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‘Chris Rock: Tamborine’ review: The comedian faces a new reality

Chris Rock in Netflix's comedy special

Chris Rock in Netflix's comedy special "Chris Rock: Tamborine," which starts streaming on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Credit: Netflix

THE COMEDY SPECIAL “Chris Rock:Tamborine”

WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Wednesday on Netflix

WHAT ITS ABOUT This is Chris Rock’s first stand-up special in a decade and his first of two that Netflix is reportedly paying him $40 million for.

MY SAY There’s a moment midway through “Chris Rock: Tamborine” when the camera goes in close for a tight headshot. That’s usually the director’s cue to an audience to pay attention because some emotional baggage is about to be offloaded. Sure enough, here comes the Samsonite:

“I’m an [expletive],” says the star.

Not “was” or “will be” or “occasionally am one.” No, right now, in the moment. Here. You’re looking at one.

What follows during the next five or so minutes is more interesting than funny, although in truth, a bit of both. Very little of it is actual news to anyone who’s spent time in a checkout line at a King Kullen, but because Rock is saying all this, that adds a whole new level of newsworthiness:

He was addicted to porn (“I know — a billion-dollar industry and just me . . .”) He cheated on his wife with three women. They got divorced because he “had the attitude that I pay for everything, I can do what I want. That [expletive] don’t work.”

He talks about the ensuing custody battle for the children, the lawyers, the courtroom scene, and the money, money, money.

You quickly surmise he needs every bit of the $40 million Netflix is paying him.

Finally, he gets around to the meaning of the word “tamborine” (a play on the word “tambourine”) in the title, while offering his prescription for a happy marriage. That’s the reason for this landing on Valentine’s Day — and then you suddenly realize that Rock has gotten as close to a full-on apology as he ever has in his career.

Consider that Rock’s spiritual guides, so to speak, are Richard Pryor and George Carlin. They ate “sorry” for breakfast. Comedians like him don’t apologize. Atonement and regret are stripped from their genetic code. They’re in the offense business, but this longish stretch of “Tamborine” has Rock on the defensive. It’s a fascinating spectacle. A fair question is also: Why?

Rock taped “Tamborine” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November, or a month after reports about Harvey Weinstein’s behavior surfaced, which launched a social revolution that continues to level careers to this day. The role of a male comedian — particularly one like Rock — has since assumed a whole new dimension, too. A joke that might’ve worked pre-Weinstein, for example, takes on another potentially sinister meaning post-Weinstein. Meanwhile, two other peers who could also fill stadiums — Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. — came face to face with the #MeToo movement in recent months. The former was grazed, and almost certainly damaged by #MeToo, the latter demolished by it. There are no guarantees, even for a guy like Rock, or especially for guys like him.

The rest of “Tamborine” is Rock as you know and maybe love him, much of it is very funny, most of it blue. He launches with Black Lives Matter, moves on to the failure of schools to prepare kids for life, then establishes the importance of bullies. But that’s the warm-up act for the main show — that apologia for his indefensible behavior and the personal failures he brought upon himself.

BOTTOM LINE There’s a new world order out there. Looks like Chris Rock — yes, Rock — got the memo, too.

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