Chris Rock’s latest stand-up Netflix special shows more vulnerable side of comedian

Netflix added another prestigious special to their already impressive stand-up library with the release of Chris Rock’s “Tamborine” on Feb. 14. Rock joins the likes of high-profile comedians, like Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld, who have signed lucrative deals to bring their material to the popular streaming service.

In 2018, nothing sticks out quite like earnestness. People are constantly bombarded by lies, so an almost painfully honest stand-up routine is as refreshing as getting an “A” in class after becoming accustomed to “C’s.” Rock’s “Tamborine” may not be the best at delivering laughs, but his performance certainly has a sincere message that is refreshing.

Professionally, Rock is known as the voice of Marty the Zebra in the four Madagascar movies and playing sidekick to Adam Sandler in the Grown Ups movies, which is truly tragic. Madagascar and Grown-Ups are most definitely not how this comedic legend should be remembered.

Rock’s last stand-up special, “Kill the Messenger,” was released in 2008 on HBO. Quite a bit has changed for Rock since then. In his personal life, Rock went through a divorce from his wife of almost 20 years, which influenced “Tamborine” greatly.

The special begins when Rock takes the stage in front of an intimate crowd of about 800 people in a plain black t-shirt and jeans. This is significant when it is juxtaposed to other typical Chris Rock performances, where he performs in a sharp suit and tie in front of sold-out arenas. The change is fitting, as the material he performs is more personal and confessional than any he has ever written before.

Rock begins by boldly wondering aloud, “You would think that cops would occasionally shoot a white kid, just to make it look good.” Shocking? Of course, but he uses the shock and molds it to make an important social comment.

Rock’s punchiness about sensitive topics like gun violence and racism are surprising and absurd; however, they are also insightful. They make the audience laugh while also asking them to take a hard look in the mirror. 

The meat of “Tamborine” is in the latter half of the special, when Rock delves into his own personal strife. There is a perceptible shift in the room once he mentions his divorce. 

He immediately silenced the tentative applause that followed by saying, “don’t clap for that shit unless you’re a lawyer.” He claimed to be “talking from hell” when he tells the audience not to get divorced. “You don’t want this shit,” he said.

This is Rock at his most vulnerable. The second half of “Tamborine” felt more like moments of candor interspersed with some jokes, rather than the other way around. Rock took an introspective look at his divorce, admitting to porn addiction and infidelity, taking it in stride with a gleeful sense of self-deprecation.

“Tamborine” isn’t Rock’s best comedic work. It really isn’t that funny, particularly after the first 30 minutes. This special seems like the result of someone with a keen comic mind, who just needs to vent in the only way he knows how. It is inarguably earnest, and today, that might just be worth more than funny.