It’s been ten years since Chris Rock released an hour-long comedy special. To say that decade was eventful, both for the world at large and for Rock personally, would be a drastic understatement. Donald Trump is president. Rock is divorced. Police are shooting unarmed black children in the streets. Rock’s close friend Louis C.K. is as close to excommunicated from Hollywood as one can be without having to walk around in the stocks while villagers throw old fruit at you.
In Chris Rock: Tamborine, which debuted Wednesday on Netflix, Rock doesn’t shy away from all (but one) of these topics. If you’re hoping he’ll address his longtime collaborator’s admitted sexual misconduct — if you’re hoping he’ll talk about how C.K. pressured female comedians to watch or listen to him masturbate — you’re going to be disappointed. Still, the second half of this surprisingly intimate, modest special delves deeply into the uncomfortable territory of Rock’s divorce from his ex-wife, Malaak Compton, his infidelity, and his addiction to pornography. The thread that ties this all together is Rock’s comparing marriage to being in a band and sometimes having to play the titular tambourine. This is not the strutting Chris Rock of Bring the Pain, grinning as though the act of telling his jokes is getting away with something monumental. This is a melancholy, lonely Chris Rock trying to make sense of where he went wrong. In between these meditations are some pretty great jokes, the best of which have been reproduced below.
On police shootings
You’d think every once in a while the cops would shoot a white kid just to make it look good. You’d think they’d look at their dead nigga calendar and go, “Oh my god, we’re up to 16. We gotta shoot a white kid quick.” “Which one?” “Ah, the first you see singing Cardi B.” Honestly, I wanna live in a world with real equality. I want to live in a world where an equal amount of white kids are shot every month. An equal world. I wanna see white mothers on TV cryin’, standin’ next to Al Sharpton, talkin’ about “We need justice for Chad! We need justice for Chad! He was just coming home from racquetball practice!”
The first half of Tamborine is mostly taken up with classic Rock material pointing out the hypocrisy and imbalance of race relations in America. The sentiments and the imagery are provocative — only a master like Rock could make dead children funny — but it occasionally feels like he’s trying to get through this stuff because he knows the audience expects him to weigh in. The Trump bits later fall into this same category. As rote as it might be, it still works, because it’s Chris Rock threading the needle without breaking a sweat.
On the police
I don’t think they pay cops enough. I don’t think they pay police enough. And you get what you pay for. Here’s the thing, man. Whenever the cops gun down an innocent black man, they always say the same thing. “Well, it’s not most cops. It’s just a few bad apples. It’s just a few bad apples.” Bad apple? That’s a lovely name for murderer. That almost sounds nice. I’ve had a bad apple. It was tart, but it didn’t choke me out. Here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I know being a cop is hard. I know that shit’s dangerous. I know it is, okay? But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like … pilots. Ya know, American Airlines can’t be like, “Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.”
The comparison to pilots is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” common-sense moments that elicit as many claps as they do laughs. Rock has always been adept at telling his audiences what they already know while still making it entertaining.
On the justice system
Some say young black men are an endangered species. That’s not true, because endangered species are protected by the government. You got to punch your black son in the fucking face. Hard. Yeah, I said it. On Netflix, I said that shit. It’s important that your black son follow your instructions. It’s the difference between life and death. Okay? Okay? ’Cause we got a crazy justice system out here. We got a justice system for rich and for poor, for black, for white. We got a justice system where two people can do the exact same crime, in the exact same place, at the exact same time and get a different sentence. Only in America. We gotta change this justice system. Yo, the American justice system should be like Walmart. It should be just like Walmart. “Hey, if you can find a lighter sentence, we’ll match it!”
That first line is probably the best of the whole special. It’s so good, in fact, that I had to convince myself I hadn’t read it on Twitter before. (I hadn’t.) The material before and after it are a superfluous setup and tag about training kids to be wary of anything white through an increasingly cruel series of tricks. It’s Bernie Mac–esque and doesn’t fully work, but it’s all worth it for that one line.
On Donald Trump and George W. Bush
That’s how Trump became president. We got rid of bullies. A real bully showed up and nobody knew how to handle him. Shit. The cast of The Apprentice is running the world. Trump, the daughter, Omarosa — they run the world, man. Yo, this shit is crazy. A lot of people are like, “Well, Trump’s a bad person. He’ll get his.” You know, some people never get theirs. Some people just fail up. People are like, “What goes around, comes around.” No, it don’t. Sometimes, it’s just keeps goin’ around. Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to Trump. Nothing’s gonna happen to Trump. Here’s the crazy thing — it just might work out. Trump might work out. I said it. Trump might work out. Think about it this way. Bush was so bad, he gave us Obama. You forget that shit, don’t ya? Bush was so bad, people said, “Maybe this black guy has the answers.” I think people overlook George Bush’s contributions to black history. George Bush is a black revolutionary. Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, George Bush. They need to honor him at the Essence Festival. It might work out. Trump might work out. Bush was so bad, he gave us Obama. Trump’s so bad, he’ll give us Jesus. “Jesus, what you doin’ here?” “You seen Trump? This shit is serious.”
And now we come to the political portion of the hour. It’s hard to say anything unique about Trump because (1) every comedian, humorist, satirist, or snarky blogger on the planet writes a new Trump joke every hour, and (2) new Trump-related insanity hits the 24-hour news crawl so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to stay current with a special taped months ago, hence the now-dated Omarosa reference. Rock does a fine job dancing around it and targeting the Bush idea. The image of George W. Bush at the Essence Festival is a banger.
Religion’s like salt. A little’s good. Too much will fuck up the meal. I mean, I’m basically trying to find God before God finds me. But God never finds you at a good time. You’re never sittin’ courtside at a Knick game gettin’ a hand job from Halle Berry, God shows up. “Ah, she strokes a good dick, don’t she? I made her! I made your dick, too. Enjoy the game!”
For someone seeking absolution through confessional comedy, it’s not surprising that Rock would touch on religion. Tellingly, he spins it into a sex gag, which makes even more sense as Tamborine progresses.
People say “Relationships are tough.” No, they’re not. They’re only tough when one person’s working on it. That’s right. Two people can move a couch real easy. One person can’t move it at all. If you’re in a relationship, let me try to help you. Let me try to fuckin’ help you. Rule one: Stop competing. It’s not a fucking competition. Her success is your success and your success is her success. Stop competing. Stop it, okay? Number two — number two, okay? — there is no equality in a relationship. It’s like, “We equals.” No, you’re not. You’re both there to serve. You are in the service industry, okay? When you’re in a relationship, you’re in a band. You’re in a fuckin’ band. And when you’re in a band, you have roles that you play in the band. Sometimes, you sing lead. And sometimes, you’re on tambourine. And if you’re on tambourine, play it right. Play it right. Play it with a fuckin’ smile, because no one wants to see a mad tambourine player. If you’re gonna play the tambourine, play it right. Play it with your ass.
This is the point in the special where all the married men silently nod and make a mental note to smile more at home. Like everything in the back half of Tamborine, this bit is full of palpable regret, like a visitor from the future warning the world of imminent danger. Also, it makes me feel bad for anyone who had to play the tambourine in a band. Chris Rock took a real big dump on you, but there’s nothing you can do about it, because you’re just a tambourine player.
I was married for 16 years. I was married for 16 years. Yes. That was a long run. Hamilton won’t last for 16 years. I was married for 16 years in the era of the cell phone, which means my 16 years is actually longer than my parents’ 40. In 16 years, I had more contact with my ex-wife than my parents had in 40 years. Okay? My father used to leave for work at 6:30 in the morning and come home at 8:30 at night. And during the day, he and my mother had absolutely no contact at all. None, okay? That’s what a relationship used to be. The kids could have been dead, but he wouldn’t have found out until he got home. “The kids are dead.” “What time did they die?” “Eight hours ago.” “Damn, I missed it.” And you know what else? They actually missed each other. They actually missed each other. You can’t miss nobody in 2017. Not really. You can say it, but you don’t really miss the motherfucker, because you’re with them all the time. They in your fuckin’ pocket. As soon as you leave, you get a fuckin’ text. You get a ping. You get a beep. You get a fuckin’ Facebook. You get an Instagram. You get a fuckin’ FaceTime. And then your woman says, “You act like you don’t wanna talk.” What the fuck are you talkin’ about? I know everything you did today and I know how people felt about it. I gave you five likes, bitch. I gave you three smiley faces and an eggplant.
One of the best observations of the entire hour is the very real sense of suffocation and helplessness that comes with having to communicate with your significant other all day long. What initially seems like a blessing can quickly turn into a burden, because you never have a moment to yourself. Then again, it doesn’t have to be a spouse on the other end — it could just be a news alert or a Facebook message or any number of things. It’s a bit of scapegoating to lay blame on a device most of us choose to carry around, but most of us do choose to carry iPhones around. So, it’s another one of those common-sense bits filtered through Rock’s prism.
I was not a good husband. I was fucked-up. I was addicted to porn. I know, billion-dollar industry, just me, right? I was addicted to porn and, you know, I was 15 minutes late everywhere. I got some witnesses. When you watch too much porn, you know what happens? Here’s what happens. You become sexually autistic. You develop sexual autism. You have a hard time with eye contact and verbal cues. You want everything to be routine. It’s like, you can’t choke your woman every night. You gotta mix it up. Choke Out Thursdays. What happens when you watch too much porn is you get desensitized. When you start watching porn, any porn’ll do. “Ah, they’re naked. Woo-hoo.” Then, later on, you’re all fucked-up. And you need is a perfect porn cocktail to get you off. I was so fucked-up, I need an Asian girl with a black girl’s ass that speaks Spanish just to get my dick to move an inch. I’m a lot better now.
Rock spent the past year testing out this material and discussing his reliance on pornography, so these are not bombshell revelations for anybody who keeps up with such things, but it still lands hard when he begins confessing his sins. The bit about “Choke Out Thursdays” certainly doesn’t sit well in the current climate, though it illuminates where his mind was (and probably still is) when it comes to sexual expression. That kind of role-playing isn’t at all abnormal, but combined with the lack of response to sexual assault and rape cases in Hollywood, it makes the line a missed opportunity.
I’m a fuckin’ asshole, man. I wasn’t a good husband. I wasn’t a good husband. I didn’t listen. I wasn’t kind. True, true. I had an attitude. I thought, “I pay for everything, I can do what I want.” That shit don’t fuckin’ work. I didn’t play the tambourine. You gotta play the tambourine. Everybody gotta play the tambourine. I cheated. Yeah, I’m serious. I’m not bragging. I’d go on the road, end up sleeping with three different women. It’s, like, fucked-up. When guys cheat, we want something new. But then your woman finds out, and now she’s new. She’s never the same again. So, now you got new, but you got bad new. You got bad fuckin’ new, man. Every woman in here is like, “Fuck you, Chris. I thought you was all right. You? Come on, Chris. What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck is wrong with men?” Every woman in here is thinking that and every guy in here is going, “Three? That’s it? Just three? Goddamn, nigga. I work at UPS. I got more hos than that. Three? You must have really loved your wife. You’re a romantic.”
All that transparency leading up to the punch line ends up working in service of an observation that doesn’t quite absolve Rock of what he did, but it does say, “Hey, every guy thinks about this kind of stuff. Some of them even act on it.” Whether or not that’s factual is beside the point. The point is that, even in his darkest hour, Chris Rock is not alone.