So I watched Chris Rock‘s live Netflix special, Selective Outrage, the other day. Honestly, I found it kind of disappointing. There were some laughs here and there, but overall, it felt sort of staid and safe. Rock opened the special by saying, ironically, that he didn’t want to offend anyone, then took aim at “controversial” targets like Lululemon, social media, widespread victimhood, and Meghan Markle — real heavy-hitting stuff.
His closing eight-minute bit in which he finally addressed The Slap and Will Smith was basically the best part, and it allowed him the opportunity to, at long last, respond to what happened at last year’s Oscars. Despite the passage of time, Rock’s anger was still palpable — and understandable. His refusal to claim the same victimhood he decried earlier in the special was admirable at the very least, and though he went after both Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, with plenty of vigor, there was still more than a little restraint in evidence, which I also thought was admirable. Quite frankly, I thought Rock could’ve gone a lot further, and no one would’ve blamed him.
However, while Rock’s standup is generally pretty solid, I find that the older and further from Bring the Pain he gets, the fewer chances he takes, and I didn’t get anything in Selective Outrage that I wasn’t expecting. There has been a predictable backlash against Rock and what he said — particularly the Will and Jada stuff — but that’s sort of absurd to me. The guy gets assaulted on global television and he’s not allowed to respond whenever he’s ready to do so? Come on.
But I’m not really here this week to revisit The Slap or review Rock’s special.
No, this is about Netflix, which made a major deal out of this special, promoting it for months via expensive ads, and when the big day arrived, the streamer made sure everyone and their mom knew that this thing was LIVE!!! Not recorded, not edited… just a comedian on a stage in Baltimore beamed out to the world in real-time the moment it happened.
The moment it happened!
Because Netflix did us the enormous favor of Inventing Live Entertainment for our happiness!
Does it seem like I’m being hyperbolic? Well, I’m not the only one. Netflix has me beat… and by a lot, too.
The streamer clearly has big future plans for live entertainment, because even if there is nothing on the immediate horizon (as far as we know), you don’t make a big deal out of something like this unless it’s the start of something more than this. You can bet there will be more live standup specials on their way — and don’t be surprised if the next big one involves a major name like Rock’s pal Jerry Seinfeld.
I have no inside information or firsthand knowledge about something like this, but the legendary sitcom star (yup! I went there) regularly sells out New York’s Beacon Theater and already has a relationship with Netflix thanks to his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series. When the streamer decides it needs another top comic to extend its burgeoning live entertainment business, do you really think it won’t throw an eight-figure check Seinfeld’s way to do it? Makes perfect sense to me, but I digress.
Once the live entertainment part of the streamer’s business model is established, what’s to prevent it from going after events like the Oscars? Or sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, or even the World Series? Nothing, really. And since Netflix’s subscription numbers have plateaued, what better way to get people to sign up than to offer them live sporting events that they won’t be able to watch anywhere else? And not just sporting events, but music festivals and, yes, comedy festivals, including its own Netflix Is a Joke festival, which is returning to Los Angeles in May 2024.
The irony of all this is that Netflix’s whole business model involved eliminating the live event in the first place. It used to be that when you wanted to watch something on television, you had to see what time it was on. I know this sounds crazy, but TV shows used to have fixed time slots when they aired, and that was the only time you could see them until they were eventually rerun many months later.
I know… insane, right?
But then Netflix came along and allowed its viewers to watch anything they wanted at any time of day. I had to explain to people that there was no time slot, no specific moment when they were required to be on their couch, they could just push a button and watch. Late at night, early in the morning, middle of the day — it didn’t matter.
This, of course, revolutionized viewing for all of us, even us old-timers who don’t like change and shout at those damn kids to get off our lawn.
But now, suddenly, Netflix sees an opportunity to “reinvent” the viewing experience all over again, offering things like exclusive aftershows that aren’t available to people who don’t watch an “event” live as an extra incentive to those who do choose to tune in rather than wait. Like, say, me. There was an aftershow following Rock’s standup concert, and I would’ve liked to see it, but since I didn’t dial up the concert until Monday evening, I missed it. It’s actually pretty smart of Netflix, because the next time they do this live thing, I’ll have to seriously weigh tuning in at the assigned time, thus breaking the habit that Netflix gave me.
All kidding — and hypocrisy — aside, I have to admit that as far as adjustments in business models go, this is a pretty interesting one, with a fair amount of upside for both Netflix, its subscribers, and a variety of different artists.
There’s another side to this, too, which is the timing. Rock’s show dropped a week before the Oscars, and I wonder whose decision that was. Rock clearly had something to do with it, and once he lined it up, I’m sure he put some more thought into just how much he was going to finally talk about Will, Jada, and the Slap Heard ‘Round the World, as it was almost certainly not lost on him that his live special would take place a week before the first Oscar telecast since The Slap and that people would spend a fair amount of time discussing it in the week between Rock’s special and the awards ceremony.
That’s a long sentence, I know, but I had a lot of ground to cover. I can’t imagine the Academy is terribly pleased about the juxtaposition of Rock’s special to its beloved awards show, especially what with Rock mentioning how Jada asked him to walk away from his hosting gig in 2016 because Will wasn’t nominated for Concussion, which, by the way, was a pretty big nugget to drop (after fumbling the joke at first — a raw moment that was removed following the live broadcast). But then, the Academy didn’t exactly cover itself with glory in regard to that incident, and Rock was entitled to take the shot he took. This didn’t feel like a bridge-burning moment, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t care about whatever the Academy or its members think. The organization may have felt like Smith’s behavior was a slap in the face that night, but Rock was the one actually slapped in the face — no one else.
Rock had every right to do what he did, and, as I mentioned above, I believe he could’ve gone even further and really “brought the pain.” The fact that he showed restraint puts him one up on Smith, and should be a reminder to others that sometimes it’s okay to take some time, get your thoughts together, and then unleash, consequences be damned.
As it happens, I don’t think there are any real consequences here, but then, I doubt Rock cares much about that, either. I just hope his next special is more than selectively funny.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.