Chris Rock: Tamborine

Image Courtesy of Netflix

Image Courtesy of Netflix

By Peter Pribyl Pierdnock

A decade stands between Chris Rock’s two most recent stand-up specials. 2008’s Kill The Messenger was bold and confident, like a victory parade after an illustrious career as an apotheosized comedian. 2018’s Tamborine feels more subdued, like Chris came home after the parade and told some friends a few jokes. The venue itself is a lot smaller— Brooklyn’s Academy Of Music’s intimate auditorium further embodies of the essence of an after-parade setting. Rock himself is also subdued, coming on stage with a black T-shirt and worn-out jeans, standing against a soft brown backdrop. In time where contemporaries are performing in giant arenas with huge, changing LED displays as backdrops, Rock contradicts.

And it works. The 53-year-old comedian delivers a special that is complemented by the subtleness of everything that is not one of his jokes (the venue, the audience, his outfit, etc.), and it allows him to set the stage for an incredibly personal second half. This subtle side of Rock is in part brought out by Bo Burnham, a meticulous stand-up comedian who Rock enlisted to direct Tamborine. Burnham matches Rock’s material effortlessly as a director: as Rock gets up close and personal with his anecdotes, the camera gets even closer, and the viewer is presented with an intimate close-up that provides expressional supplements to what Rock is sharing.

However, this is not to say that Rock gave up on being edgy; the sharp comedian stayed true to himself with brash, outrageous, and  brilliantly refined jokes immersed in sensitive topics. His very first joke of the special is, “You would think that the cops would occasionally shoot a white kid, just to make it look good,” and then he proceeds to dive headfirst into material surrounding racism, police brutality, and the justice system. While remaining humorous throughout, his jokes are both provocative and full of veracity; “The American justice system should be like Walmart…, if you can find a lighter sentence, we’ll match it!” The first half of his special is chock-full of quintessential Chris Rock— daring, provocative, fresh, and absurdly hilarious.

The second half of his hour-long special is personal and strikingly honest. Rock opens up about raising his children, relationships, cheating, his divorce, and the custody battle for his kids. In regards to relationships, Rock provides genuine insight that borders on the line between comedy and advice, like when he muses on missing significant others. Rock cracks, “You can’t miss nobody in 2018. Not really. You can say it, but you don’t really miss a motherfucker, ‘cause you with them all the time. They in your fucking pocket,” and then elaborates with a brilliant point about how smartphones and social media have led to a disintegration of separation between couples. Moments like these are the reason Tamborine is impressionable, and they’ll be the ‘jokes’ that linger in the minds of the viewers the next day.

Steven Norwalk