Slap happy: Chris Rock opens up about Will Smith’s 2022 Oscars slap on 'Selective Outrage'
It would be weird if Chris Rock didn’t eventually open up about Will Smith’s 2022 Oscar meltdown. And during his latest Netflix special, Selective Outrage, open up he does. With both barrels.
But it takes most of the hour-long live broadcast to get to the “Slap Heard Round The World.”
And because Rock is a consummate raconteur, he teases the audience throughout the special—dropping hints to his Baltimore audience in an extended jab at wokeness (“Anybody who says words hurt… has never been punched in the face!”) before bobbing and weaving, dropping the topic for much of the set, insisting he doesn’t want to provoke anybody.
Not surprisingly, Rock then proceeds to provoke many selected targets—including cancel culture, “woke traps” in the workplace, victimhood, and today’s main topic, selective outrage (“You know who I mean… the kind of people who will play Michael Jackson songs, but not R. Kelly. Same crime. One of them’s just got better songs…”).
Anger has always been a renewable energy for Rock. It serves him well. He’s peeved at corporations that suddenly sell “woke” products. “They sell hundred-dollar non-racist yoga pants,” he says, crossing the stage in an all-white getup, accessorized with a Prince necklace. “I think most people in this crowd would prefer 20-dollar racist yoga pants.”
He notes the opioid epidemic in America, but says an even bigger problem is our addiction to attention. (“We can’t get enough! We’re fiending for likes!”)
And the way to get attention in America is by claiming to be a victim, he reckons. (“Biggest victims in the country? White men. Did you see the Capitol Riots? White men trying to overthrow the government… that they run! What kind of White Planet of the Apes sh*t was that?”)
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He hits Meghan Markle for playing the victim in the press, claiming she didn’t know what she was marrying into. (“It’s the royal family! You didn’t Google this? They the OGs of racism—The Sugarhill Gang of racism!”)
Then the show, which feels punchy and raw and very live indeed, veers into personal territory. He talks about the difficulties of raising kids right, without spoiling them. “We’re the only animal on earth that raises their kids for 18 years,” he notes. “The rest of the animal kingdom, 2-3 days tops! Then it’s (pretending to boot a chick out of the nest), ‘Hope you can fly!’”
Rock has a system. He’s executed it for years. He loves to repeat phrases over and over again, like a downhome preacher, refining his topics. He’ll enunciate it, turn it over, assess its truth, and win over the crowd.
And dualities. He likes to set up two situations, for comic effect. “They say men have all the power in the world. We don’t,” he says. “There’s nothing more powerful than female beauty. They say a beautiful woman will stop traffic. There’s nothing about a man that will stop traffic. You see a dead guy on the highway, people will just drive around the body.”
Anger has always been a renewable energy for Chris Rock. It serves him well.
It’s part of a larger point he seeks to make about how essential women are, how their beauty holds high value in society. “Beyoncé is so beautiful,” he says, setting up a punchline, “even without her massive talent, she could work at Burger King—and still marry Jay Z!” But that’s not the real punchline: “Now, if Jay Z were working at Burger King…” He doesn’t need to finish the joke.
There’s a transactional nature to relationships for Rock, between money and beauty, men and women. It’s something the comic has long mined for laughs, though it can come off as a little sour. “Men date younger women, not 'cause they’re prettier. It’s because they’re cheaper to date. All they want is a new pair of shoes. You go out with somebody 45 or 50, they want more than a pair of shoes: ‘Can you help me fix my roof?’”
Then comes the coup de grâce. Rock turns to the Oscars incident, in which Smith swatted the host live on television, ostensibly for “insulting” his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. He points out that the couple has had “entanglement” issues and extramarital affairs that they’ve spoken about on TV, long before the infamous Oscars slap. Rock just happened to be there to light the fuse that set Smith off. “They got interviewed on television about it! She hurt him way more than he hurt me. And who does he hit? Me!” It was, he argues, a case of… selective outrage.
He still seems keyed-up, like a live wire, just recalling the incident to an auditorium of (laughing) strangers in Baltimore. But one thing he insists he will never do: play the victim. “Did it hurt? I still got Summertime ringing in my ears! But I’m not a victim. You’ll never see me on Oprah. I took that sh*t like Pacquiao.” The audience cheers.
And then he drops another truth bomb, about behaving right—and particularly, knowing your audience in America.
“People say, ‘Rock, how come you didn’t hit him back?’” He pauses for a beat. “‘Cuz I got parents! ‘Cuz I got raised! And you know what my parents told me? Don’t fight in front of white people.”
I think Round Two goes to Chris Rock.
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Selective Outrage is now on Netflix.