Chris Rock was paid $20 million for his seventy-minute Netflix special, so by my reckoning his riff on whether or not the British royal family are racist must have made him more than a million quid. Was it worth the money? Well, I enjoyed it but I’m not sure how well it will translate here, in precis, with all the swearing removed.
Rock begins by pointing up the absurdity of Meghan Markle (winner of the “lightskin lottery,” he says) complaining to Oprah: “I didn’t know how racist they were.” “It’s the royal family!” expostulates Rock. “They’re the OGs [Original Gangstas] of racism. They’re the Sugarhill Gang of racism.” (The 1980s cultural references give you an idea of the age of Rock’s mostly black audience at the live recording in Baltimore.)
He then goes on to point out what nonsense it is for Markle to have taken offense when her in-laws speculated on the skin color of her offspring. “That’s not racist. Because even black people wanna know how brown the baby gonna be.” This is plain common sense and also the essence of lucrative comedy: you state the bleeding obvious but in such a way as to make out you are voicing daring home truths that no one, until now, has had the outrageous courage to venture.
I personally don’t begrudge Rock the gazillions he earns from this shtick. But as with fellow masters of the art — Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle — you cannot help but think: what a gloriously easy way to earn a living! You just walk out on to a stage, on a cloud of audience approbation, and feed on their belief that whatever comes out of your mouth, even though it’s exactly what they say and think themselves all the time, is the funniest, wittiest most insightful thing on Earth.
My favorite bit is his assault on the bane of modern capitalism, environmental and social governance (ESG). He doesn’t actually mention those initials, but he nails the problem perfectly when he laments the proliferation of manufacturers that “don’t tell you about the product any more, they just tell you about the charity work they do.”
This leads him into a glorious riff about “hundred-dollar yoga pants.” “I don’t need your politics,” he tells the $100 yoga pants. “Just tell me how you work on ball sweat.” He then gets his audience to agree that, given the choice, they would all much prefer to spend just $20 on their yoga pants — and that they’d still do so even if they were racist yoga pants that squelched out the N-word every step they took…Well, it’s the way he tells them, clearly — which is why he earns $250,000 a minute and I don’t, quite, unfortunately.