Over the last year, Netflix has been striking big deals with well known, yet slightly ‘dated’ comedians. From a business standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. Nostalgia is big business. When I think of either Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, I can remember roughly where I was and what I was doing with my life at the time; sentimentally, it’s fair to say a lot of good friendships were built on a mutual appreciation for comedians such as these. I would even go as far as to acknowledge their role in defining a cultural narrative that we could ascribe to. Even now, I enjoy explaining some of my quirks to new friends, for example, the real reason I have a slightly overzealous love for Rick James.
So with the recent spate of specials from said comedians, I was excited BUT slightly skeptical. Predominantly, will I still find ‘that humor’ funny – have changed just as much as them? And to a lesser extent, will their material be relevant? I appreciate it can be difficult to force yourself to tap into the zeitgeist of a specific time.
So after watching some 5 specials; 4 from Dave Chappelle and 1 from Chris Rock. I pretty much had my personal views confirmed. Both are naturally very funny guys. There are times throughout the shows when their original talents shine through (more so with Chappelle) and you are reminded why you loved them all those years back; times when you cringe at the content (the sheer number of times Rock says, Nigga).
But one thing I noticed in both men was a parallel of discussing pains in their life. This was absent from their earlier material as they took up more of a social commentary role. Chappelle is still clearly – and likely justifiably – aggrieved about his treatment by the entertainment industry. And Rock, on the other hand, is struggling with the recent break-up of his marriage. Now talking about personal mishaps is not a bad thing, Richard Pryor plays it brilliantly here. I just felt with Chris Rock there was an element of a confession taking place, and with Dave Chappelle, a legal obligation to not discuss specific issues.
It’s a shame really, in Chris Rocks case it actually takes away some of the comedic effects. There was no punchline with his personal admissions of guilt. I guess it may have been a cathartic experience, but I felt more empathy than laughter.
In Dave Chappelle’s case, there was an almost visible gag on him. I prefer comedians to talk with candor – ‘say it how it is’. Chappelle does this in parts, his explanation of personal issues and experiences with his transgender fans is gold. But a cryptic Chappelle discussing why he stopped comedy is just too wooly. It lacks that clear point that you so come to expect.
In summary, they are good – if you are a fan give them a go. It’s not their best material, but it’s certainly not their worst. And on the bright side, you will still get a healthy dollop of nostalgia which is not a bad thing.