Chris Rock’s “Tamborine” shocks and teaches, but still garners laughs

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Chris Rock has a new Netflix special. The film is called “Tamborine.” On the surface, it seems as if the title has nothing to do with comedy, and especially not with Rock’s brand of comedy. However, as Rock explains, “Tamborine” is a metaphor for doing a person’s best, no matter what his or her position is. That is a rather grown-up position for someone with a history like Rock’s. Some audiences might not be prepared to see Rock less brash than he has been in the past.

Chris Rock, an introduction

Nearly 30 years ago, Rock began appearing in movies like urban drama “New Jack City” (1991) and in stand-up comedy shows like “Def Comedy Jam” on HBO. He appeared in a number of other movies, including the comedy “CB4” (1993). He also hosted “The Chris Rock Show” on HBO from 1997-2000.

Rock’s signature though, is found in a series of stand-up concerts. His first was “Big A** Jokes” in 1994. That was followed by “Bring the Pain” (1996), “Bigger and Blacker” (1999), and “Never Scared” (2004). Rock’s most recent special was 2008’s “Kill the Messenger.”

The stand-up concerts earned Rock a reputation as a tell-it-like-it-is, in-your-face, but brilliant young man. His controversial observations became some of the most oft-quoted one-liners in popular culture. Smart, whip-quick lines about a father’s one job is to keep his daughter off the [stripper] pole; Daddy gets the big piece of chicken; it’s not the media robbing me at the atm, and so forth. Probably the most controversial thing Rock has ever said was distinguishing between black people and “N-words.”

Rock has never seemed to shy away from anything. Relationships, sex, race, money, etc. He covered it all to get people to laugh. And to perhaps simply tell the truth. “Tamborine” is no different.

Chris Rock and “Tamborine”

As of the date of “Tamborine’s” release, it has been a while since the public has seen the kind of material from Rock that he is best-known for. For some, “Tamborine” might not be quite what they expected. Rock still takes on controversy – – the idea of bullying, President Trump, are just two of his best ideas in the new special. Even the topic of relationships leads Rock to make controversial statements.

But something is different now, and the difference goes beyond the lack of facial hair, and the lack of flashy suit, or any suit, for that matter. Rock performs in a non-descript t-shirt and jeans, which, in the larger scheme of things means nothing. But in the context of expectations that audiences have for Rock, and what it seems that Rock is attempting to do, is relate to regular people. Hence, perhaps the outfit.

At 53, Rock is still funny. His swagger isn’t quite as rapper-like as it once was, for example, like in “Bigger and Blacker.” But there is nothing wrong with aging and changing one’s style, either. Just like with his clothing, the lack of swagger indicates or seems to indicate a more significant shift. The content soon reveals what is up with Rock.

Amid the jokes about his daughter’s new school (the oldest one is entering a high school that has a no-bullying policy that Rock disagrees with), politics, and snappy one-liners about relationships (“Some of you have been in relationships so long you don’t know how ugly you are”) Rock reveals some unpleasant truths about himself – – he is divorced (don’t applaud for that, Rock warns the audience), he was not a good husband, and he is addicted to porn.

It is that last bit that threatens to derail everything. Addictions are serious, so as viewers watch, they invariably ask themselves, “Is Rock okay?” At one point, I thought that. It was as though we’d all been privy to this problem for almost 20 years, but there was nothing we could do about it.

Rock doesn’t lose his place, or trip over his feet, or anything like that, but his demeanor told a great deal about his comfort level. His talk of porn and affairs with co-eds has been standard in Rock’s routines and certainly is probably standard among professional entertainers. However, to hear (and see) how porn addiction affected a public figure was eye-opening.

Having been famous for so long, and from a humble background, Rock still has interesting and funny takes on his favorite topics. However, his most grounded moment comes when he explains what “tamborine” refers to.  If you are part of a great ban but were assigned to play the tamborine, then that’s what you do. Whatever you are assigned to do in life, you do it with all your heart. Rock’s pantomime of how everyone should play his or her tamborine is funny. But his message is more important. The takeaway might be that stand-up comedy is his tamborine. And whether or not people appreciate the way he plays it, he’s going to give it all he’s got. We can’t ask for more than that.

According to Variety.com, “Tamborine” is one of two specials Rock is slated to release on Netflix. The price for the deal is $40 million.

 

 

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