Chris Rock Hits Back at Will Smith, Takes Aim at Meghan Markle in ‘Selective Outrage’ Netflix Special
Chris Rock’s Netflix special, “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” was technologically historic as the first-ever live global streaming event for Netflix, airing a week before the 2023 Oscars, and a year since Will Smith’s 2022 award show slap was felt around the world. The silent reverberation built such a dangerous atmosphere that the special needed a preambulatory half-hour warmup show, if only so Arsenio Hall could promise everyone would enjoy it — except Smith. Ronny Chieng, hosting live from L.A.’s Comedy Store, noted the unnecessary expense of running two consecutive feeds, but promised it was for a good cause, “to kill off traditional TV and put it out of its misery.”
Rock didn’t do that. Streamed live from the stage of Baltimore’s Hippodrome Performing Arts Center, the hour-long comedy routine was only selectively outrageous. “I’m going to try to do a show tonight without offending nobody,” Rock promised with inadvertent accuracy in his opening. “I’m going to try my best,” because “you never know who might get triggered.” With an arsenal of flash points on the evening’s agenda, Rock took the safety off for most of the evening, so even his warning shots carried the risk of potential collateral damage.
This was central to the evening’s theme. Rock has “no problem with the wokeness,” saying he is “all for social justice. I’m all for marginalized people getting their rights. The thing I have a problem with is the selective outrage.” Hypocrisy is one of the most valid topics in the comic artist’s inventory, so when Rock notes how you can start a party with Michael Jackson songs, but cue up any song from R. Kelly, and you get a hard time, it is not a false equivalent. The artists did the same crime.
Rock’s political acuity is rooted in informed cynicism, noting “Republicans lie, Democrats leave out key pieces of the truth.” Bemoaning the lost appreciation for irony, he described the Jan. 6 Insurrection as “white men trying to overthrow the government that they run.” He got philosophical about it, placing his geopolitical faith firmly in nihilism. “Ukraine is united and America is clearly divided,” Rock noted. “If the Russians came here right now, half the country would say, ‘Let’s hear them out.’” His examples consistently hit the most painful part of the funny bone.
The evening’s topics were all selected examples of chosen outrage. His observations about Meghan Markle’s ignorance about the Royal Family turned the best of intentions into willful stupidity, and his observations about colonialism won’t get Rock a commanding performance at any Royal event. His dig at Snoop Dogg will probably cost him a mortgage, while Elon Musk might reward Rock with a simulated invitation to a Mile High Club. It was very amusing to hear Rock slip into a preacher voice, as God, during a piece on how O.J. Simpson’s acquittal cursed the Kardashians with unique inclusions.
Netflix faced backlash from Dave Chappelle’s musings on wokeness and trans people, which Rock subverts wondrously. Rock is an artist, open to any evolution of thought. His truck driving brother, however, might dig in his heels before drinking the Kool-Aid of gender fluidity. All reactions depend on what block you’re on.
Rock’s streetwise social commentary turns the knob way up on the hardcore traditional satire of old. Hundreds of years ago, Jonathan Swift suggested the solution to Irish overpopulation was to eat the infants. While repeatedly using the ugliest term for abortion, “killing babies,” Rock’s argument, as a “pro-choice” male, is evident because he claims he “paid for more abortions than any woman in this room.” His commitment to the rights of maternal choice extends to when the baby is “about four years old,” or gets his “first report card.” There’s a lot more being said in the deep crevices between darkness and despair. His conclusion, “if you have to pay for your own abortion, you need an abortion,” is a devastating appraisal, and a smack upside the head.
“People always say words hurt,” Rock said early in the show. “Anybody who says words hurt has never been punched in the face.” Rock held back on the slap during the run of his “Chris Rock Ego Death World Tour.” He didn’t test the material in clubs, because he wanted it to be fresh and unspoiled for the special. “I took that hit like Pacquiao,” Rock said from the stage. Road work or not, Rock’s stance is assured, and his counterpunches landed solidly.
Throwing an uppercut to Pinkett Smith’s infidelity interview, and a sucker punch with an angry rejection of the “Red Table Talk” show revelation, Rock ultimately reasoned: “She hurt him way more than he hurt me,” before he filled in the details barely hidden behind the scenes “She starts it, I finish it,” he said, but the joke covers the most important lesson (besides checking behind Black babies’ earlobes for future skin coloring predictions) two powerful Black artists must know. “Don’t fight in front of white people,” Rock concluded. He wasn’t raised like that. He’s from Brooklyn, even if Rosie Perez does chide him for selling out by moving to Jersey in the pre-show.
Rock hasn’t been this raw in a long time, and not merely in the sense of topic or language, but in timing, execution, and honesty. In the midst of the jokes, he was completely naked up there, admitting things as a newly single man and an angry citizen who begs for a smackdown, a cancellation, a show of ironic offense, righteous anger, or at least knee-jerk disgust.
Besides pleading ignorance to changing a filthy pillow case, Rock was open about why pharmaceutical samples double as backstage passes, and how the price of shoes factor into decisions to date someone about his daughters’ age. Though he never holds hands. That might work with Anita Baker, but Rock is “trying to fuck Doja Cat.” He knows the answer to every problem is found in a much darker corner than comical straitjackets. He took advantage of his celebrity to treat his kids to the Illuminati-package at Disney World, a trip he had to experience on a church trip school bus when he was a kid.
Which brings this to the odd complaint, one that actually goes back to the acidic wit of Don Rickles. The “Merchant of Venom” used to close his shows with a heartfelt gesture of goodwill to all he’d offended. Rock is developing a tendency to back up his more acerbic descriptions with empowering messages of historical injustice with peripheral positivity, and a mention that his mother is in the audience.
“Chris Rock: Selective Outrage” isn’t as consistently funny as Rock’s past comedy specials, some of which leave no room to catch a breath between the comic assault of the ever-perfect rapid-fire verbal onslaught. This does not mean it is not just as compelling as those shows. The rhythms are new for Rock, and the immediacy brings a dangerous closeness, which adds to the laughter, until you think about it.
“Chris Rock: Selective Outrage” aired live on March 4 at 10pm ET and is now streaming on Netflix.