Chris Rock Blusters His Way Through Selective Outrage

Comedy Reviews Chris Rock
Chris Rock Blusters His Way Through Selective Outrage

Comedians love to tell people not to take themselves too seriously, but then the intros to their specials look like the beginning of a dramatic sports documentary or chilling exposé. Shot in black and white with stabs of piano and muffled percussion in the background, Chris Rock’s new special Selective Outrage is no exception. This paradox—between the guy saying it’s all just jokes but then claiming to be a wise truth teller—stands at the center of Rock’s new hour.

Sorry, I should say 70 minutes, which may not sound that long, but when you’re dealing with a bloated sermon interspersed with flashes of humor, it sure feels long. Sermon feels more appropriate than stand-up special because Rock’s self-aggrandizing stage presence and all-white get-up both seem borrowed from a hip megachurch preacher. 

“I’m gonna try to do a show tonight without offending nobody,” Rock says to kick off the show. The line sets a well-trodden tone for the night: he’s going to be edgy! Cancel culture watch out! Jesus, I’m bored of old millionaires pretending they have anything interesting to say. 

Rock explains the special’s title, Selective Outrage, as the hypocritical manner in which people approach the world, whether tweeting about social justice on iPhones created under horrific working conditions or continuing to listen to Michael Jackson while condemning R. Kelly. And he has a point—we’re all hypocrites in our own special ways—but then fails to delve further into the concept, instead using it to cherry pick moments where he thinks selective outrage is at play (surprise, surprise, he applies it to the slap from last year’s Oscars). It’s all surface level, all flash. 

Selective Outrage ends up feeling incredibly dated from the outset. “The biggest addiction in America is attention,” Rock declares, going on to grumpily shout about likes on social media à la Andy Rooney. According to Rock, there are four ways to get attention on social media: 1) show your ass, 2) be infamous, 3) be excellent, or 4) be a victim. His first point detours into some predictable slut shaming, as well as a Blac Chyna name drop. (Later on, he jokes that the Kardashians welcome Black people into their family, despite their treatment of Chyna clearly being the opposite. Rock is no stranger to misogynoir, though, so this rewriting of history is par for the course.) 

Rock has some funny jokes about white men claiming they’re victims—particularly regarding the January 6 Capitol attack—but it’s also nothing you haven’t seen before on Twitter or elsewhere. There’s just a real lack of originality here. Case in point: he has a Meghan Markle joke about her not realizing she married into the family that invented colonialism, a bit that Niles Abston did, but better

He never turns his critical eye inward, and that’s honestly where the most compelling comedy comes from. For example, he talks about spoiling his kids rather than trying to keep them grounded. Sure, whatever, that’s his prerogative. Then when his daughter is in danger of being expelled from a fancy school and all the other rich parents lawyer up to keep that from happening, Rock calls the dean and tells him to expel his daughter anyway in order to humble her. At no point in this anecdote does Rock examine how he played a role in his daughter needing to be humbled. Nope, he just pats himself on the back—and claims that this special is the first time his daughter and ex-wife will find out he was behind the expulsion. Woof.

Like any well-established cis dude doing stand-up, Rock of course has to comment on trans people. He claims to be an ally, and then goes on to stereotype and flatten the experiences of trans people, particularly trans women. It’s predictable and awful.

If you want to see a 58-year-old man calling women “pussy,” then Selective Outrage is going to tick that box for you. Rock talks about how he likes dating women 10 to 15 years younger than him because they’re less expensive to date than women his age… then goes on to talk about the comparative ease of seeing a 25 year old. I know math’s not everyone’s strong suit, but that’s 18 years younger than a woman actually 15 years his junior.

Throughout the special, Rock drops little hints about Will Smith slapping him at the 2022 Oscars, but of course he saves that bit until the very end. Rock still doesn’t seem to understand that his joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia was shitty. Not only that, but his jokes about the Oscars incident are straight up incompetent. He talks about his comparative size to Smith, saying that even he played a zebra (in Madagascar) compared to Smith’s shark in Shark Tale—even though Smith actually played some little fish called a Bluestreak cleaner wrasse. The special had to be edited because Rock mixed up Emancipation and Concussion, too. Call me nit-picky, but when you’re performing at that level you should actually know your shit. Instead of a comedy special, Selective Outrage turns out as over an hour of Rock blustering and airing his grievances.

Selective Outrage is now streaming on Netflix.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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