Chris Rock Re-Edits a Special, and the Result Is Fascinating

by 24USATVJan. 13, 2021, midnight 26
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But the most important contrast is in the comic’s discussion of his own infidelity. Until “Tamborine,” Rock was known as a social commentator who mostly kept his private life at a distance. But addressing his divorce and his responsibility for the failure of his marriage, Rock made the most vulnerable, introspective comedy of his career. Burnham was clearly drawn to this aspect of the set and focused on it. This material, including jokes about marriage, divorce and sex, takes up about half of the special, as opposed to around a third of the extended version.

When Rock confessed his mistakes, Burnham moved into a rare close-up. And he stayed on the star’s face, with no cutaway shots, as Rock talked about cheating on his wife. When the crowd chuckled, Rock looked grave, emphasizing that he wasn’t proud. He said he knew what people were thinking: “What is wrong with men?”

On this line, Burnham did something dramatic: He shrank the frame even more, moving in on Rock like a microscope, so close to him that it obscured part of his head. It’s an aggressive move, and one that both underlines the question of what is wrong with men and broadens it, giving this personal story a new weight, especially since it came out just months after the Harvey Weinstein exposé and inevitably evokes the #MeToo movement.

A year later, Kevin Hart released a special, “Irresponsible,” in which he also discussed cheating on his wife. He was more oblique, briefer in his contrition, and the special cut away from him after a joke to show the crowd laughing. Whereas Burnham kept the audience out of it, “Irresponsible” took a more ingratiating route, with a shot that indicated it was OK to laugh before keeping things moving.

Rock’s extended version remains tougher-minded but moves closer to this posture. He removes the extreme close-up, which, along with its role in drawing attention to the material, is something of a signature Burnham shot. He used it at the start of his direction of Jerrod Carmichael’s game-changing special “8” — whose filmic aesthetic inspired Rock to hire him. In place of that touch, Rock adds a new shot, a mouse-eye view of the star from the front of the stage partly obscured by what appears to be a member of the audience. This new angle looks up at a performer, in awe.

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