As I’ve aged (gracefully, of course), I’ve moved away from the binary Good/Bad judgements about art that ruled my world back in the day. Specifically, I’ve added a third bin to the mix: Good, Bad, and Not for Me. It’s become an all-purpose container for all of those parts of culture — anything Auto-Tuned, Tyler Perry movies, designer weed — that have absolutely nothing to say to me but that seem to appeal to legions of my fellow citizens. It also helps that at a certain age you give up the notion that you actually have to have an opinion about everything.
Chris Rock pivots around this point in a recent interview with the NYT:
Q. On July 4 you tweeted: “Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks.” Were you surprised at the outrage that stirred up?
A. That’s the kind of joke I would have told on Letterman. We just live in a world where the audience gets a say now. My actual belief? Only fans should be allowed to criticize. Because it’s for the fans. When I hear somebody go, “Country music [stinks],” I’m like, well, country music’s not for you. You’re just being elitist. Only a fan of Travis Tritt can say the record [stinks], because he’s got every one. Same thing with jokes. You’re a fan of mine, that joke’s not even a single, it’s a B-side that never gets released. It’s no big whoop.
Q. Whether it’s your tweet, or Daniel Tosh joking about rape, or Tracy Morgan saying he’d kill his son if he came out to him, does it seem like the Internet is just adding more fuel to these fires?
A. Are they real fires? Or are people just reacting to something? Just because there’s an alarm going doesn’t mean it’s a fire. And I think that people are confusing the two. It’s only a fire when it offends the fans, and the fans turn on you. Tosh has fans, and they get the joke. If you’ve watched enough Tracy Morgan, you let the worst thing go by. When did Tracy Morgan become Walter Cronkite? You have to mean something to me to offend me. You can’t break up with me if we don’t date.
Q. You don’t think some kind of threshold has been crossed?
A. When you’re workshopping it, a lot of stuff is bumpy and awkward. Especially when you’re working on the edge, you’re going to offend. A guy like Tosh, he’s at the Laugh Factory. He’s making no money. He’s essentially in the gym. You’re mad at Ray Leonard because he’s not in shape, in the gym? That’s what the gym’s for. The sad thing, with all this taping and stuff, no one’s going to do stand-up. And every big stand-up I talk to says: “How do I work out new material? Where can you go, if I have a half an idea and then it’s on the Internet next week?” Just look at some of my material. You can’t imagine how rough it was and how unfunny and how sexist or racist it might have seemed. “Niggas vs. Black People” probably took me six months to get that thing right. You know how racist that thing was a week in? That’s not to be seen by anybody.