When I saw this special available on On Demand, it occurred to me that I had never actually watched Chris Rock perform standup. I had seen him interviewed, I had heard snippets of his comedy shows, and I had even watched him in movies. But seeing him on stage—his true home—was foreign. And so I obliged.
Basically any comedian active today younger than Chris Rock will give Rock a huge amount of credit for influencing their subsequent standup career, so to say that my expectations were high would be an understatement. I expected him to blow me away with wit, have me rolling on the floor, all of that. And I definitely didn’t. I only laughed out loud a few times. The rest of the time I just sat there with a smirk on my face.
Why didn’t I laugh out loud? Well, I had this sneaking suspicion that I had heard all of these types of jokes somewhere before—and then I realized that every comedian since, all of those comedians who have been giving a nod to Rock for getting them up on the stage—have basically been imitating him to a tee. Chris Rock is so good that every other comedian wants to be him.
I know that “Never Scared” is not his best HBO special. Once comedians have kids, their comedy softens (unless they begin their careers with kids already, like Louis CK). And in Never Scared, Chris Rock was softer than I expected. But he built up speed towards the end, dishing out some raunchy sex jokes and several sharp commentaries on the country’s political situation (back in 2004, when the special was filmed).
When it comes down to it, Chris Rock is one of those comedians who is right about everything, and only the best comedians are. Jerry Seinfeld is one of them. Ricky Gervais is one of them. Even if they represent a very specific sliver of society, their comedy is universally approachable and understandable. Case in point: George Lopez wishes his race jokes were as good as Chris Rock’s. Kathy Griffin wishes she could make fun of celebrities as well as Chris Rock does. Every comedian wishes they had the same certain motivational speaker stage presence, scruffy voice delivery, and charming laugh like Chris Rock. He’s the master of our generation—and, if I may say so, he can wear the hell out of a maroon pinstriped suit. I can’t wait to watch his earlier stuff.