Nearly a year after comedian Chris Rock was blindsided with a slap heard around the world, delivered by Will Smith at the Oscars following an insensitive joke directed at his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, Rock has finally slapped back.
The veteran comedian pulled no punches and left few stones unturned during Chris Rock: Selective Outrage, a globally livestreamed event on Netflix. Preceding the roughly 70-minute special was an awkward hit-and-miss pre-show hosted by Ronny Chieng (M3GAN) with everyone from Leslie Jones, Matthew McConaughey, and Ice-T working to get the crowd hyped for the show. Following Rock was a post-show, with roundtable commentary from David Spade, Dana Carvey, and others.
The quality of the bookended entertainment was irrelevant even before it aired. Everyone tuned in with bated breath, assuming Rock would use the most public platform he’s had since last year’s Academy Awards to address the elephant in the room. Unsurprisingly, Rock used the incident as the basis for the final bit in his show. He claimed to have “Summertime” ringing in his ear since Will Smith slapped him on live TV. He mentioned how he watches Emancipation, in which Smith plays a slave, “just to see him get whooped.”
Rock even fumbled the punchline of one of his jokes, mistakenly referencing the aforementioned Apple TV+ drama instead of Will Smith’s film Concussion. This reminded many that this special was truly live, for if it wasn’t, that gaffe would’ve been smoothed over in the editing room. With Rock on camera for millions to see, all he could do was admit his mistake and tell the joke again. The show must go on when everyone is watching. Rock is no stranger to that feeling.
But Selective Outrage should be more noteworthy than for the fact that Rock addresses one of the infamous moments in TV history. It’s a blisteringly funny special as Rock’s tone cycles between justified anger at the hypocrisy of armchair politics to hilarious tidbits of reflection in the form of personal anecdotes about his and his daughters’ lives following his divorce. Dressed in a matching white T-shirt and jeans, Rock addresses the title early, noting how certain celebrities get preferential treatment in the eyes of the public despite committing similar crimes. Consider Michael Jackson and R. Kelly, he says at one point. “Same crime… one of em just got better songs!”
Rock adds that when shopping at a mall recently, he saw a sign at Lululemon that said they don’t support racism, sexism, homophobia, or bigotry. They also sell $100 yoga pants. “Most people,” he says, would “prefer $25 racist yoga pants.” Some of his tirades prompted awkward laughter from audience members. “You can’t tell any of these jokes at work, motherf***er!”
Throughout Selective Outrage, Rock feels like he’s been prepping for this moment for 365 days. He was in the middle of a tour throughout the United States when Will Smith clocked him at the Oscars, and he was back on stage at Boston the following night. He didn’t take any time off work. He also made clear at his shows that he wouldn’t address “the Slap” till further notice. I thought it was a wise career-move. Shortly after last year’s Oscars, I opined on my podcast that Rock should get his agent to communicate with Netflix about a stand-up special where he’d finally address the matter. A stopped clock is right twice a day.
Rock remains a master of the standup comedy formula. He’s a ball of energy that’s both eloquent and manic, and his delivery remains sharp whether he’s jabbing Snoop Dogg — “the last thing I need is another mad rapper” — or saying Kris Jenner is like a Black grandmother who will “fix you up a plate” whether you’re a bipolar rapper or a controversial NBA player. Selective Outrage has a similar energy as his previous standup specials, including the ones that made him, such as Bring the Pain and Bigger & Blacker. The stakes might’ve been higher, and the incident that spawned the event might’ve reentered the forefront of our minds, but Rock, once again, didn’t buckle under pressure. And he probably never will.
NOTE: Chris Rock: Selective Outrage is available to stream on Netflix.
Directed by: Joel Gallen.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!