I love watching Chris Rock. He’s one of the few stand-up comedians who is pretty much guaranteed to make me laugh every time I watch him.
However, watching Chris Rock videos on YouTube recently proved to be a very different experience from renting Chris Rock videos from Blockbuster. On YouTube, you get to see exactly what people are interested in. And that brings up important questions of who the audience is, and why exactly they are laughing.
For example, you see that by far the most popular Chris Rock video, viewed 1.6 million times, is a clip where he asks “Who’s more racist? White people or black people?” The answer he gives is “Black people. Because we hate black people too.” And he then goes into a ten-minute routine criticising all the things he hates about “niggers”, his term for a subset of black people who conform to pretty much all the prejudices held by white people, by being stupid, lazy, unemployed, criminal, etc. etc.
Now, who is the audience and why are they laughing? At the live event, the audience was predominantly black. It was an internal dialogue among black people, and they were presumably laughing because they recognised some of the things he was talking about and were similarly frustrated with the SMALL SUBSET of black people who behave in ways they don’t like.
On YouTube, however, the audience was very different. From the comments, it was clear that most of them were white, and used Chris Rock’s remarks as confirmation of their own racist beliefs about ALL black people. There was the guy who pointed out that a better term to use would have been “porch monkey.” Then there was:
“I totally agree with this guy. I hate ignorant niggas. It’s stupid how they support ignorance.”
“USA is fucked due to multiculturalism. EU will be fucked in 20 years due to multiculturalism. Asia will be ok. Maybe Russia too. Multiculturalism destroys nations. ”
“And this is why I dont give charity money, why I will NEVER help a black person in distress, I will just walk by.They are the real racists in america and the biggest most disgusting hypocrites in the history of the world. Ive had so many bad experiences with hateful blacks that when katrina happend I smiled ”
“Africa is like a supermarket, food all over. Whites survived and prospered with much less. The only ones not capable of surviving are the blacks. Black africa is a complete mess. And in the US? At the bottom, like everywhere. Dumb, criminal fuckers! ”
And on, and on, and on. 3,611 comments. I only read a few pages, but the ignorance and racism far outweighed the isolated pockets of sense. What they liked about the video was first that Chris Rock confirmed their own belief that black people are more racist than white people (something it’s clear that Chris Rock doesn’t really believe if you watch the rest of his material, but how many of those people are going to do that?). And then second, they liked being able to laugh, guilt-free, at the stereotypes and prejudices that they’re not allowed to perpetuate any more because of the hated Political Correctness and Multiculturalism that are destroying their society. Quite a few of the comments were by people who had nothing to say but were clearly just itching to type out the N word and post it on the internet without fear of getting flamed.
So it’s clear that Chris Rock’s act becomes something entirely different when posted on YouTube. To some extent, this has been the case for a long time. Videos have been available for years, and white supremacists could easily have watched them. But somehow I think most of those 1.6 million people, if they were walking the aisles of Blockbuster, would head straight past Chris Rock, simply seeing a black man on the cover and not suspecting the thrills of anti-black racism that they could indulge in by taking it out. The internet changes things: they can now search for “black people are more racist than white people” and come straight to Chris Rock.
I’m not entirely sure what the implications of this are. Should Chris Rock, or any other comedian or satirist, be aware of the way their words will be misinterpreted in the new YouTube world? Should they change their acts? Play not to the intimate, theatre audience in front of them but to the wider internet audience? It would be a great shame if they felt compelled to do that, but then it must also be a shame for Chris Rock if he strays onto YouTube and sees the twisted uses being made of his work by an audience he never suspected he would reach.