Our newest columnist, Vito Calise, is taking on the huge task of reviewing all the comedy specials he can see. You know him from SiriusXM’s Bennington Show, The Interrobang’s Big Brothers podcast, and as the star of the first ever Instagram young adult drama series, The Halls. Born and raised on New York City’s Upper West Side, Vito went to Chelsea’s School of Visual Arts, has danced on bars as a bartender around Manhattan, operated a mechanical bull and was even a doorman for a week. And he loves comedy. And he’s taking on Chris Rock’s first stand up special in ten years- Chris Rock: Tamborine.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the amazing comeback to comedy we got from a guy like Dave Chappelle.”
I have been a fan of Chris Rock’s since I was a little kid, one of my earliest memories of watching a comedy special was my mom waking me up to watch Bigger and Blacker when I was about 7 or 8 years old and I was hooked.
I was fortunate enough to see Rock perform this material at his final show on the Blackout Tour at the Barclays Center in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York, just a few blocks away from where he would record this special, Tamborine, the BAM Theater. The night I went was the day of a snowstorm and Barclays honestly did a terrible job of getting everyone into the venue. The tickets just said 7 PM start time, not doors so people were waiting outside for a while confused if we were missing part of the show. The energy going in was great, everyone there was excited to see Chris Rock. People were talking outside and wondering who his openers would be, speculating based on who his Madison Square Garden openers were and others from around the tour. Unfortunately, when Jeff Ross, the first opener came onstage, the audio was terrible and we could barely understand him. The same went for the second opener, from HBO’’s Insecure. Yvonne Orji. People were actually yelling out we can’t hear you, the echo was just unbearable and we were all checking with each other and freaking out that we wouldn’t be able to hear Chris Rock. All turned out well though, once Chris hit the stage he was crystal clear and the energy in the room was insane. The audio problems from before had everyone even more excited to hear him just seconds before and exploded when he hit the stage.
Then they took our phones away, which I had previously experienced when I saw Dave Chappelle at Radio City and am a very big fan of. People, give up your phones for the night and do not complain about it. It gets you more into the show and focused on what you’re there to see…comedy. When someone laughs it helps everyone in the area laugh more and when nobody is distracted by their cell phones they’re paying attention and catching the jokes.
Now, for the Netflix version itself, Chris Rock does not wait a second to get into social issues. It’s a smart move considering he has enough fame that he’ll have the audience on his side for the first 5 minutes because like me, they’re thinking “whoa it’s Chris Rock”. It’s a genius move from a comedy veteran that knows audiences can be super uptight in this day and age, if you’re going to make a joke about black kids getting shot and say you “want an equal amount of white kids shot”, do it right off the top. Let them know that’s the kind of show they’re at while they’re still on your side. Rock also does an amazing job of not making his take seem like the end all be all answer to everything but delivers it calm and cool so you feel like it’s just what’s on his mind.
He then does a hard pivot into talking about raising his kids, even referencing his 2004 “Never Scared” special by saying he “kept her off the pole”. The first few minutes of the special seemed so calm for a Chris Rock show it seemed like we were going to see a completely different version of him but no, once he goes into his “whiter drills” bit where he teaches his daughters how to deal with white people we get that iconic Chris Rock cadence. You know the cadence, it’s where the real punchline of the joke is him repeating the punchline in a crazier tone. The rest of the first half of the special focuses on Trump, because it’s a 2018 comedy show and it’s like you can’t have a show without bringing the topic. The good news is that his take works and he isn’t just telling you the same old shit you hear every night on late night CBS and NBC up and then a hilarious bit about religion and religious extremism. It doesn’t attack or defend any specific religion which would alienate some people, Rock just talks about the idea of religion and God overall.
When I saw the special he did about 90 minutes, the first hour was just a longer version of the first half, but the last 30 minutes was pretty identical to what he’s doing here for the latter half hour of his special. When you hear Chris say “I got divorced” just know this is where the rest of the special is staying. The second half is also the weaker part of the special after an incredibly strong first act. The two 30 minute segments are almost two separate specials, the name of the special even comes up 3 minutes into the half. My issue with the second half is just that some of it comes off as very basic, stuff like you need to have sex with your wife to stay together. When Chris tries to make generalizations on relationships that is where he suffers but when he’s talking about personal experiences it’s the Chris Rock magic you’re there for.
The special was directed by Bo Burnham who also directed Jerrod Carmichael’s 8. I thought Jerrod’s special was shot beautifully and came off incredibly unique. I was hoping this special would be in the same tone. It’s an incredibly different look than Rock’s other specials but not in a good way. I always felt like Chris Rock’s specials made his shows seem like they were just a blast to be at. It wasn’t about over-doing crowd reaction shots, it was just the overall vibe of the show. He had a rock star vibe on those shows, something about the lighting, the set, his wardrobe and everything in between made it seem like a show you wish you were at. This special lacked that. Maybe so many people started to copy the original style that Chris Rock would perform his material and film his special that he had to do his different but lost a lot of what made him so special.
I saw him at a basketball arena, which usually makes it harder to enjoy comedy because it’s so big but it had that rock star vibe of his old specials. The stage was big and bright, he was all over the place and running around because that’s what you want from Chris Rock, this special was pretty tight and basic shots on Rock with one shot from below that gets used a lot that may take some out of the show. Chris Rock is known for his high energy routine and how he used an entire stage for comedy, it’s all I was thinking about while watching him at Barclays. The tight shots and pale lighting actually blend the whole screen together.
Unfortunately, it’s not the amazing comeback to comedy we got from a guy like Dave Chappelle. From anyone else, this would be amazing, but from Rock, you just expect a little more. Overall it’s a very funny special and better than a good amount of the ones we continue to see. If you like Chris Rock, you’re going to like this special You don’t expect 30 minutes on how he screwed up his relationship and that he regrets it. The good news is that it is funny, you will laugh and you will make it through the entire special. There just may not be anything you’re quoting for years to come like we’ve seen from him in the past.