In 1990, a 25-year-old Chris Rock joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. This DVD, originally released in 1999, compiles his best bits.
Featuring about 60 minutes of footage taken from Rock’s three years on the show (plus the opening monologue from when he hosted in 1996), what we see here is not classic Rock. After all, his career didn’t really take off until his HBO special Bring The Pain in 1996. One can see, however, that even at this early stage of his career, Rock knew how to encapsulate the themes of class and race in America.
The sketches here (which include other fresh-faced comedians such as Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) are all, in one way or another, based around race, but Rock’s inimitable style isn’t as simplistic as black versus white. As a precursor to his infamous “N***as vs. Black People” routine, he just as often pokes fun at black culture such as Hip-hop, fashion and comedy. This is what makes Rock unique – from his perspective, black America is just as full of cliché and therefore, as ripe for parody, as white America. It is this skewed outlook that gives his humour such clout.
A lot of the references here (Bill Clinton, OJ Simpson, early Hip-hop) are inevitably a bit dated, and Rock’s youth and relative inexperience shows. His performances in some of the sketches are a bit wobbly and at times he is visibly reading his lines off camera.
Incidentally, this disc proves what many of us have known all along: that Rock is better at stand up than he is at acting. His opening monologue and news-style reports are by far the best things on offer here, as they are essentially truncated stand-up routines, whereas some of the sketches simply aren’t that funny.
Overall, this selection is best viewed as a nostalgic trip back to early nineties SNL, or at least it would be had the show been afforded the opportunity to gain any kind of following outside of the US. Certainly, here in the UK, it hasn’t really been shown on TV, and the only reason the average Brit knows that it exists is because IMDb tells us that a long list of comedic royalty started life there. That, and the fact that movies such as The Blues Brothers, Wayne’s World and Coneheads stemmed from it.
At just over 60 minutes long, The Best Of Chris Rock feels too short. With three years’ worth of footage from his tenure, is this really all there was? And bear in mind that he hosted the show in ’96 and would therefore have been featured prominently for a whole 90-minute episode.
Presumably, the main feature was originally released on VHS and/or aired on a slow TV night. Nevertheless, would it have killed them to spruce it up a bit for DVD?
Extras-wise, there’s not much on offer. A sketch that was justifiably cut from the show at dress rehearsal, a short selection of outtakes and an even shorter photo gallery doesn’t really cut it.
As a retrospective on the start of a shining career, would an interview and perhaps even a commentary be too much to ask? Is there no behind the scenes B-roll footage lurking around the vault somewhere? Maybe some words from the current crop of SNL stars?
In a word, disappointing.
Chris Rock Live: The Best Of Saturday Night Live is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.