Chris Rock’s new Netflix special is must-see TV for couples

Chris Rock (photo: Netflix)Chris Rock (photo: Netflix)

Chris Rock’s first stand-up special in a decade might seem an unlikely source of relationship guidance. But all couples—the long-term and the newly-minted—should watch “Tambourine”on Netflix. I would go so far as to suggest that it should be mandatory viewing in all diocesan Pre-Cana programs. Can someone start an online petition for that?

Rock’s segment on relationships is grounded in personal experience. While it is not the first time he has taken from his own life in his act, it is the first time he has made himself so vulnerable. His recent divorce and his own self-professed failure as a husband provide the springboard for his bits on relationships, which fill the entire second half of the one-hour special.

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Rock confesses his sins as a cautionary tale. His ego, his failed marriage, his competitiveness, his infidelity and his addiction to pornography are all explored and utilized, not so much for laughs, but for catharsis and edification, both his and our own.

“Tambourine” should be mandatory viewing in all diocesan Pre-Cana programs.

In proclaiming his failings, he underlines what he views as the keys to a successful relationship: mutuality, service and attentiveness (my words, not his). “Love hard or get the f— out,” as he puts it. Perhaps there are prettier or gentler ways of expressing this bit of wisdom, but that doesn’t take away its truth.

Rock likens being in a committed relationship to being in a band. “Sometimes you play lead, sometimes you play the tambourine. And when you play the tambourine, play it right.” Thus the title of the special.

We live in a confessional age (thanks a lot, Sylvia Plath!). What used to be content solely for the dark, wooden confines of the church confessional is now casually served up in tweets, posts and bestselling memoirs. Rock is not breaking new comedic ground, but what makes it so compelling is that he is the one who is doing it. He has built a career on being a critic. His laser-focused observation and searing commentary are delivered, while keeping his audience completely at ease, with his raspy voice and ubiquitous mischievous grin.

Rock speaks of the irreparable damage that his cheating did to his marriage.

In many ways he fits the archetypal man-boy of comedy. While never lacking depth topically, his humor traditionally stayed near the surface emotionally and personally. This does not speak to a deficiency in his previous work. Emotional depth and vulnerability were just not a part of the Rock persona.

It is this new variable, this paradigm shift, that gives the confessional element in his work its power. He speaks of the irreparable damage that his cheating did to his marriage. As he says, he cheated because he wanted “something new.” He then goes on to say that the consequence of this desire for “something new’’ is that “your woman finds out and now she’s ‘new.’ She’s never the same again. So now you’ve got new, but it’s a ‘bad new.’”

He continually refers to himself as “a bad husband,” stating that “I didn’t listen, I wasn’t kind, I thought I could do whatever I want because I made all the money. I didn’t play the tambourine.” Chris Rock is hurting for all of us to see. He is a humbled man, full of regret, in pain. It is all of his own doing, and he freely owns up to it. His cries are not the inauthentic, self-deprecating ones of a Woody Allen. There is no manipulation here, no playing of “poor me” for a laugh or for anything else—just a real man in pain.

Chris Rock is hurting for all of us to see. He is a humbled man, full of regret, in pain.

This transition, this new element of humility and vulnerability, was necessary and perhaps inevitable. Comedy is a young man’s game, and Rock is no longer young in “comedian years.”

For all its merits, “Tambourine” is not as funny as his earlier work, most specifically his seminal HBO special “Bring the Pain.” Gone is the hyperkinetic rapid-fire delivery and the stalking intensity of 20 years before, when there seemed to be an urgency to his message that his body couldn’t contain. Now his gait is more measured, and he seems less to be fuelled by high voltage synapses and more by the middle-ager’s second cup of coffee.

In that vein,“Tambourine”is less about belly laughs and more about nodding affirmations. The first half of the special is in Rock’s more traditional milieu of social commentary, as he interrogates race, bullying and religion. He begins strong. His first line of the entire piece is, “You would think…you would think…you would think the cops would shoot a white kid, just to make it look good.”

Witty? Yes. Clever? No doubt. But laugh-out-loud funny? Not so much. While his points are relevant and suitably provocative (his stance on bullying will raise more than a few eyebrows), there are others who are doing this type of comedy better right now: Dave Chapelle, Jerrod Carmichael and Michael Che, to name a few. Rock’s segment on religion is particularly unfunny, as he retreads the barren terrain of “God doesn’t make mistakes,” which works neither as a comedic bit nor a rhetorical exercise and seems beneath him and his comedic legacy.

With age, Rock has lost some of his comedic teeth—the eagerness and vitality of 20 years ago have been sanded down, undoubtedly by much success, fame and, clearly, pain. The sharp-as-a-tack man-boy of comedy has become a divorced middle-aged man. But while the laughs don’t come quite as frequently or loudly, the message goes a lot deeper.

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J Cosgrove
3 weeks 5 days ago

Sounds like something to be avoided.

Nora Bolcon
3 weeks 5 days ago

If nothing else I find your lone comment hilarious J.

Tim Donovan
3 weeks 5 days ago

Chris Rock was on the popular television show Saturday Night Live in the early 1990's, and wrote a popular comedy that I believe was based on his life, "Everybody Hates Chris." Although I'm a gay Catholic , I have had some experience regarding marriage and children, at least indirectly. My experience with children is being an uncle to my sister's two daughters (now adults) and my brothers son and daughter (now adults). I indirectly have experience with divorce. My brother-in-law divorced his first wife, and after receiving an annulment, he and my sister were married by a justice of the peace. In time, they had a sacraments marriage. Also, for over twenty-five years, I worked with disabled children and adults in various capacities, and for six years as a Special Education teacher fraught children with brain damage. In a real sense, I consider myself to be a "father" in terms of experiencing the joys and challenges of parenthood. I certainly understand sexual relationships. Many years ago (I 'm now 56) I had sex with men. However, I realized the error of my acts, and received forgiveness and consolation from a compassionate priest through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I understand pornography, because in the past I viewed gay pornography. However, I admit to being very imperfect and continue to commit various sins (don't we all?!) So although I've ceased viewing pornography, I'm fortunate that my kind pastor visits me each month for confession at the quality nursing home/rehabilitation_center_where I live. I favor a consistent ethic of life approach. Among other positions, I oppose capital punishment, euthanasia, and favor stringent gun control laws as well as reasonable government laws and regulations to protect our environment. I only favor war as a last resort after diplomatic efforts have been exhausted, and civilians must never be deliberately targeted. The use of nuclear weapons would be horribly immoral. I agree with Pope Francis that in time, all nations must eliminate nuclear weapons. I also favor reasonable government assistance for the millions of Americans in need. I worked with a great majority of African-Americans. Although I had some prejudices, I believe that they were based primarily on personality differences, not on race, so I support the assertion of Rev. Martin Luther King that a person should be judged on "the content of his character, not the color of his skin." I also worked primarily with women . I certainly believe that sexual harassment laws should be vigorously enforced. At present, where I live in a nursing home/rehabilitation center, a fair number of the staff are immigrants, mostly from African nations. Years ago when I worked in a group home with disabled men, several of my co-workers were immigrants from Liberia, who had fled to our nation seeking a better life after experiencing a brutal civil war. Although I believe it's ideal that people enter our nation legally, r the with the exception of Native Americans, we all are descendants of immigrants, I believe that even illegal immigrants should be welcomed into our nation and provided with a path to citizenship. I believe in reasonable efforts to secure our border with Mexico with more border patrol guards, but oppose constructing a border wall. Mexico is in general a nation with extreme poverty and violence. I believe that our nation should increase trade with Mexico, to expand economic development, and hopefully make its people willing to live in dignity in their homeland. I also support the increase in foreign and humanitarian assistance to nations which are impoverished or that have natural disasters. As someone who knows or who has known people of different faiths, including Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Protestants of different denominations (including my sister-in-law Martha and niece Virginia who are devout Presbyterians whom I of course love), I support ecumenical dialogue. I also believe that in some areas of the world, perhaps especially Middle Eastern nations wracked by conflict and religious differences (for instance, Israel and Palestine) that our nation and Church must encourage interfaith dialogue and humanitarian assistance for refugees and displaced persons. As Blessed Pope Paul said when he addressed the United Nations in 1965, "No more war, war never again." Of course , in the decades since tyen, many ways have taken place, so his statement may be naive. But I believe that it will be a goal that takes time, diplomacy, and lots of prayer to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Of course, no one individual or group of people or nations can simultaneously address the numerous problems that face our world. Without downplaying other forms of violence (or discrimination) I believe that at present the violence of legal abortion is of paramount importance in our nation. There are almost one million innocent unborn human beings killed each year in our nation. Because of the 1973 Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, abortion is legal for any reason up until the time when the unborn infant (or fetus, which means "young one" in latin) is viable. Fortunately, there are many hundreds of crisis pregnancy centers nationwide, and the number is growing, staffed primarily of volunteers and by women and men of different faiths. (I might add that although I'm Catholic, for several years in the distant past I was a "Christian agnostic" who because of people suffering that I observed, I doubted God's existence ). However, from my experience living in a nursing home where I see many people who are much more disabled or elderly than me, I'm convinced that God exists and is merciful. I also know several women who've had abortions. One is the older sister of a good friend of mine from years ago, who became pregnant at age 17 by my friend and her boyfriend who was 19. She gave birth to their son one month after her graduation from a Catholic high school at age 18. Although I absolutely disagree with the tragic choice to kill an unborn baby, I can understand in a sense why some women make this violent decision. For Catholic women, Project Rachel provides emotional and spiritual support. I feel safe in assuming that other faith groups also provide counseling and support for women who've had abortions. I on occasion contribute modest sums to a homeless shelter for pregnant women and their children, as well as other practical, compassionate assistance. Probably the most comprehensive crisis pregnancy center that I contribute to when I can is "Mom's House." This is a network of about six homes where low-income single pregnant women are provided with quality free day care so that they can complete their education. Like all people, I don't doubt that Mr. Rock has some good qualities, as well as failings. My failings include among others viewing gay pornography, though I haven't in some time and have gone to confession with my compassionate pastor who is kind enough to visit me each month for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the past I've also used foul language and still sometimes view inappropriate movies or television programs, or read inappropriate books. However, I do my best to watch wholesome television programs and movies, and read decent books. I find that monthly recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as the Eucharist when I feel worthy to receive is crucial to my spiritual health..
I do not believe that Chris Rock's Netflix program is appropriate to watch. Not do I feel that his program would be a worthwhile pre-Cana program. Despite the failings of us all, I feel confident that lay men and women, priests and religious can counsel people prior to their marriage. Marriage Encounter may well be worthwhile for couples in troubled marriages. Chris Rock hosted the 2005 Oscars. That samecyear, he performed an expletive-filled routine in a club. I understand that some comedians believe it's humorous to use very foul language. I admit to using such language in the past in frustration or anger, but I regret my words, and don't feel even comedians should be given a pass. Mr. Rick that same year in one of his routines said, "Abortion is beautiful, I mean it's beautiful that abortion is legal." Regardless of how one feels about the violent choice of abortion, does even the most adamant supporter of legal abortion claim that it is " beautiful? " I seriously doubt it, and hope that I'm right. Chris Rock continued his routine by saying words to the effect (I 'm paraphrasing), " I like going to rallies (in support of legal abortion) 'cause you know the women there are f***ing. " Not only do I believe such language is offensive and disregards the rights of the unborn, but I believe such language treats women as mere sex objects, not people who deserve resoect.

Leonard Go
3 weeks 3 days ago

I'll watch this on Netflix. Though well past the "pre-Cana" stage by over 20 years, there are likely to be lessons learned. I've always liked Mr. Rock as a comedian; he is not nearly as profane as most of his peers, and his social commentary is often astute.

Fernando Vásquez
3 weeks 3 days ago

Perhaps the adulterer in the White House would benefit from it

Stanley Kopacz
3 weeks ago

I doubt it. That would assume there's a mechanism of self-criticism somewhere under that orange soufflé.

Daria Fitzgerald
3 weeks 3 days ago

Sorry. I can't see making Chris Rock's latest special on why his marriage failed and why he regrets what he did mandatory viewing for Pre-Cana couples. Here are a few options I think might be a better way to spend a couple's time: sit down and talk to a couple (an ordinary couple, not a celebrity) who's been married forty years; talk to a couple who went through a life threatening illness together; talk to a couple who lost a job or had to file bankruptcy; talk to a couple who had issues conceiving children....and how they got through it - together. There are many many couples who have overcome tremendous challenges in their marriage, and have made their marriages stronger because of the way they approached those challenges together. How about focusing on what to do - not what NOT to do?

fleweon mikeon
3 weeks ago

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David Warner
2 weeks 5 days ago

Have you tried Redbox TV or Not? for Live TV Channels

Ciro Arthur
2 weeks 3 days ago

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