Sunday, September 28, 2008

Save it for your therapist, Chris

I was excited to watch Chris Rock's fifth HBO special, "Kill the Messenger," which aired last night. But by the end of the 90-minute show, I was disappointed, as I was at the end of "Never Scared," the comedian's last cable effort. When Rock is stalking the stage and talking about race, politics and social issues, he is at his best: insightful, creative, and most importantly: funny as hell. But when he jokes about women and relationships, he comes off as pathological and bitter. Worse (since Rock is a comedian), the women/dating/marriage schtick is hackneyed and unfunny.

First, let me say, I'm not humorless. I'm not so wrapped up in political correctness about race or gender, that I can't find humor in the taboo. My bias is toward nuanced, layered and dry comedy. I like comics who hide message and social critique and pokes at life's absurdities among the punchlines. I like the off-kilter and the edgy. I hate broad comedy and don't get slapstick. And while I find "clean" comedy boring, I lose patience with jokes that simply parrot stereotypes or offend simply for the sake of offending. And here's a confession: I saw "Tropic Thunder" and loved it, even though I noticed all the things about it that people have found so offensive. So see, I laugh at stuff.

Back in the day, Chris Rock was one of my favorite comedians. The Chris Rock I like is the one who last night pointed out that while the handful of black people living in his tony New Jersey neighborhood (Eddie Murphy, Mary J. Blige) have exceptional careers, his white neighbor is a...dentist. Rock jokes that for a black dentist to make his way into that neighborhood, he'd have to invent teeth. Another highlight of last night's special was Rock's thoughts on the 2008 presidential election. Barack Obama is so cool and calm, Rock says, you'd think he believes a black man getting the most votes is going to mean something. After all, society has been known to change the rules when black folks are playing the game. "Good you got the most votes. Too bad you lost. We don't do it that way anymore." Rock remains one of the few comedians who can kill with observations about race that move beyond the "white people do this; black people do that" tropes.

Talking about race is where Chris Rock excels, but I understand not wanting to be ghettoized as a "race comic." Maybe that's why his last two HBO specials have seemed to include more men vs. women material. It's a pity, because his performance is weaker for it.

Early in his act, Rock explains that a black man can't be president, because a black woman can't be first lady. That's right. A black woman can be president, just not first lady. "Because a black woman cannot play the background of a relationship," says Rock. "Because it's too much work for the Secret Service," says Rock. (A black first lady would try to kill the president.) If Obama really wants to be president, Rock suggests, he ought to "get a white girl...cause a white girl will play her position." Yeah...

The stereotype of the domineering, screeching black woman (and do-whatever-you-say compliant white girl) is old and tired, and every BET ComicView act has already rode it into the ground. If pushing the angry, black woman meme counts as comedy, then someone needs to tell Rush Limbaugh that Rock has stolen his act. He painted Michelle Obama as an angry Sapphire months ago. Shouldn't a comic as talented as Rock be able to come better than a bloated, racist, Oxycontin-fiending shock jock?
Sadly, no. Throughout "Kill the Messenger," Rock never misses a chance to paint women, particularly black women, as adversaries. Much is made about women viewing men as sources of money and stuff. Rock jokes that when a woman sees something she wants, she thinks: "Who can I get to get me that?" Rock isn't saying all women are golddiggers, but we ain't messing with no broke...broke...

The idea of a man working to support a slave-driving woman seems a little musty, since most women today, well, have jobs. The act seems particularly odd as it relates to black women. Listen to CNN and black women have done too well. Our degrees, jobs and mortgages have rendered us unloveable, because black men have been left behind. What man wants a self sufficient woman who doesn't need him? (sarcasm--for those that missed it.) et listen to Rock and black women spend our lives demanding goodies from our miserable partners. Where's the "it's funny, cause it's true?"

In Chris Rock's world, women are demanding, domineering and manipulative. Marriage and committed relationships are where men go to die. It's not that I object to men poking fun at the things women do (as long as we can poke back). It's just that Rock is so relentlessly disdainful toward women in his act, casually spitting "bitches" and betraying no real affection for the opposite sex. His routine comes off as so bitter and disconnected from reality, that I often begin to wonder what trauma has left the comedian so broken. It kills the funny.

They say comedy comes from pain. Surely, many master comedians have hidden dark and troubled sides (Richard Pryor, John Belushi, etc.) Chris Rock's material about women and relationships (like that of his buddy, Bill Maher) seems to betray some deep fucked-upedness. Do a fan a favor, Chris, stick to the political and social stuff, and save the rest for a therapist.




16 comments:

ginnysthoughts said...

Greetings Tami, you said"

"What man wants a self sufficient woman who doesn't need him?"

Uh, Ne-Yo, a la Miss Independent? That was the first thing that popped into my head when when I read the quote above.

Kjen said...

I didn't see his latest special, but I remember seeing Bigger and Blacker and taking note of his jokes about men and women relationships. His jokes about the monotony and misery of marriage made it easier for me to believe that his own marriage was in trouble.

And a tangent, why is marriage always presented as this largely middle class, mind numbingly boring institution in popular culture?

Anonymous said...

I used to really love Chris Rock too! Glad I didn't see this last show. I am amazed at how bitter men are in general, and are constantly complaining about women talking their money, being the b-word, etc. etc. Black women seem to be open season with these guys.

So it's sad, because the Chris Rock I love is the one who appeared with Jesse Jackson, and actually had Jesse on the run and scared of Rock's humor.

"Martin got assassinated, JFK got assassinatined, Biggie he just got shot!" was one searing memorable line from a Chris Roch show I never forgot!

We want our real Chris to come back to us and stop attacking sisters!!

Faith said...

I cracked up at your title. I understood exactly what you meant. I wonder why he's even married. He seems like a bit of a jerk. I think those rumors of problems were true.He doesn't hold himself in high esteem and focuses on sex too much. It came up in I Think I Love My Wife as well. He'd be miserable if his wife left him. Then he'd attract all the gold diggers he complains about so much

MacDaddy said...

""What man wants a self sufficient woman who doesn't need him?" I do. Then he knows she's meeting him as an equal partner, and not as a gold digger or project...

I've been saying for a year now that, when it comes to racial issues, Rock sounds progressive. But when it comes to women, Rock sounds reactionary. And when it comes to black women, he sounds downright pathetic-- a kind of young Bill Cosby but just as stupid.

AJ Plaid said...

Hey Tami--
As always, reading my mind, friend!

I loved "Never Scared" until Rock started talking about women and relationships. Then his bitterness got to me, too. I simply couldn't laugh because I felt like I was mocking myself, my mom, my other female relatives, and my some of my female friends for our being Black and female.

You're right, Tami: he does need to save it for a therapist.

Lady C said...

I did not like Chris Rock's special. I noticed that I had stopped laughing early on. I was at the point of cringing every time Rock opened his mouth. I was truly disappointed.

Some of Rock's monologue just wasn't funny. I just thought it was mean and nasty.

At first, I decided I felt this way because of my age. Then I thought about Richard Pryor. Pryor could get pretty darn raunchy, but he never failed to bring on the funny.

Pryor made me feel that it was okay to laugh at his jokes because he somehow got the humor in his own screw ups. Rock has become cynical and at times unfunny. Pryor never lost his ability to make me laugh.

Ferocious Kitty said...

I agree, Tami, that C-Rock's latest was waaay weak, bitter, and just plain unfunny.

His art, sadly, imitates his life because the woman who forced him to take a paternity test was white and, um, not terribly attractive (not that there's anything wrong with that). So, I was surprised and disappointed to hear him so baldly joking about such black-white pairings.

tray said...

Of course we all know that a woman popped up from Chris' past accusing him of being the father of her child. They did have a relationship. More recently Chris was caught up in some drama with a woman who accused of him sexually assaulting her in a hotel room, and was subsuently black mailed by some gangster wanna-be. He did have an affair with this woman and subsequently came forward to testify against the ganster in a federal racketeering trial. So he's bitter because he's stupid and like some men can't seem to keep himself out of trouble and always trying to put blame elsewhere. I don't think it's funny to denegrate black women for the sake of comedy, especially if it's cliched. He isn't funny and his secret longing for a white woman is so apparent.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I didn't laugh that much at his jokes about women and relationships at all. While I was listening I was wondering what the hell has be been through because he sounds like he doesn't like women at all.

I have seen his wife in person. She is very attractive. I think she is out of his league and if he wasn't "Chris Rock" I don't think he could have pulled her. (Does anyone remember New Jack City? nuff Said).

brownstocking said...

I surfed in from racialicious, and I wholeheartedly agree!

Every time he said, "Yeah, I said it!" I just felt like a guantlet being thrown, or I was being slapped with a glove. It's a definite challenge. I wonder what I can do, though.

I mean, he created his problems, why blame women? I am just tired of being scapegoated every damn day.

Great blog!

Megan said...

I watched part of Rock's special and then shut it off because it wasn't funny and as you say, was very bitter when it came to women. I can't always stomach Bill Maher, but at least he's honest about not liking marriage and, he's not married! At least he's not a hypocrite.

Anonymess said...

Awesome.

Symphony said...

I haven't seen Chris Rock's stand up but it sounds like the comment about president and Black women pretty much matches up with Mo'nique's in her routine during the Queens of Comedy.

Anonymous said...

I have NEVER like Chris Rock!! He is another snide,hateful,mean-spirited,stupid,bitter,arrogant,loumouth,moronic,thoughtless FOOL black comedian who throws other black people under the bus for fame and fortune. He wouldn't make some of his so-called 'jokes' at the expense of white celebrities,famous people,politicians,performers,movie stars,rock stars,media denizens,supermodels,certain religious organizations,and reality bozos. And his further misogynistic leanings are disgusting,insulting and just plain tiresome he is NO BETTER than the people he criticizes. And placates the verrrry SAME racism he bitches about so what the hell is he compalining for what's his point?!! If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem and Rock needs to keep his 'problems' to himself.

Anonymous said...

Why is ok for these comedians to make blatant sexist jokes when it would not have been ok for them to make blatant racist jokes. Bill Maher would be getting tons of criticism if he was making racist jokes yet no criticism at all for his countless sexist jokes. Why?
Sad to say even Richard Pryor was fond of making sexist jokes.

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