needs to be public in order to mitigate the damage.
Last March, when Will Smith slapped Chris at the Academy Awards show, I wrote an article on my Substack called “Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing” which got millions views, my most-read article. In it, I criticized Will, even though I’ve known him for a long time and liked him. But what he did was bad for men, bad for women, and bad for Black Americans. And if Chris ever does or says something that I think is detrimental, I’ll comment on that too.
But I have nothing except praise for Chris’s Selective Outrage. I guess Chris and I have something in common. I write a regular column, “Kareem Reacts to the News,” and Chris does stand-up in which he reacts to the news. We are both outraged by other people’s selective (meaning inconsistent and contradictory) outrage, while smugly confident in our own righteousness. His presentation is funny and mine isn’t, though some say I have a dry, parched, almost desert-like, sense of humor.
I was honored to be part of his Aftershow. I got to bask in Chris’s hard-earned glory without doing anything. Now, go out and watch Chris do what he does best. Your day will be brighter because of it.
I watched the special live and thought most of it was really great. I do have to say, though, that aside from his daughters, Chris seems to have a real problem with women. His accounts of them as money grubbing lame and incompetent perpetually broke and shallow creatures did not sit well. It’s as if he couldn’t imagine women whose power comes just as much from their intellect and accomplishments as from their beauty. Despite his stated desire not to offend anyone, I thought that whole thread was deeply insulting. This also made me think more about the fact that he seemed to project more of his ire on Will Smith’s wife, than the man who actually assaulted him.
I found this Chris Rock Netflix Special self-indulgent, petty, and of no benefit to either heal wounds or edify the Black community as a whole. To my mind, Netflix and Chris Rock's bank account are perhaps the only winners here.