ABOVE PHOTO: This image released by Netflix shows promotional art for “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage” a comedy special streaming live on March 4. (Netflix via AP)
By Jake Coyle
A year after Will Smith smacked him on the Academy Awards stage, Chris Rock finally gave his rebuttal in a forceful stand-up special, streamed live on Netflix, in which the comedian bragged that he “took that hit like Pacquiao.”
The 58-year-old comedian on Saturday night performed his first stand-up special since last year’s Oscars in a much-awaited sequel that had all the hype — and more — of a Manny Pacquaio prizefight. “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” streamed live from the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, marked Netflix’s first foray into live streaming. But it was also a long-awaited comedy counterpunch to Academy Awards infamy.
Rock, performing in all white and with a Prince medallion around his neck, immediately touched on last year’s Oscars while riffing on “wokeness,” hypersensitivity and what he called “selective outrage.”
“You never know who might get triggered,” said Rock. “Anybody who says words hurt hasn’t been punched in the face.”
But Rock then launched into a series of wide-ranging topics examining contemporary issues, including virtue signaling, high-priced yoga pants, the Duchess of Sussex, the Kardashians, abortion rights, the Capitol riot and what he called America’s biggest addiction: Attention.
“We used to want love, now we just want likes,” said Rock.
Rock, who also riffed on how he’d respond if his father transitioned to a woman (he would support him, Rock said), made clear “Selective Outrage” was not going to be just a Will Smith show. Only occasionally did Rock’s material dovetail with the 2022 Oscars, like it did when Rock joked about the oddity of Snoop Dogg becoming such a venerated pitch man for advertisers.
“I’m not dissing Snoop,” said Rock. “The last thing I need is another mad rapper.”
But an hour into his set, Rock closed the special with a torrent of material about the notorious Academy Awards moment.
“You all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith. Everybody knows,” Rock said. “It still hurts. I got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears.”
While Smith has apologized and repeatedly spoken about the incident since last March, Rock has avoided all the usual platforms where celebrities often go to air their feelings. He never sat down with Oprah Winfrey, and turned away the many media outlets that would have loved to land an exclusive in-depth interview.
“I’m a not a victim, baby,” said Rock. “You will never see me on Oprah or Gayle crying. You will never see it. Never going to happen.”
But Rock did use his encounter with Smith to shape and enliven his second stand-up special for Netflix. Some of his best material was on their physical differences.
“We are not the same size. This guy does movies with his shirt off,” said Rock. “You will never see me do a movie with my shirt off. If I’m in a movie getting open-heart surgery, I got on a sweater.”
“He played Muhammed Ali,” added Rock. “I played Pookie in ‘New Jack City.’”
Ultimately, Rock suggested he was just caught in the crossfire in Smith’s relationship with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. It was a joke that Rock told about Pinkett Smith that prompted Smith to stride on stage and strike Rock. The comedian on Saturday referenced Pinkett Smith’s earlier confessions of having an “entanglement” with another man while married.
“I did not have any entanglements,” said Rock. “She hurt him way more than he hurt me.”
“I love Will Smith,” added Rock. “Now I watch ‘Emancipation’ just to see him get whooped.”
Before dropping his microphone and holding his arms up triumphantly, Rock left the crowd with one last zinger. Rock said the reason why he didn’t physically retaliate at the Oscars was because “I got parents.”
“And you know what my parents taught me?” he said. “Don’t fight in front of white people.”
Netflix added pre- and post-show bookends of star-studded live programming with, as host comedian Ronny Chieng said, “every comedy legend who owes Netflix a favor.” Bono lent a opening introduction. Dana Carvey and David Spade hosted the after-show. Paul McCartney, Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and one of last year’s Oscar hosts, Wanda Sykes, all added pre-taped messages. Arsenio Hall guaranteed Rock’s set would cause Smith to smack his television set.
For much of the past year, Rock has been touring new material in a long string of performances as part of his Ego Death tour. The shows, which had been announced before the 2022 Oscars, have featured performances with Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart.
On the road, Rock has often worked in jokes and reflections on the slap. Rock first broke his public silence about the slap three nights after the Oscar ceremony, last year in Boston. “How was your weekend?” he asked the crowd. He added that he was “still kind of processing what happened.”
After plenty of processing, Rock retook the cultural spotlight just a week before the March 12 Oscars, where the slap is sure to revisited by this year’s host, Jimmy Kimmel. In the aftermath of last year’s events, Smith resigned his membership to the film academy. The academy board of governors banned Smith from the Oscars and all other academy events for a decade.
At the annual luncheon for nominees held last month, motion picture academy president Janet Yang voiced regret about how the incident was handled, calling the academy’s response “inadequate.” Bill Kramer, the academy’s chief executive, has said the academy has since instituted a crisis communications team to prepare for and more rapidly respond to the unexpected.
“Selective Outrage” is Rock’s second special for Netflix, following 2018’s “Tamborine.” They’re part of a two-special $40 million deal Rock signed with the streamer in 2016.
As new as the live “Selective Outrage” was for Netflix, it was hard not to notice a few familiar things about it.
“You’ve got to give it to the tech companies for inventing something that existed for decades,” said Chieng. “We’re doing a comedy show on Saturday night… live. Genius.”
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