Chris Rock, Netflix and Proper Comedy Etiquette

As stand-up comedy goes, Houston has been on a real run of late. We’ve already seen gigs from Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Dave Chappelle this year, with Chris Rock scheduled for two gigs at Smart Financial Center this Friday and Saturday.

But many of us are new to the whole comedy-concert thing, and the etiquette such an event entails. These tips might help you not stand out in the worst possible way at the next big comedy show in Houston:

** Be on time. This isn’t a music concert, where the music is loud, the crowd is lively and your late arrival will not be noticed. At a comedy show, particularly if you have really good seats, you will be noticed. Please arrive on time.

** Be responsive. Laugh. Have fun. It’s stand-up comedy. Act accordingly.

** But be respectful. Don’t heckle the performers. Whether they’re not having their best night, or simply because their brand of comedy isn’t your thing, jeering really doesn’t accomplish much besides annoy both your fellow patrons and perhaps the headliners themselves.

** Put away the selfie sticks. Again, this isn’t a concert, where your selfie-taking and Instagram-posting will likely go unnoticed. It’s a different room at a comedy show, and, as such, there’s a different etiquette. Spend more time enjoying the show and less letting others online know you’re enjoying the show.

** While we’re at it, put away the phones altogether. First off, most joints will kick you out altogether if you’re caught video recording a show; some even discourage photography, particularly of the flash variety. Others, meanwhile, will request you put your phone away or even leave it outside the venue. Whatever the rules, at the very least, put your phone on silent.

**Last, but certainly not least, don't be that guy. "That guy" is a fairly generic term, but we all know him. He's the guy who gets drunk and acts the fool at the company Christmas party. He's the guy who cuts in front of the women and children at Thanksgiving dinner. He's the guy who taunts visiting fans at a local sporting event. In the stand-up comedy world, he's the guy who goes to a show and spends the whole time laughing a bit too loud, causing a scene, having a couple too many beers, repeats his favorite jokes aloud and, most important, talking to whoever has the misfortune of being his plus-1. The rule, as always — don't be that guy.

Chris Rock plays Smart Financial Centre on May 12 and 13.EXPAND
Chris Rock plays Smart Financial Centre on May 12 and 13.
Courtesy of Ticketmaster

These tips should be adhered to during any stand-up show, but especially for comic royalty like Chris Rock. The former Saturday Night Live cast member turned stand-up legend (and current Rolling Stone cover face) is touring for the first time in a decade. During that time, he's suffered up and downs, including hit movies, movies that flopped and a divorce.

Netflix is banking (no pun intended) that Rock still has his comedic fastball. The online streaming giant recently inked Rock to a $40 million deal that will include a pair of original stand-up sets to air on Netflix. This comes on the heels of similar deals with other comedic heavyweights like Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and Louis C.K.

But is the "past their prime" dilemma in play here? Is Netflix paying for greatness, or simply selling paying customers on the notion that they will see players who were once great? To be fair, I’m not sure anyone was more stoked than I when Netflix rolled out a pair of Chappelle stand-up specials in March. Same for Louis C.K. last month. Same for any number of the other comedians listed above.

But here’s the issue. For the most part, their new material paled in comparison to their previous output. Sure, Chappelle made some great points and elicited plenty of laughs with the tandem set of The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas, but the sets almost sounded bitter and callous, as if Chappelle really didn’t care if he got the laughs or not; they were almost mean in a non-comedic way. He’s even jokingly admitted that his deal with Netflix was motivated mostly by money, which is certainly understandable – dude is getting $60 million total for three stand-up specials.

The same went for C.K.’s latest, 2017, which was, frankly, kinda boring. Schumer was a big swing-and-miss with her latest, as was Jim Gaffigan. Patton Oswalt’s Talking for Clapping wasn’t his worst, but certainly not his finest hour, and the same went for Bill Burr with “Walk Your Way Out,” which was fine but not on par with previous outings.

Point being, Netflix might be overplaying its hand – and its wallet – on a bunch of stand-up comics that deliver at the turnstiles but aren’t exactly bringing their A games anymore. Will it matter? In the short term, apparently not: Chappelle’s stand-up specials brought in Netflix's highest viewership to date. And while the company isn’t exactly transparent in reporting its numbers, one can fathom upcoming sets from Rock and Seinfeld will also perform well.

But at some point, will the risk outweigh the reward, and will multimillion-dollar deals with comedic heavyweights mean Netflix’s bottom line takes a hit? That question will be answered in time, but when that time comes, it may just prove that in the realm of online entertainment, it’s best to build from within.

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