When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars ceremony, many members of the live audience and TV viewers at home thought it was a joke — until they realized, to their horror, that it wasn’t.
After making little comment about the incident during his concert tour last year, and turning down numerous interview requests, Rock finally hit back on Saturday. The comedic slapback came during Rock’s Netflix special “Selective Outrage,” broadcast live globally from Baltimore’s Hippodrome Performing Arts Center.
“You never know who might get triggered,” Rock, dressed in an all-white outfit, joked in a (thinly) veiled allusion to the slap in his set’s opening moments, promising a show that would offend nobody. “Anybody who says ‘Words hurt’ has never been punched in the face.”
Later, during a riff on Snoop Dogg doing so many commercials, he made more pointed reference to Smith, who started out as a musician: “I’m not dissing Snoop,” he said to raucous laughter. “The last thing I need is another mad rapper.”
For much of the special, however, Rock avoided the hotly anticipated subject of his run-in with Smith to follow his friend and fellow Netflix comedian Dave Chappelle in an extended discussion of “wokeness” — including Chappelle’s regular target, trans people — and nod to such low-hanging comic fruit as O.J. Simpson, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, and the Kardashians.
He also included edgy material about liking opioids and how the fact that he’s paid for abortions is a sign that he’s pro-choice: “I’ve paid for more abortions than any woman in this room.”
Anticipation was high that Rock would discuss the attack during the special — his first since Netflix’s “Chris Rock: Tamborine” — after previously telling audiences he would have to get paid before he would talk about the incident.
The premiere of “Selective Outrage” comes just days after Smith received a special award from the African American Critics Assn. for his performance in “Emancipation,” in which he plays a runaway slave. His appearance marked his first in-person speech since the Oscars ceremony. Earlier in the week, he was honored with an NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor in a motion picture for “Emancipation.”
The explosive Oscars moment came while Rock was presenting the award for best documentary. After Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, the actor leaped from his seat, went onstage and struck Rock across the face.
Less than an hour later, Smith was back onstage, this time making tearful but awkward reference to the attack as he accepted the lead actor award for “King Richard.” Days later, he resigned from the Academy of Motion Pictures and was issued a 10-year ban from academy activities, including the Oscars.
The assault became the dominant talking point of last year’s Academy Awards, tarnishing what, up to that point, was a powerful celebration of Black achievement and excellence. He has addressed the incident occasionally, posting an Instagram video in July and making brief comments during interviews promoting “Emancipation.”
This story will be updated with more from Rock’s live special, “Selective Outrage.”