Chris Rock Settles Old Scores

“Will Smith practices selective outrage,” Chris Rock said towards the end of his latest comedy special, the culmination of an evening’s worth of teasing hints and the final payoff for one of the biggest gambles in Netflix’s history.

Chris Rock: Selective Outrage was performed March 4th in front of a live audience at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, and it was also simultaneously broadcast to millions of Netflix subscribers around the world. Netflix’s first-ever live event came at a time of uncertainty for the streaming platform. Once the dominant on-demand service, it has seen its market share slip to competitors like Disney+ and HBO Max. With the exception of Stranger Things, Netflix has struggled to develop blockbuster tentpoles on par with Marvel, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones. Buffeted on all sides by richer rivals with better-loved IP, the big red N has been thrust back into the role of scrappy innovator.

Selective Outrage proved that Netflix can build buzz around broadcast events, opening new avenues for their comedy specials, which were already a core offering, and perhaps paving the way for other kinds of programming that audiences demand to watch live. If another Stranger Things fails to emerge from the Upside Down, a few March Madness games or a night of NFL football would solve a lot of subscriber woes. But even as Netflix prepared for the future, the evening’s star was stuck in the past.

Almost exactly a year ago, Rock joked during the Academy Awards that Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, looked like “G.I. Jane 2″ with her shaved head. Smith then stormed the stage and struck Rock across the face, shouting, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!”

For months afterwards the 58-year-old comedian refused to address the slap publicly, saying he was “still kind of processing what happened.” But in the days leading up to the debut of Selective Outrage, reports suggested that Rock had been workshopping jokes about the assault. Whether Netflix leaked these stories, or merely popped champagne when they were published, we’ll never know, but either way, anticipation was high.

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