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Chris Rock Slaps Back in Netflix’s First Live Comedy Special

Will Smith ironically did Chris a massive favor. His shows since the slap have all sold out. His special will garner huge viewership.


I wish someone would slap me on national television. OMG...that's never going to happen. This is so unfair!


Chris Rock Slaps Back in Netflix’s First Live Comedy Special

Comedian shares thoughts on being hit by Will Smith at Oscars


By Ellen Gamerman, WSJ

Updated March 5, 2023 1:34 am ET


It took a year, but Chris Rock finally slapped back.


In the very last minutes of his live stand-up show on Netflix on Saturday night, the comedian addressed the bizarre encounter at last year’s Oscars when Will Smith bounded to the stage and slapped him after the comedian joked about Mr. Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.


“Y’all know what happened to me,” he said to a packed theater. “I got smacked at the f— Oscars by this mother-f— and people are like, ‘Did it hurt?’ It still hurts. I’ve got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears.”


The Netflix performance, which ran over an hour, was a streaming and comedy high-wire act. Mr. Rock was testing a live technology that the platform was rolling out for the first time to its more than 231 million global subscribers, bringing the idea of appointment TV to the audience of anytime TV watchers it helped create. The show started at 10 p.m. Eastern time at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre and is now on the site for viewing.


As he paced the stage, outfitted all in white, Mr. Rock allowed hurt and righteous indignation into his characteristic howl as he relived the moment when one of the world’s biggest movie stars clocked him in front of Hollywood’s elite and a global audience. The longer Mr. Rock talked, the more emotional he sounded.


“I have rooted for Will Smith—my whole life I root for this motherf—, OK? And now I watch ‘Emancipation’ just to see him get whooped—got me rooting for massa,” Mr. Rock said, referring to the 2022 movie in which Mr. Smith played a slave escaping to freedom. “Hit him again. You missed a spot, massa, you missed a spot.”


In interviews and social-media posts, Mr. Smith apologized to Mr. Rock repeatedly. But the comedian didn’t respond. Last year, while the country talked about “The Slap,” and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Oscars, penalized Mr. Smith, Mr. Rock put his head down and got to work extracting the comedy in the experience.


The live stream comes a week before the Academy Awards telecast, set for Sunday March 12. The stand-up show, titled “Selective Outrage,” a reference to what Mr. Rock considers the self-serving ways people play with victimhood, includes about seven minutes of material on Mr. Smith. Mr. Rock’s wide-ranging performance included riffs on the Kardashians, Elon Musk, Meghan Markle and Lululemon.


The comedian started on the Will Smith episode by joking about the size disparity between himself and the actor. “Will Smith played Muhammad Ali in a movie—you think I auditioned for that part?” he said. “I played Pookie in ‘New Jack City.’”


But the most barbed part of Mr. Rock’s set was his argument that the slap was never really about his joke, which mocked Ms. Pinkett Smith’s hair despite the actress’s having said she suffered from alopecia. Instead, Mr. Rock pointed to a 2020 episode of Ms. Pinkett Smith’s online show “Red Table Talk,” where she and her husband confirmed rumors of her past extramarital affair, saying it happened while the two were separated.


“I have no idea why two talented people would do something that f— low down,” Mr. Rock said of their personal exchange. “None of us have ever been interviewed by the person that cheated on us on television.…She hurt him way more than he hurt me, OK?”


His last lines led to a literal mic drop. “A lot of people go, ‘Chris, how come you didn’t do nothing back?’” he said. “‘Cause I got parents, that’s why, ’cause I was raised. OK? I got parents. And you know what my parents taught me? Don’t fight in front of white people.”


Representatives for Mr. Smith and Ms. Pinkett Smith didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


In an apology video he posted last summer. Mr. Smith said, “I’ve reached out to Chris and the message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk. When he is, he will reach out. I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you are ready to talk.”


A preshow hosted by “Daily Show” comedian Ronny Chieng featured testimonials about Mr. Rock—most comic, some earnest, all worshipful—from A-listers including Kevin Hart, Ali Wong, Sarah Silverman, Tracy Morgan, Jerry Seinfeld, Arsenio Hall, Amy Schumer and Matthew McConaughey (who punctuated his comments by tossing back a shot).


“Chris Rock is in his samurai f— mode right now,” said “Saturday Night Live” veteran Leslie Jones.


During the Oscars, televised to a U.S. audience of about 15 million, Mr. Smith repeatedly shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f— mouth.” Mr. Rock attempted to keep his composure while his peers watched from their seats in stunned silence.


Less than an hour later, Mr. Smith accepted the best-actor Oscar for his performance as Richard Williams, the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, in the drama “King Richard.”


In his acceptance speech, he did not apologize to Mr. Rock, and a backlash brewed in real time that night as he partied with Oscar in hand. The next day, Mr. Smith apologized on Instagram. He resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which banned him from its ceremony for 10 years.


Mr. Smith apologized again in December during the release of his film “Emancipation.” Though the film was eligible for this year’s Academy Awards, including for Mr. Smith’s performance, it received no nominations.


Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com

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