"This was real and raw": Fans weigh in on Chris Rock's special, from trans jokes to Slap clapback

The comedian's fans traveled far to attend his live set in Baltimore, and here's what resonated with them most

Published March 9, 2023 7:48PM (EST)

Chris Rock "Selective Outrage" backstage (Netflix)
Chris Rock "Selective Outrage" backstage (Netflix)

"I love how quickly [the Kardashians] accepted Caitlyn [Jenner]," Chris Rock says in Netflix's historic livestreamed special "Selective Outrage."  He adds, "No muss, no fuss; she's with us." 

The addition of a transgender acceptance segment in Rock's hourlong comedy special may have surprised some who went in only expecting the long-awaited rebuttal for the Oscars slap. But for others, it was a welcome detour. Christian Orr, a 43-year-old liquor store manager from Westminster, Maryland, who is the father to a trans daughter, appreciated the sentiment.

"The first thing he said expressed love [for the community]," Orr told Salon at the event on Saturday, March 4, which was shot and streamed live from downtown Baltimore's Hippodrome.

"He's the GOAT. I would see Chris Rock anywhere, anytime, anyplace."

Rock's segment goes on to hypothesize how his family would react if his father came out as transgender – that they would be as accepting as the Kardashians, but may take a while. "It wouldn't be the first season," he quips. The main holdout would be his brother Andre, whom Rock says he'd have to set straight: "She's your daddy!"

The punchline rocks the audience, who bawl with laughter, interspersed with oohing. Rock cackles. 

"It spoke to my experience with my daughter," said Orr, adding that the joke "advanced the dialogue" for the transgender community.

Orr and his wife were surprised but supportive when their 19-year-old daughter came out as trans about a year ago. While they assumed friends and family would be generally receptive,  he added, "Not everybody will be on board in the 'first season,' and that has been my experience. My goal is for everyone to accept my daughter."

Showing up for Chris Rock

Baltimore's Hippodrome where Chris Rock livestreamed his Netflix comedy special "Selective Outrage" (Courtesy of Cornelia Holzbauer)

On this windy and brisk Saturday night, Baltimore's theater district – dotted with concert venues, bars and seafood restaurants – drew large crowds and local television stations to the sold-out show. Rock had taken a considerable risk when he decided to stream "Selective Outrage" live, but for fans like Orr, that made it even more worthwhile to see the comedian live for the first time.

"This is as unique a live experience I could ever have. I'm super excited," said Orr. After the show, Orr was just as enthusiastic, even if he'd rank "Selective Outrage" last out of Rock's six stand-up specials. "He's the GOAT. I would see Chris Rock anywhere, anytime, anyplace," said Orr.

"Selective Outrage" marked the first time the comedian addressed The Slap or Slapgate – when actor Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars a year ago – in front of a global audience. While the special received mixed reviews from critics, in his dedicated fans' eyes, Rock can do no wrong. 

"I've been a fan of [Rock] for a long time. He keeps it simple. He's level-headed and humble," said retiree Gillian Williams, 62, one of the first in line to enter the theater. He was one of the many who arrived to line up almost three hours before the start of the 10 p.m. show.

A second queue of fans was hoping to snag last-minute tickets at the box office. Meanwhile, a giggling crowd lined up to pose for pictures amidst lit-up letters reading "Selective Outrage" and the Netflix logo. A young man in a Netflix sweater encouraged, "Use the hashtag #ChrisRockLive in your posts!" Local television stations camped across the street to film b-roll. 

Michael Devine, a 49-year-old teacher from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, had traveled two hours to Baltimore with his wife Kris to see Rock live for the first time. The couple was excited about the Netflix live aspect and seeing the trucks and the news media. "We can only be winning tonight . . . we're here for Chris Rock." 

The Slap clapback and other jokes

Will Smith; Chris RockWill Smith appears to slap Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)While most fans expected Rock to address The Slap, that was only part of the draw to attend.

"We're here to hear," said Josh Wiley, a 48-year-old sales manager from Towson, Maryland, eager to enter the theater with his wife. "We want to hear live and in person how he truly felt." But overall, Wiley was simply expecting to laugh and have a good time.

Meanwhile, Devine said, "[Rock] has to talk about The Slap at some point. People want to hear it, but I don't think he's going to make the whole show about it." 

"You could tell from his delivery he had been waiting a long time to address it."

While much of the Rock's 65-minute set features recycled material from his "Ego Death World Tour," he does indeed eventually deliver. The last eight minutes are devoted to a scorching rejoinder to The Slap.

"Will Smith practices selective outrage," Rock says in the special. "Everybody knows I had nothing to do with that s**t. I didn't have any entanglement," referring to Jada Pinkett Smith's affair. "Everybody called him a b***h and his wife a predator, [. . . ] and who does he hit? Me!" Rock vigorously delivers these lines to a cheering, clapping audience. 

Baltimorean journalist Ron Matz, 76, thought Rock's performance was "sensational," and added: "You could tell from his delivery he had been waiting a long time to address it. He did so with a ferocity you don't see very often. This was real and raw, he delivered." 

Devine was glad The Slap took up only a little of the set and enjoyed Rock's riffs on America's biggest addiction: attention. "Can't get enough attention, feening for likes," the comedian says in the special. "Posting up pathetic pictures: 'This is me, 25 years ago, when I was hot. Like me!'" Rock adds that the four best ways to get attention are promiscuity, infamy, excellence and victimization. Devine found Rock's commentary "really interesting and somewhat true." 

"Expectations can kill appreciation every time," settlement support specialist Shanita Starks, 49, said post-show. Starks compared the special to "Tamborine," Rock's 2018 Netflix special in which he addressed his previous porn addiction and cheating contributing to his ultimate divorce.

"[Through 'Tamborine'], we were able to have shared experiences as we've all played different roles in relationships," she said. "As an audience, we typically want comedians to speak our truth, but ['Selective Outrage'] was about his." 

Starks is a forever fan. Rock's jokes about dating women in their 40s and 50s, as opposed to those in their 20s, resonated with her and her friends. During his set, the comedian quips that younger women are happy when their man buys them a pair of shoes while older ones demand their house be renovated. "Men date younger women 'cause they're less expensive to date," Rock reasons.

Starks agreed: "Women in their 40s and 50s have no issue with how intelligent and expensive we are. We're completely aware." 

Baltimore and beyond

Local fans emphasized the hometown pride evoked by Rock's decision to bring a global audience to Baltimore, a city still struggling to shed its crime-riddled reputation reinforced by "The Wire" and the unrest following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. 

"This puts Baltimore on a national stage in a positive light," Amber Wendland, a 35-year-old architect, said, "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and it doesn't happen in Baltimore often." 

Karen Miller, 53, a political fundraiser from Downtown Baltimore, shared Wendland's excitement. "A lot of folks think that 'The Wire' is everyday life here, but that isn't the case," she said before the show. "[Rock] 's here, the show is sold out, and folks are still trying to get tickets!" 

"This puts Baltimore on a national stage in a positive light."

The audience roared when acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee took his seat in the right box, sporting his signature glasses and a purple jacket. Baltimore's mayor and Maryland's Governor also attended. "It was so fun seeing the mayor and Spike Lee present in the theater. The whole vibe felt electric," said Katie Chiaramonte, a 39-year-old doula and writer who attended the show with her wife, Nia. 

Matz also loved spotting the celebrities, concluding it was "an important night for Baltimore, a city struggling to bring people back to its downtown area." A sold-out show meant a "hopeful sign for a city looking for positive news." 

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On Monday night, Christian Orr rewatched a fragment of Rock's performance with his daughter.

"In some situations, I actually prefer trans women to original recipe," the comedian jokes in "Selective Outrage." "When you're watching the game, they could read defenses. 'That's a Cover 2' 'Ooh, thanks, Peaches!'" Reacting to thunderous laughter and a few groans, Rock follows his riff with a mischievous chuckle and tiptoes the stage as if to avoid an imaginary physical attack. 

Orr felt that was the only joke that didn't fit in with the rest, so he sought his daughter's opinion. "I wanted to know if I was missing anything. If something I laughed at were to offend my daughter, maybe I need to rethink how I look at stuff." 

His daughter usually doesn't laugh out loud, Orr said. He inquired if Rock's sports joke affronted her. She smiled.

"No, it's whatever. It wasn't offensive, but also not hysterical," she replied.


By Cornelia Holzbauer

Cornelia Holzbauer is a New York City-based journalist from Germany pursuing her master's in Magazine & Digital Storytelling at New York University. Cornelia writes to bring power to the people. Follow her on Instagram: @cornelia_elise 

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Baltimore Chris Rock Netflix Reporting Selective Outrage Stand-up Comedy The Slap Transgender