Culture Trips

Chris Rock: Total Blackout review – confessional comic cuts loose | Comedy

What persistent itch, I wonder, persuaded Chris Rock to revisit his 2018 special Tamborine, re-edit it, and release an extended cut? The original, acclaimed at the time – as was the touring show, Total Blackout, from which it derived – was directed with panache by comedian turned film-maker Bo Burnham. It focused tightly on Rock’s infidelity and divorce material, which – while still substantial – forms a smaller fraction of the reissue.

One must assume Rock was left unsatisfied by the original, in retrospect – or at least, that it left good material on the cutting-room floor. On the latter point, he’s right – Tamborine 2.0 includes a fine routine, for example, arguing that “prices are the new racism”, with reference to the exorbitant cost of a suite at the Four Seasons hotel. It also prunes jokes from the original, his “Trump might work out” gag included.

But really, the re-edit is just a messier, looser version of Tamborine 1.0. You could say that it better captures the spirit of a live gig, as Rock occasionally stumbles over his words – and the production favours audience-eye views over Burnham’s tight closeups. Or you could call it an indulgence, citing the gratuitous insertion of two of Rock’s chat-show appearances (one of them, on Jimmy Fallon, very funny; the other, on Howard Stern’s show, smug), and closing footage of Rock, Dave Chappelle and Arsenio Hall talking black comedy history backstage.

Either way, you get a show – it was Rock’s first for a decade – with some terrific material, particularly in the first half, before Rock’s confessional material comes to the fore. That section bagged the headlines, but it’s not quite as soul-searching as billed, and soon devolves into fairly trad men v women shtick (“Pussy strike is the most deadly weapon in the female arsenal” etc), shot through with the assumption that men want sex and women want security. Give me Rock’s social over his sexual commentary any day: the riffs on policing, mortgages, school bullying and especially his routine on raising black children in Pavlovian fear of white people. Extended or otherwise, those jokes are worth revisiting.

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