Chris Rock: Selective Outrage | Review of his live Netflix special that addressed the Will Smith slap © Netflix
review star review star review star review half star review blank star

Chris Rock: Selective Outrage

Review of his live Netflix special that addressed the Will Smith slap

This is when a stand-up special becomes the news. 

Netflix may have been making a noise about Chris Rock’s Selective Outrage going out live – of limited use in the UK when it aired from the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore at 3am this morning – but the real talking point is what the comic had to say about being slapped by Will Smith at last year’s Oscars.

Since the incident, Rock has largely maintained his silence. At the time, he said: ‘I’ll get to it eventually – on Netflix.’ Well, that day has come.

That said, fans who saw him live already had a preview of some of this material. When he shared a bill with Dave Chappelle at The O2 in London, he addressed whether the assault hurt: ‘Goddam right it hurt,’ he joked. ‘The motherfucker played Ali. I played Pookie’ – the crackhead in New Jack City.

Here he expanded on that idea, noting: ‘Will Smith played Muhammed Ali in a movie! You think I auditioned for that part? Even in animation, I’m a zebra and he’s a shark,’  referring to their respective roles in Madagascar and Shark Tale. Nonetheless the slap came as a surprise: ‘I have rooted for Will Smith my whole life. Now I watch Emancipation, just to see him get whooped,’ he said of the movie in which Smith played a Civil War-era slave. 

The incident was provoked by Rock joking about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, and here the comic – who says he’ll never consider himself a victim over it – gets his revenge by wilfully refusing to keep Smith’s wife’s name out of his fucking mouth.

He talks about how Jada’s public confessions of infidelity emasculated Smith, saying: ‘She hurt him way more than he hurt me. Everybody in the world called him a bitch. Everybody! And who’s he hit? Me. A n***a he knows he can beat. That is some bitch-ass shit.’

During this routine, he fluffs one punchline – the only reminder in the whole hour that the special is being broadcast as it happens – but Rock is so slick he skips over it. In fact, the live nature of the broadcast is irrelevant – it could just as well be prerecorded, so unspontaneous is the performance. 

There’s plenty to discuss before we get to the headline-making final few minutes. Rock starts by attacking the hypocritical forces of cancel culture, opening by saying: ’I’m going to try to do a show without offending anyone… you never know who might get triggered.’ He foreshadows the Smith material: ‘Anyone who says words hurt has never been punched in the face.’

Rock’s point of view – attacking those sending out ‘woke-ass tweets on a phone made by child slaves’ or vacuous virtue-signalling from corporations such as Lululemon – isn’t the most original in his career (he even does an ‘I identify as…’ and ‘my pronouns are…’ jokes). But of course, he sells it well with those distinctive, emphatic cadences – and unlike many comics who bang this anti-PC drum, he’s not a dick about it.

He sets out his store by arguing Americans are more addicted to attention than opioids, which ties up several of his strands – including the fact that one shortcut to getting it is feigning victimhood for the slightest of slights. And yes, white men thinking they’re losing the upper hand, he means you too.

Elsewhere Rock addresses the Capitol riots, the unexpected tough-love way he tried to stop his daughter being spoiled by his wealth, and Meghan Markle – who hit ‘the light-skin lottery’ and seems surprised that the Royal Family are racists. 

There’s a bit about his personal life, wryly noting: ‘I’m trying to date women my age – which is ten to 15 years younger than me’. Younger women are less financially demanding, he argues, but older women have ‘better pussy’. That men are in thrall to a beautiful woman is a truth universally acknowledged, but again Rock makes a widely-held point in style.

Elsewhere he sails excitingly close to the wind with edgy stuff about abortion – pro-choice but not flinching from what the procedure really is – and preferring trans women to ‘original recipe’, all delivered with his trademark cocky charm that sweetens the pill.

Without the gimmicks of being live and addressing the slap incident, Selective Outrage is probably too inconsistent and too thematically familiar, to be Rock’s finest work – which is, after all, a mighty high bar. But he can still sometimes surprise with an incisive, provocative punchline and a stage energy that survives being projected through the small screen. 

Review date: 5 Mar 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.