Chris Rock is finally talking about the slap heard around the world.
I’m not sure anyone was more shocked than comedian Chris Rock when Will Smith climbed the steps of the Oscars 2022 stage and slapped him across the face for taking jabs at Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith then went on to tell the comedian “keep my wife’s name out your f-ing mouth,” in what has become one of the most popular trending sounds on the internet.
Now, nearly a year later, Rock has released his Netflix Comedy Special, titled “Selective Outrage”, and he’s not holding back. Is this special simply using sexist, maybe even misogynistic, comedy as a tool for revenge? Or is there something more to it?
To kick things off, Rock took the stage and immediately leaned into an intro featuring commentary on issues we’ve heard quite a lot about recently, especially from popular male comedians. He opens his set with his thoughts on people who are easily “triggered”, social media, and virtue signaling. But the one constant throughout the special was Rock’s disdain for what he considered victimhood – mocking Meghan Markle most notably in the first half.
Finally, Rock speaks up about the incident that had everyone tuning in in the first place – Will Smith and the slap that rocked the Oscars. He went on to claim that his joke about Pinkett Smith’s alopecia was never this issue, that it was Smith’s displaced anger that caused him to walk on stage and land a blow against the comedian. “She hurt him way more than he hurt me,” Rock said, before following up with his description of events that seem meant to humiliate Smith, rather than shine light on the situation.
If Smith’s displaced anger was the cause of the assault, then it’s Rock’s displaced anger that fuels this special, leading to a sloppy and visibly angry performance from an entertainer usually known for his great comedic timing and perfectionism. Highlighting his earlier mentioned disdain for “victimhood”, Rock claims that Pinkett Smith’s activism in boycotting the earlier Oscars was performative, not actually about the issues facing Black creatives, storytellers, and actors, but rather about her husband being snubbed for the nomination for his film Concussion. While Rock usually can perform to the nuance in things, we see very little of that in this special. Instead we see an angry man, a man who was humiliated and is now taking the opportunity to shame those he blames for his embarrassment. Instead of focusing on his choice to poke fun at Pinkett Smith and her health condition in the first place, Rock latches on to what he considers Smith’s shame, his wife’s relationship with another man, and their unconventional relationship style.
He goes on to say that “Smith practices selective outrage. ‘Cause everybody knows what the f-ck happened. Everybody that really knows, knows I had nothing to do with that s-t. I didn’t have any entanglements.” It’s obvious that he’s referring to the relationship that went on between Pinkett Smith and rapper August Alsina years ago. Beyond that, he condemns the pair for their choice to speak candidly about what happened and face the rumors head on, directing the conversation instead of ignoring it, as well as their participation in an open relationship.
About the situation with Alsina, Pinkett Smith had said “I got into a different kind of ‘entanglement’ with August.” She went on to admit that she and Smith were separated at the time before adding that her situation with Alsina “was a relationship, absolutely.”
Once again, with seemingly no care for the nuance of the situation, Rock says, “I have no idea why two talented people would do something that f-ing low-down. What the f-ck? We’ve all been cheated on. Everybody in here [has] been cheated on. None of us have ever been interviewed by the person that cheated on us on television. Why the f— would you do that s—? She hurt him way more than he hurt me. OK,” he told the crowd.
The special shows what many of us have known from the get go, that while Rock has tried to maintain the image that he is above it all, the interaction at the Oscars last year left a lasting impression on him, one that he was not able to move on from, and instead chose to release a petty comedy special over, focusing his anger on the woman he chose to make fun of, the woman he considers undeserving of defense because of the public perception of her relationship failings.
The timing of the specials release could not be any more obvious, with Rock trying to pull the focus back to his narrative as awards season wraps up with the Oscars in just a few weeks.