For the last year or so, Chris Rock toured the country and sold out dozens of shows while barely talking about the elephant in the room: being slapped on stage at the Oscars by Will Smith for making jokes about his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Rock pledged to an audience, “I’m not talking about that until I get paid.” Well, Netflix opened its checkbook, and now we have Rock’s first longform response to the incident as part of Selective Outrage, his first new special in more than five years.
From its introductory moments, the Baltimore-set special was positioned as a triumphant return for the 58-year-old comedian. Coming out to Baby Keem’s “Family Ties,” dressed in all white and commanding the stage with signature aplomb, Rock was clearly charged up.
He teased the Smith jokes several times during the set, beginning by disputing the old adage “words hurt.” “Anybody who says that words hurt has never been punched in the face” he said.
In the last few minutes, he dove fully into the 2022 Academy Awards slap, referring to Will as “Suge Smith,” and tying the moment in to the special’s title and core theme of “selective outrage,” alleging that Smith was taking out his anger over his wife’s “entanglement’ with musician August Alsina and the public derision from his appearance on her Red Table Talk series on Rock.
“She hurt him way more than he hurt me,“ Rock said. “Who’d he hit? Me, a n-gga he knew he could beat. That is some bitch-ass shit.”
Rock also referenced tension between he and Pinkett Smith dating back to the 2016 Oscars, which she said she boycotted due to poor diversity, but he claimed was because she was upset Will did not receive a nomination for the sports drama Concussion. The comic also drew attention to the size disparity between himself and Smith, who is known for playing muscular action stars.
“Will Smith is significantly bigger than me. Will Smith does movies with his shirt off, you’ve never seen me do movies with my shirt off. If I’m in a movie getting open heart surgery, I’ve got on a sweater,” Rock said. “Will Smith played Muhammad Ali in a movie. You think I auditioned for that part? I played Pookie in New Jack City.”
Rock stressed that he had always been a fan of Smith’s, even seeing him open for Run-DMC in the early days of his music career, but admitted that since the incident takes some pleasure in watching his misfortune on screen. “Now, I watch Emancipation, just to see him get whupped.”
During the closing segment, Rock also responded to the vocal minority of people who bashed him for not retaliating in the moment. “‘Chris how come you didn’t do nothing back that night?’ Cause I got parents, because I was raised,’” he said to cap the performance. “You know what my parents told me? Don’t fight in front of white people.”
The Gen-X Comedian Woke Screed
He used the concept of “selective outrage” to criticize a myriad of topics and ideas, ranging from woke marketing (a solid bit about Lululemon’s pricey, “antiracist” yoga pants), people who listen to Michael Jackson but not R. Kelly (“ Same crime, one of them just got better songs”), and performative activism on social media (“Motherfuckers typing out woke-ass tweets on a phone made by child slaves”).
Rock also used part of his set to voice his thoughts on transgender people. While his material wasn’t as overtly offensive as the jokes that landed Chappelle in hot water, and focused on how the Rock family would react to their father transitioning, it still ruffled some feathers. (“To be perfectly honest, in some situations, I actually prefer trans women to original recipe. When you’re watching the game, they can read defenses.’”)
Rock took aim at the concept of white men who feel like they’re “losing the country,” lambasted the Capitol riots (“white men trying to overthrow a country that they run”), criticizing Republicans for incessantly lying while also smirkingly referring to Democrats as politicians who “leave out key pieces of the truth.” He went even more down the middle with an extended abortion bit where he conceded that he was pro-choice—but also wanted women to admit it’s still “killing babies.”
Tired Meghan Markle and Kardashian Jokes
An early, meandering segment about the Kardashians landed a couple of good quips, but also relied on OJ Simpson-Robert Kardashian jokes that have been done before, including by Rock earlier in his career. Meghan Markle is, of course, fresher material for a comedian who hasn’t released a special in five years, but saying that complaining about the royal family’s racism is like marrying into the Budweiser family and being shocked that they drink isn’t quite moving the needle.
The best moments in the special came when Rock turned his material on his own family. Mid-way, he admitted being annoyed at how spoiled his daughters are, despite his own complicity in it, with a great story of his gamble to humble his eldest daughter Lola.
But he flipped the family jokes into something moving towards the end, when Rock turned his when spoke about his mother and Lola, who attends culinary school in Paris. Rock marveled at the fact that his mom, who was born in the ‘40s in a South Carolina town where Black people had to get their teeth removed by a veterinarian if they could not find a Black dentist due to racial segregation, was able to get on a plane and visit her grandchildren in France. (The credits included a few powerful photos of Rock’s daughters and mother.) It was a well-written monologue that emphasized how recent some of the darkest moments of America’s racist history truly were, and saw an impassioned Rock at his absolute best.