Poffy The Cucumber


Chris Rock – or Styx?

Bang the Tamborine Slowly…

Chris Rock is back! In TAMBORINE, Rock’s 6th standup Special, his pace is a little less panther, his delivery a little less clipped, his demeanor a little less arrogant. The interim since his last Special (KILL THE MESSENGER, 2008) has robbed him of some electric youth and vitality, not least through the hard life lessons learned in a divorce, and becoming a better man for it. But was it good for his comedy? Uh…

This Netflix Special, which includes a large segment of Rock discussing his divorce, ironically premieres on Valentine’s Day. Directed by standup prodigy Bo Burnham and filmed at Brooklyn’s Academy of Music, TAMBORINE is reportedly part of a two-fer, reminding us of Dave Chappelle’s triumphant return in the same Netflixian manner.

A rock god lightshow heralds Rock’s entrance, and he immediately slaps us upside de head: “You would think a cop would occasionally shoot a white kid just to make it look good.” The panther may have calmed, but the controversy engine is spouting razor blades. His first “nigger” is two minutes in. With that cheeky smile that, funnily enough, looks like Henry Cavill’s CGI-painted philtrum.

Topics include: the police, religion, gun control (funny how those topics are evergreen; watching anyone in America commenting from years ago, you truly don’t realize which school shooting they are referring to!); the American justice system, school bullies (and how we NEED bullies to prepare us for the assholes of the world, “Pressure makes diamonds”). He includes a callback from his 2004 Special, NEVER SCARED, that he “kept his daughter off the pole” (i.e. been a good father), adding that counselors should stop telling American kids they can “be anything they wanna be.” How about “You can be anything you’re good at, as long as they’re hiring.

He uses bullies to lead seamlessly into the now-perfunctory Trump jokes. “Because you got rid of all the bullies, when a real bully came along, nobody knew how to handle him!” Like Dave, Rock intimates that “Trump might work out,” but unlike Dave, it’s not because he wishes the white supremacist the best and wants to give him a chance; Rock is commenting on the arc of history: “Bush was so bad that people said, ‘Hey, maybe this black guy has the answers’” (adding that people overlook George Bush’s contribution to black history), and that Trump’s incendiary failure might spawn the advent of Jesus himself…


Eddie taught us about divorce and “Half!” Chris didn’t listen.

These days, Rock’s “Whitey rage” reads a little inauthentic, simply because – as he reminds us – he’s rich. And he’s been reminding us he’s rich for a loooong time (at least as far back as BIGGER AND BLACKER: “There ain’t a white man in this room that would change places wid me – and I’m rich!) He tells us how he’s been prepping his kids since birth for dealing with the white man – but his kids were born to a rich man, not a black man… Yes, the black man’s experience is a singular stain on Western society that cannot be authoritatively critiqued by anyone not experiencing the same bigotry, so I am blowing smoke as a green cucumber in minimizing Rock’s experience; nonetheless, he doesn’t look like he really and truly means it these days when he’s cussing out Whitey. Don’t take my word for it; compare the two eras. It’s night and day. Or… ahem… black and white.

It’s not “compelling” viewing. If you were to catch a snippet of any routine from any of Rock’s previous Specials, you would take a seat and ride that bucking bronco to its conclusion, they are that riveting. TAMBORINE seems like you could walk past a TV showing it, and it would look like just another standup routine by just another comic, so you would keep walking. It’s good when you listen, but there’s nothing to hook you if you’re passing through.

The obvious feature of the show is Rock’s divorce. After 16 years of marriage. It’s a sad segment of the show, and also, a cathartic one for Chris. We feel he wants to talk about this, so we listen. Like every comedian, he self-therapies on stage; he confesses, he takes blame, he derides his weaknesses, he self-flagellates, and finally, utters wisdom learned during the demeaning process: “Love hard – or get the fuck out.” He compares being married to being in a band: even if you’re the tambourine player, you play the fuck out of it. He even sneaks in a callback to his “big piece o’ chicken” (from BIGGER AND BLACKER). Ultimately, we feel that he cleanses himself to move forward, as the Prince song Tamborine funks the credits.

Maybe the panther will be back – but in the next Special…


ChrisRockTamborine_titleCHRIS ROCK: TAMBORINE (Feb 2017) TV-MA
Director: Bo Burnham.
Writer: Chris Rock.
Starring: Chris Rock.
TAMBORINE premiered on February 14, 2018, on Netflix.
Word Count: 800     No. 1,367
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