It’s been nearly a year since a throwaway joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair led Chris Rock’s face to meet the palm of Will Smith’s hand on live television in the middle of the Academy Awards. “The Slap,” as it was immediately known, became the biggest news story for at least a week and has had lingering effects in Hollywood, from Smith’s career to the “crisis team” that has been hired for this year’s Oscars.
And yet, Rock himself has never spoken about it publicly. Until now.
In Saturday night’s new stand-up special Selective Outrage—the first live event to stream on Netflix—the comedian finally addressed his feelings about what happened on his terms, with jokes.
With a star-studded pre-show event hosted by The Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng and a post-show wrap-up hosted by Rock’s SNL castmates Dana Carvey and David Spade, Netflix hyped up the special like an old school fight night, albeit one with only a single boxer in the ring.
And it was clear that Rock was feeling the pressure. In a behind-the-scenes feature released Saturday morning, the comedian fretted, “It’s going to be the most press any ‘comedy’ show has ever gotten, and that’s the one they’re gonna review.”
When Rock took the stage wearing all white—and a Prince-inspired necklace—in Baltimore, the energy in the room could not have been higher. The comic began by saying he was going to try not to “offend” anyone with his comedy, but wouldn’t make any promises—and pushed back on the very idea that “words” can actually “hurt” anyone. In fact, the first allusion to the incident with Smith came when he told the crowd, “Anybody who says ‘words hurt’ has never been punched in the face.”
The first chunk of the special included Rock’s uncensored thoughts about “woke traps,” “safe spaces” and, above all, the “selective outrage” that leads some people to get “canceled” while others get a pass for the exact same behavior. It’s a theme that he returned to again and again throughout the live hour, calling out everyone from Jan. 6 rioters to Meghan Markle for playing the “victim.”
Being viewed as a “victim” is something Rock never asked for himself, but depending on whether you think jokes justify physical violence or not, it’s where he found himself in the aftermath of The Slap. The couple of times that Rock barely touched on what happened nearly a year ago, he got a huge cheer from the audience. At one point, after lightly roasting Snoop Dogg, he stopped himself and said, “I’m not dissing Snoop, the last thing I need is another mad rapper!”
Like his friend Dave Chappelle, Rock could not help but wade into the transgender issue. After praising the Kardashians for accepting Caitlyn Jenner so quickly, he told the crowd that if his father “became a woman,” he would still love and support him. But in the next breath, he joked that he actually “prefers” trans women to “original recipe” because they understand sports better.
That joke probably won’t get him canceled, but it was far from the sharpest bit of the hour. And if anyone was worried about it endearing him to conservatives, he made sure to put his run about how he’s so pro-choice that he calls up the abortion doctor like a hitman—“Is it done?”—right after the section on trans women.
As the end of the hour neared, Rock still had not addressed Will Smith directly, but then, finally, he went there.
“Y’all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith,” Rock said. “I got smacked at the fucking Oscars by this motherfucker. People were like, ‘Did it hurt?’ It still hurts! I got ‘Summertime’ still ringing in my ears.”
“But I’m not a victim,” Rock confirmed, saying you’ll never see him “crying” to Oprah Winfrey about what happened to him.“I took that hit like Pacquiao, motherfucker.”
Ultimately, he came back to the big theme of the hour, saying, “Will Smith practices selective outrage.”
“We all know what this was about. I didn’t have any entanglements,” he said, alluding to the very public affair that Jada Pinkett Smith had, before spelling it out explicitly: “His wife was fucking one of his son’s friends.” And while he “normally wouldn’t talk about this shit,” Rock said it was fair game because of the couple’s decision to essentially interview each other about it on their family’s talk show.
“She hurt him way more than he hurt me,” Rock said. And after the affair, he said “everybody” was calling Smith a “bitch.”
“And who’s he hit? Me!” he continued. “That is some bitch-ass shit.” He also did not hesitate to continue going after Pinkett Smith, telling the crowd, “Nobody’s picking on this bitch. She’s started this shit.”
“I love Will Smith, my whole life,” he said. “I have rooted for Will Smith my whole life. And now, I watched Emancipation just so I could watch him getting whooped.”
As for why Rock didn’t “do nothing back” that night, he said it’s because he’s “got parents” who taught him a very important lesson: “Don’t fight in front of white people!”
There is a good chance Rock’s jokes in Selective Outrage will also serve as his last word on “The Slap.” Not only did he apparently turn down an offer to host this year’s Oscars, he has no plans to appear at next weekend’s ceremony in any capacity. And honestly, who could blame him?
For more, listen and subscribe to The Last Laugh podcast.