/ 11 April 2023

One Show Two Takes: Chris Rock’s ‘Selective Outrage’

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Clap back: A billboard advertises Chris Rock’s ‘Selective Outrage’ in which he addresses being slapped by Will Smith at last year’s Oscars. Photo: Patrick Fallon/AFP/Getty Image

What happens when Chris Rocks makes a onetime mishap his entire personality? Viewers get his latest special, Selective Outrage. If you’re looking for Rock’s perspective on last year’s Oscar slap, when Will Smith’s hand made swift contact with his face, then you’re going to have to wait it out during this special, because Rock doesn’t fully address it until well into his monologue.

Instead, he creates a slow burn on the topic by touching on cultural and political topics already familiar to comedy-watchers: woke culture, social media trappings, Elon Musk and abortion. Rock declares he is pro-choice but abortion jokes are tricky territory because this is a sensitive issue in the US at the moment. 

These topics remain relevant, and his race jokes hold comedic merit, but one expects more from a comedian of Rock’s stature.

Rock’s unoriginal poking at gender identity when he says, “I identify as poor. My pronoun is broke,” is an out-of-touch and over familiar perspective on the topic everyone’s grumpy boomer uncle has commented on. 

Selective Outrage ages Rock. But, as one of the greatest comedians of our era, the timing of the special is interesting. It was 100% live-streamed and unedited in comparison to most of Netflix’s comedy shows, which are edited to run smoothly. 

There were one or two slip-ups which remind us Rock is vulnerable to human error too and this adds an air of authenticity. 

Selective Outrage was live-streamed a week before the Oscars, playing into the classic formula for comedy, which is misfortune plus timing.

The final stretch of Selective Outrage is when Rock addresses the Oscar slap. He shifts the idea of who is to blame for the assault — already murky water to navigate — on to Jada Pinkett Smith by focusing on the fact that she cheated on Will. Rock says, “She hurt him [Smith] way more than he hurt me.”

But, Rock’s theory on the slap was a hard clap-back aimed at adding to the humiliation already faced by Will (he has been suspended from the Academy because of said slap).

It was easy to go into Selective Outrage thinking it was a cheap gimmick to cash in on a viral moment — maybe it was for Netflix, but it doesn’t seem that way for Rock — but it is a necessary return for a comedian after being literally slapped in the face by reality. 

If you only watch it to skip to the slap, it’s worth it. There’s no need to race to reactivate your Netflix subscription — rather just borrow someone else’s login to watch the special. — Kimberley Schoeman

American comedian Chris Rock recently made history on Netflix’s first-ever live, global streaming event at the debut of his stand-up special Selective Outrage. It’s unfortunate this moment was overshadowed by how disappointing, mediocre and flimsy the show is. 

If you’ve been anticipating the comedian’s response to that awkward slap he got from Will Smith at last year’s Oscars, you’ll get it but it’s underwhelming. 

I don’t blame Rock for taking jabs at Smith, that’s exactly what comedians do — use humour to express emotions, share opinions and bring light to social issues. 

And what better way to reveal your thoughts on such a publicly humiliating incident than on your own special?

But, instead of focusing on Smith, Rock blames the slap on his wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, referencing the cheating rumours that circulated about their marriage in 2020 and saying, “She hurt him way more than he hurt me. And who does he hit? Me.” 

I’m still not sure why he thought using Smith’s wife to speak about the slap was necessary. I get that Rock could merely have been indicating that Smith’s slap was unwarranted, which I absolutely agree with, but to blame Pinkett Smith was unsettling and distasteful.  

“Everybody knows I had nothing to do with that; I didn’t have an entanglement,” Rock says in the special.  

He also mentions that the only reason he watched the movie Emancipation, in which Smith stars, is because he wanted to see the actor “get whipped”. Based on a true story, Emancipation follows the journey of an enslaved man named Peter, played by Smith, who attempts to escape a plantation and in the process gets brutally beaten. 

I couldn’t help but cringe when I heard Rock say this. He wasn’t just ridiculing Smith but the message of racism and slavery that the film highlights. I won’t pretend I enjoyed the movie, because I didn’t, but using a film about the atrocities of slavery to settle a score, or make people laugh, is bothersome.    

Rock also addresses the drama in the British royal family surrounding Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s allegations of racism. He says they should have expected it because the royals are “the original racists who invented colonialism”. I get he was making a joke but I’m sure there’s a better way to do it than potentially invalidating someone else’s experience of racism. 

I genuinely hoped the show would be funny but it just lacked humour. — Bongeka Gumede