It was the summer of 1996, and I remember it like it was yesterday. HBO aired Chris Rock in concert, “Bring the Pain” the one-hour special was titled, and I was sure after it was over that the future of standup comedy was in the best of hands. Rock stalked the stage like a leopard about to pounce and his gazelle was most every sacred cow in the area of race relations there was at the time: O.J. Simpson, Marion Barry, white bigots, prison, and most famously… “I love black people, but I hate niggas.”
At the time I had just turned 30 and had also just dropped out of college after only three semesters (it was time to pick a major and I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up), but what an eye-opening experience those three semesters were. Political correctness was everywhere, infesting everything. I actually had a professor who used the term “herstory” instead of “history.” There was the criminal justice professor who insisted we abolish prisons and enough enviro-nonsense taught as fact that I sometimes wondered what country I was living in. Nice people, just not very bright. Well, that’s exactly fair. They weren’t all dumb, but they weren’t all nice, either.
At the time I was writing a weekly column for the student newspaper. Being the only conservative and a budding rabble rouser, I’d been run through the Orwellian PC grinder more than once. Hate mail, marched into the editor’s office over this and that, suspended due to trumped up charges of plagiarism, and my crowning achievement: the threat of a protest from the Black Student Union because of my defense of Clarence Thomas when Anita Hill came to speak. Thankfully, the union was headed by a genuinely decent guy who let me appear at their next meeting and confront the racism charges head on, but as right as I was this stuff was still incredibly bruising. It’s Alice in Wonderland where you’re all alone in a world where right is wrong and up is down and you lose nights of sleep second guessing yourself.
So it was right after a year and a half of this when I witnessed Chris Rock take the stage and just say whatever it was he wanted to say. Not saying I agreed with him, not saying he was right or wrong. But like George Carlin and Dennis Miller and Richard Pryor and Sam Kinison, Rock was his own man and that night and he laid waste to all things political correctness. And what was most impressive was the way Rock’s mind worked. That intellectual brilliance all the great stand ups share was glaringly obvious, and along with the criticism from the Usual PC-Suspects, he won a much-deserved Grammy.
I loved him for that. And that’s why I love our popular culture, it has that kind of healing power. Unfortunately, it also has just as much power to disappoint.
I’ve never seen that Chris Rock again. Never. And I’m not talking about his ripping on black people, that’s not the point, I’m talking about bravely bucking political correctness regardless of the target. And because political correctness is intellectually shallow, Rock’s brilliance has never been as apparent as it was that summer night in 1996. He does a lot of vulgar comedy, but when he veers into social and political issues it’s the usual-usual like this – about as edgy, brave, and intellectually interesting as what we see daily from Obama’s #1 Palace Guard, Jon Stewart.
And today we get this from Mr. Rock, an unbelievably vicious and elitist attack on everyday Americans who peaceably gather to protest their government:
“I actually like it, in the sense that—you got kids?” asked Rock. “Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism’s almost over. Because this is the last—this is the act up before the sleep. They’re going crazy. They’re insane. You want to get rid of them—and the next thing you know, they’re f—-ing knocked out. And that’s what’s going on in the country right now.”
In a mere fifteen years, the future of standup has willingly allowed himself to be grinded down into just another elitist Hollywood overlord, another coward smearing a whole group of people he’s likely never met. You think Rock’s ever stepped out of his limo and attended a Tea Party? You think he’s ever escaped the posse he’s hired to laugh at his jokes to talk to any of us?
Really, who’s the bigot here? Who sold out?
You’d think by now I’d be tired of having my heart broken by these people — and by “these people,” I mean the “entertainment class.”
Power to the people. Down with the Hollywood elite.