Chris Rock and Marlon Wayans put up game changing specials last week. One for Marlon Wayans, and one for Netflix and for Stand-up. The Chris Rock special did more for Netflix than it did for Chris. Not that Rock didn’t hit it out of the park, because he did. One hundred percent.
CHRIS ROCK’S AGENDA
It’s not that Rock didn’t have some mettle to settle. Boxes to check off. He checked them all off. One by one. Beautfully. Here at a street level, he capped off months and months of some serious hard work, touring and club hopping, molding, working, re-working and re-shaping to put together a sharp, brave, edgy, contemporary special. One with teeth. A piece that had danger to it. One that could show himself he was still Chris Rock. That would show the world he was still pound for pound one of the best satirist of modern culture we’ve ever had.
After taking some time off acting, and after what I personally thought, and understood why, was some ducking and covering to the wild winds of culture, and a bit of the playing to the trained seals and going with the grain in Tamborine, which was the opposite of what has made him great in the past, I think he needed and wanted to be brave. Bold. A shit-stirrer.
By the way, this was before the ‘slap’ stuff. This was where he was going before all of that. His eye was on this prize before Will Smith and the Academy members dissed him and the art and craft of stand-up in a way that should never, ever, be forgiven or forgotten. This was a huge win here for Rock. This was like a heavyweight champ getting the belt back again after getting T-boned by a drunk driver or something.
BEYOND WILL SMITH
The win for this special, to me, had very little to do with the Will Smith sizzle and the social media bake-off that came after it. If anything the win for that can go in Robbie Praw, the Netflix stand-up bosses, column. He and his team did an amazing job on this one, which I’ll discuss later. The win for Chris had very little to do with Will Smith’s meltdown. Almost nothing. The bounty Chris gets out of this special and the tour he’s been on, the eight nights at the Dolby in LA, crushing it at the O2 in London, all over Europe, will be the final settling in comfortable forever on the shelf alongside of Pryor, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and most likely Dave Chappelle. Go backstage at one of Chris’s shows and see the galaxy of superstars from Paul McCartney on down who line up afterwards to kiss the ring. He’s there now, at a rare level, and he’s never leaving. There’s a lot of comics these days that are hot. And they are hot. No doubt. They’re selling tickets. A lot of tickets, and it’s damn hard to get there, but to get where Chris has now landed, what this special has done, what the work has brought, it’s another level. The numbers drop off drastically after this point.
THE WORK ETHIC
I’ll hit this one more time because everyone who’s been reading this blog since I started it last year knows that to me it’s everything. Rock works harder than the rest of them. He just does. I’ve seen it for years. He takes it so serious. If you’re a young comic and you’re wondering what’s the secret sauce there, it’s that he’s just always had an amazing work ethic. That goes for everyone who I’ve seen beat the pack. They just write more, get up more, rewrite more, study it more, think about it more, and analyze it closer. Rock, Chappelle, Sandler, Leno, Louis, Seinfeld, Burr, Gervais, Cummings, Rogan, Neal Brennan, Damon Wayans these are some obsessed fucking people. Freaks actually, and Chris Rock is probably, on some level, the premiere freak of the bunch. You think golfers put the time in? Athletes? Could be that they do, but not more time than the comic greats. Not more time than Chris Rock.
If you haven’t watched that special, go watch it now. If you have, watch it again. First off, I can rattle off at least thirty minutes of A level stuff I saw in LA and London that he didn’t do because he had too much stuff. There’s so many well thought out pieces on life today. As a man. A father. A black man. Things even a black man isn’t supposed to say. (A throwback to the old Chris Rock. To the Bring the Pain Chris Rock.) Things any man isn’t supposed to say in the new post Harvey Weinstein world. Yet he can say them because he’s found the funny. Found the humor that we couldn’t. He took the time, had the talent, scooped out the comedy. He gets to say the stuff you’re not supposed to say. Those are the rules. If you don’t like them, stand outside in the cold and protest while the comic is onstage making everyone else laugh. Just please, don’t try to change the rules. (*Everyone else; Don’t try to pretend those aren’t the rules, or that any comic has ever been cancelled for anything other than stuff he’s said off-stage.)
Rock’s set list in Selective Outrage is daring at the same time it’s personal, and revelatory. It speaks absolutely to this moment in time we’re living in. Parenting in this moment. Dating in this moment. Being alive right now. It’s precision paced and flawlessly put together in the manner and style of George Carlin’s best hours. Disciplined and formal. Thematic even without have a bone marrow point or motif other than that of the selective outrage. I think the cap-off of the final Will Smith stuff, which as far as I can tell was a late add-in, not in the shows I saw, yet simply organic and real, needed, and what he felt. What the audience wanted, what was deserved. A nice topping on an amazing cake that was brought out to celebrate this moment in a remarkable career.
STAND-UP SPECIALS GET A BREATHER (OR DO THEY?)
Robbie Praw and his team at Netflix truly do need applause for pulling off what they did. They made a stand-up special, which has sadly become a very tired event, an ubiquitous hour of television, streaming, cable, and internet, and somehow successfully pumped pageantry and life into it in a unique way. I think Chris’s stature and the Will Smith of it all obviously helped, but the brilliance of the before and after show at the iconic Comedy Store, using just the right version of stand-ups from past, present, and future to comment, tease, and play, was perfect. It turned it into not so much of a prize fight or an awards event, but a major moment in stand-up history. The first ever live streamed stand-up special that needed to be lionized and canonized with adulation, flattery, and also equal parts mischief and mayhem, by a handful of comic rascals. It somehow came off perfectly.
GOD LOVES MARLON WAYANS
At just about the same time, HBO dropped a Marlon Wayans special that was a true game changer. From Marlon comes an amazing piece of work from someone who’s not really known as a stand-up. Someone more known as a comic actor, film-maker, even sometime dramatic actor. A member of an iconic entertainment family. A loveable, funny little charming guy that’s been in show business since the doctor pulled him out of his mother’s thing a magjingy, slapped his ass and made him cry. I love Marlon. I’ve known him for years, and I think the world of him. He’s just a first class guy. I’m so happy about this special.
I’ll say it again but anyone who sees this special, and you should if you call yourself a fan of stand-up, will see Marlon Wayans in a different light, so it is a game changer. This is so much growth for Marlon as a stand-up. Not that he wasn’t good. He’s always been too talented not to be ‘good,’. The family has it in their genes. But Damon is the one that stuck it out in stand-up. Damon. Shawn. Damon, jr. Keenan, I don’t think has done it in years. Marlon let it go for a long time. Trust me. It’s not easy to come back.
This was a stretch. This was a big shot, This could have gone really south. Deep south. It didn’t. This is funny, and damn fresh. Truly different. Unique. That’s so hard to do in a stand-up special.
ONE ISSUE. ONE TOPIC. THE WHOLE SPECIAL.
This whole special is about the Chris Rock/ Will Smith slap-dust up. The entire special. From Marlon’s point of view. That takes a special kind of narcissism, yes, but that’s what some great art is about. How does what’s happening in the world look through the artists eyes? Marlon takes this event we all had opinions on, serious opinions on, about three people Chris, Will and Jada, that Marlon’s known so well for years, and tells some seriously funny stories and truths, that reveal so much about Marlon and life in Hollywood. At the same time, it’s nothing about Hollywood or show business. It’s at the end, in a full circle, a wonderfully told story about acceptance, faith, love, and the foolishness of coveting any life but your own. A story about gratitude and love, acceptance. Really. It’s about what way you want to perceive the world.
It’s a spiritual piece of work with every dick joke he could muster. No laugh left off the stage. He goes for it in the true brand of Marlon Wayans, just honestly, taken up a notch in terms of cleverness in the writing, (hell I’d say several notches). There’s so much growth here. You see and feel, come to understand the reverence he has for Chris Rock and his older brothers, and even Will Smith, but to me the great joy is that he’s grown so much as a performer and writer and come to respect the audience and the art form in such a way that he would push himself in this direction. Allow himself to be this honest and this real. Trust that the end result would be so funny. So relatable. So charming.
THE WORK ETHIC
This is another one that couldn’t be short sheeted. There was no way to put this together the easy way. He just had to find it, then work it out. Beat by beat by beat. It’s hard work. Things have to change, move, once one thing works it makes another thing not work. Then to think it would lay out and hold still for a full special? And to put it onto a God motif and bring the things he brings back and forth back again, and again, it’s really a lot or work, and scary. I don’t think I’d have the balls to do it. In fact, sadly, I know I wouldn’t.
It comes off pretty great though. I don’t remember anyone else doing anything quite like this. Then to release it at the same time as Chris’s special? To go up against one of the greatest comedians of all time with this special? Wow. You have to see this. If you love stand-up. This one’s a winner not only because it’s funny, but also because it’s a real ‘special’. It’s something so different. Not a play, not a one man theatre piece. No, it’s stand-up. Highly charged and joke strapped. That’s why I love it so much, that and because it’s someone taking a shot and scoring. Yes, it’s a game -changer. Marlon Wayans is a true fucking stand-up now. He’s in the game. What he wants to do with it is anyone’s guess, but he’s in it.
I’m really curious what you think of ‘God Loves Me’, but I do know he loves Marlon Wayans.
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