Chris Rock Tackles Gun Laws and Divorce in Netflix Special ‘Tamborine’

Divorce came to Chris Rock’s life just as the rest of the world got very crazy. As a result the political and the personal provide the key material in his new Netflix special, “Chris Rock: Tamborine,” where he roasts the gun laws and makes funny, but at times biting, reflections on marriage. Rock has not lost the breakneck energy and brutal honesty of his routine, but in this special we see a comedian using his chosen craft to tackle recent, painful experiences and a culture becoming ever more conflictive. When he turns his gaze to politics the material is provocative, when he turns his gaze on himself the humor works like a man looking back at a wreck he just survived.

Rock kicks off the special jumping right into one of the prime political debates of the moment: Police brutality and guns. “You would think the cops would occasionally shoot a white kid to look good,” says Rock, not holding back as the joke continues. “I want to see mothers on TV chanting ‘we want justice for Chad.’” It’s welcome, socially provocative humor, which Rock balances out with some intelligent observations. He warns that he doesn’t mind having the police around (“I own property, if someone breaks into my house I’m not calling the Crips”), but makes the valid point that, “some jobs can’t have bad apples, like pilots.” Rock moves on into gun control with brilliantly biting commentary. One of the best moments comes when he mocks the typical argument from the gun lobby that someone could easily commit a massacre with a knife. “If 100 people get stabbed at the same time, in the same place, by the same person, then 97 other people deserve to die,” says Rock, making the point that stopping an attacker with a knife would be much easier than stopping someone with an automatic. It’s a great example of Rock’s capacity to make funny, lucid political humor. With his easy, open onstage persona, it’s full of gritty wit and a necessary edge much needed these days when discussing major issues. Rock captures the hopelessness of it all by concluding that gun control will never pass, “if you talk too much about gun control you’ll get shot.”

When he starts taking the show into his personal life, Rock goes right into jokes about race relations in a way that stays homely. “Anything in my house that is white is hot, heavy and sharp,” he boasts when going into how he prepares his kids “for the white man.” The anti-bullying culture at schools is not safe from Rock’s blistering critique, “school is supposed to prepare you for life, life has assholes.” Here Rock is at his best when truly being a provocateur. By taking on a somewhat bullish tone himself, he is challenging our current obsession with making everyone feel safe. “Pressure makes diamonds, not hugs,” he warns, wondering out loud if Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg were treated nicely by everyone in high school. Rock’s routine is more toned down in a sense than the acidic (but effective) attitude of Dave Chappelle in his recent Netflix special, where he challenged the audience with fiercer commentary. Rock wants to challenge, while also simply getting out a good laugh. The difference too is that Rock’s energy is part of his routine. His show is based a lot on the force of his very personality, while Chappelle delivers verbal grenades with cool ease. Rock’s take on Trump is even more lighthearted, he points out that George W. Bush was so bad he opened the path for Barack Obama (“They need to honor him at the Essence festival”), and so Trump could end up summoning Christ.

In the special’s final section Rock shines with jokes that observe modern relationships and marriage, but with a special sort of bite considering he was recently divorced, admitting infidelity and a porn addiction. “Only women, dogs and babies are loved unconditionally,” he warns, adding that any man with a housewife who truly believes he owns his home is delusional. One of the most insightful moments involves the modern relationship and technology. “You can’t miss someone, they’re with you all the time, they’re in your pocket,” says Rock, and when he talks about cheating his pauses for a moment, aware of himself in front of the vast audience. There is a moment where the joke becomes truly personal, and we can feel the bitterness of a real experience, it comes when Rock discusses the hassles of a custody battle, “You never know when you’ll need receipts of love.” Funny enough, the moment with the most ease is when Rock discusses his porn addiction, turning the search for shady gratification into farce. But the choice of words all over this section are telling, especially when he refers to being a relationship as “being in the service industry.”

“Tamborine” is a comedian reflecting on the times and on himself with energy and a sort of cool wisdom (a moment where Rock reflects on his age and attempts at dating again is mature and hilarious). Chris Rock returns to us with things to say and share, with humor that serves as a nice respite as we ourselves march on and endure.

Chris Rock: Tamborine” premieres Feb. 14 on Netflix.