Everybody may not hate Chris, but we certainly wouldn’t blame you for side-eyeing him.
The 55-year-old comedian, who has been promoting his starring turn on the fourth season of Fargo, was recently asked by the New York Times to discuss his feelings about Jimmy Fallon impersonating Rock in blackface on an episode of SNL that aired in 2000.
The clip resurfaced in late May, with Fallon publicly apologizing for the skit and saying there was “no excuse” for the “unquestionably offensive decision.”
Rock, a fellow SNL alum, shrugged it off.
“I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything,” Rock told the Times. “A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.”
When asked a follow-up question about whether he thinks the push to expunge blackface from movies and tv shows has gone “too far,” Rock appeared to get a bit defensive.
“If I say they are [going too far], then I’m the worst guy in the world. There’s literally one answer that ends my whole career,” Rock said. “Blackface ain’t cool, OK? That’s my quote. Blackface is bad. Who needs it? It’s so sad, we live in a world now where you have to say, I am so against cancer. ‘I just assumed you liked cancer.’ No, no, no, I am so against it. You have to state so many obvious things you’re against.”
It’s a tough answer to square with Rock suggesting that intent matters when it comes to blackface mere moments before—specifically, an intention to hurt the person you are portraying. You don’t have to be a race scholar—or a multimillionaire comedian who’s buttered his bread-making jokes about how racism works—to know that many of the nonwhite people who perform blackface don’t do it because they intend to harm a specific person. For them, it is a costume, a joke shared among friends, many of whom are happy to give a pass because they know the offender doesn’t mean any harm.
It is strange for that to elide Rock even a little bit, particularly considering he has built a career on his incisive commentary on race. But here, Rock may have a blind eye for white men who get a bit too familiar. Many still recall his cringey 2011 conversation with Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais in which Rock called C.K. “the blackest white guy I fucking know.”
“And all the negative things we think about Black people, this fucker—” Rock continued.
“You’re saying I’m a n*****?” C.K. interrupted.
“You are the n*****est fucking white men I have ever [met]” Rock responds.
The conversation appeared on the 2011 HBO special Talking Funny and later resurfaced in 2018.
Rock caught hell for the exchange, which had Gervais rolling over in laughter and Jerry Seinfeld, visibly uncomfortable, interrupting the exchange (at least 1/4th of that room had some damn sense).
“You found the humor of it,” Seinfield later tells C.K. about his use of the racial slur. “I haven’t found it, nor do I seek it.”
Rock was criticized for seemingly giving C.K., who directed him in the 2001 movie, Pootie Tang, a pass.
For what it’s worth, Rock had more interesting and informed things to say in the rest of the Times interview, including noting that mainstream narratives of racial progress are usually framed to satiate white people.
“[Racism is] not going away. I said this before, but Obama becoming the president, it’s progress for white people. It’s not progress for Black people,” he said. “It’s the Jackie Robinson thing. It’s written like he broke a barrier, as if there weren’t Black people that could play before him. And that’s how white people have learned about racism. They think, when these people work hard enough, they’ll be like Jackie. And the real narrative should be that these people, the Black people, are being abused by a group of people that are mentally handicapped. And we’re trying to get them past their mental handicaps to see that all people are equal.”
Whether Rock is willing to personally check the white folks in his circle for crossing those moral and ethical boundaries around race, however, is still unclear.