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Chris Rock, trapped in time.

Chris Rock, trapped in time. (photo)

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It’s been 15 years since Chris Rock’s big cultural flash-point — 1996’s “Niggas vs. Black People” routine, which caused all kinds of trouble. His “Hey Ya” spoof “Crackers,” shot six years ago and now not-so-quietly emerging on YouTube, is a reminder of a time when people really cared what he had to say. It’s more funny than bitter (and Rock looks freakishly like Jason Schwartzman when he dons a glossy-haired black wig), but it’s worth a look.

Like many stand-up comics who blew up, Rock was expected to cross-over into movies, something he did with mixed results. As a comic, his comfort mode was splenetic, high-pitched indignation, accompanied by restless pacing up and down the stage — on-screen, Rock was often required to stand in one place and respond to other people’s timing, which rarely worked out. Eddie Murphy’s not perfect, but he figured out early on (and forgot later, apparently) how a sharp sense of timing can work whether you’re mugging or just glowering (“48 Hours,” now and forever). Rock’s assets just didn’t translate to interacting with other people.

His influence is still tangible. In the aforementioned controversial bit, he jokes about joining the KKK and going on a shooting spree, a bit of ironic self-loathing Dave Chappelle (another smart comedian and lousy actor) took to its logical extreme in his skit about a blind black guy who proves an incredibly effective KKK speaker.

04012010_lovemywife.jpgIt’s worth noting that Rock’s appearances in movies he directed himself — “Head of State,” “I Think I Love My Wife” — weren’t necessarily any more comfortable than, say, his running around Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Bad Company” — his best moments were always his monologues. That’s a shame: topical comedians need an out once they can’t keep up (you can see a decline in sharpness from 1996 to, say, a 2003ish routine on rap music that features an honest-to-goodness Vanilla Ice punchline; leave that stuff to Jay Leno).

Rock lacked the tools for self-reinvention. Instead, he went from firestarting observer of black culture to plundering his own material and persona, reaching an apex with the fascinatingly ambivalent “I Think I Love My Wife,” which wasn’t much of a movie but was startlingly honest about the ways race and class merge in everyday discussion. There aren’t many movies where a husband and wife discuss, in code, whether or not there’s enough black kids at a playdate (something that surely happens a lot but is never seen on-screen). But that’s not the way to keep your currency if you can’t act — it’s either all provocation or all pseudo-post-racial innocuousness, and it seems Rock couldn’t keep up either way.

[Photos: “Lethal Weapon 4,” Warner Bros., 1997; “I Think I Love My Wife,” Fox Searchlight, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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