Year after the slap, Chris Rock punches back in Netflix special

Jake Coyle/The Associated Press | 3/9/2023, 6 p.m.
A year after Will Smith smacked him on the Academy Awards stage, Chris Rock finally gave his rebuttal in a …
Will Smith, right, hits presenter Chris Rock at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Mr. Rock became the first artist to perform on Netflix live with a global streaming event last Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

A year after Will Smith smacked him on the Academy Awards stage, Chris Rock finally gave his rebuttal in a forceful stand-up special, streamed live on Netflix, in which the comedian bragged that he “took that hit like Pacquiao.”

The 58-year-old comedian on Saturday night performed his first stand-up special since last year’s Oscars in a much-awaited sequel that had all the hype—and more— of a Manny Pacquaio prizefight. “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” streamed live from the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, marked Netflix’s first foray into live streaming. But it was also a long-awaited comedy counterpunch to Academy Awards infamy.

Mr. Rock, performing in all white and with a Prince medallion around his neck, immediately touched on last year’s Oscars while riffing on “wokeness,” hypersensitivity and what he called “selective outrage.”

“You never know who might get triggered,” Mr. Rock said. “Anybody who says words hurt hasn’t been punched in the face.”

But Mr. Rock then launched into a series of wide-ranging topics examining contemporary is- sues, including virtue signaling, high-priced yoga pants, the Duchess of Sussex, the Kardashians, abortion rights, the Capitol riot and what he called America’s biggest addiction: Attention.

“We used to want love, now we just want likes,” said Mr. Rock.

Mr. Rock, who also riffed on how he’d respond if his father transitioned to a woman (he would support him, Mr. Rock said), made clear “Selective Outrage” was not going to be just a Will Smith show. Only occasionally did Mr. Rock’s material dovetail with the 2022 Oscars, like it did when Mr. Rock joked about the oddity of Snoop Dogg becoming such a venerated pitch man for advertisers.

“I’m not dissing Snoop,” Mr. Rock said. “The last thing I need is another mad rapper.”

But an hour into his set, Mr. Rock closed the special with a torrent of material about the notorious Academy Awards moment.

“You all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith. Everybody knows,” Mr. Rock said. “It still hurts. I got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears.”

While Mr. Smith has apologized and repeatedly spoken about the incident since last March, Mr. Rock has avoided all the usual platforms where celebrities often go to air their feelings. He never sat down with Oprah Winfrey, and turned away the many media outlets that would have loved to land an exclusive in-depth interview.

“I’m a not a victim, baby,” Mr. Rock said. “You will never see me on Oprah or Gayle crying. You will never see it. Never going to happen.”

But Mr. Rock did use his encounter with Mr. Smith to shape and enliven his second stand-up special for Netflix. Some of his best material was on their physical differences.

“We are not the same size. This guy does movies with his shirt off,” Mr. Rock said. “You will never see me do a movie with my shirt off. If I’m in a movie getting open-heart surgery, I got on a sweater.”

“He played Muhammed Ali,” added Mr. Rock. “I played Pookie in ‘New Jack City.’”

Ultimately, Mr. Rock suggested he was just caught in the crossfire in Mr. Smith’s relationship with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. It was a joke that Rock told about Ms. Pinkett Smith that prompted Mr. Smith to stride on stage and strike Mr. Rock. The comedian on Saturday referenced Ms. Pinkett Smith’s earlier confessions of having an “entanglement” with another man while married.

“I did not have any entanglements,” said Mr. Rock. “She hurt him way more than he hurt me.”

“I love Will Smith,” Mr. Rock added. “Now I watch ‘Emancipation’ just to see him get whooped.”

Before dropping his microphone and holding his arms up triumphantly, Mr. Rock left the crowd with one last zinger. Mr. Rock said the reason why he didn’t physically retaliate at the Oscars was because “I got parents.”

“And you know what my parents taught me?” he said. “Don’t fight in front of white people.” “Selective Outrage” is Mr. Rock’s second special for Netflix, following 2018’s “Tamborine.” They’re part of a two-special $40 million deal Mr. Rock signed with the streamer in 2016.