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Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, on March 27, 2022.ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Chris Rock waited almost a year after the slap to hurt Will Smith back. The comedian, who reportedly spent the past year at shows lightly treading into jokes about his violent altercation with the King Richard star during the March, 2022, Oscars telecast, finally unloaded during a Netflix live special on Saturday. It was toxic.

Rock repeatedly referred to Smith as a “bitch” with a mix of fury and glee. He repackaged the arguments made by so many online commentators, who tore into Smith for taking his aggression over his marital problems out on Rock. He made Smith the prime example for his show’s title, Selective Outrage, explaining that the actor only took his anger out on the comedian because Rock is so physically small. He essentially painted Smith as a cowardly cuckold puffing his chest for his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who went unnamed (as per Smith’s Oscar-night instructions) but caught even more vitriol than her husband in the live set that reeked of misogynoir (misogyny against Black women).

For those who don’t remember the specifics, Rock, who was presenting the documentary prize, made a G.I. Jane joke on the Oscar stage referencing Pinkett-Smith’s balding. Pinkett-Smith, who has been open about living with alopecia, which causes hair loss, looked displeased. Smith, who later that evening won his first Oscar for his performance in King Richard, stormed the stage and smacked Rock, the bass-heavy oomph heard across the world.

Rock chose to air out his feelings during the live special, which was the first of its kind for Netflix. That setup at Baltimore’s Hippodrome theatre gave this highly anticipated round of insults the air of a sporting event, a fight night even, complete with pregame and postgame shows. Comedians such as JB Smoove and Arsenio Hall, and former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, weighed in on the Smith jokes immediately after, assessing the low blows and knockout punches, and crudely contemplating how Pinkett-Smith was feeling after the special.

Johanna Schneller: Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock shows toxic masculinity is still alive under Hollywood’s glossy sheen

Netflix will be keen to do even more live specials. It recently played host to the Screen Actors Guild awards on its YouTube page, anticipating that show’s move to its platform in the coming years. This experiment, made as the streamer is struggling for subscriber growth, will set Netflix up to make a play for actual live sports. Never mind Hollywood award shows and comedy specials; presenting soccer games and UFC fight nights will help Netflix tap into a major live television demographic in which they don’t have a foothold.

Rock’s live special did not go through without a few minor hiccups. The presenter introducing Rock as he took the stage repeated the phrase “Ladies and gentleman,” as Rock’s face seemed to signal timing and direction issues before he marched onstage to a standing ovation. Near the end of the one-hour special, when Rock finally went in on the Smiths, he flubbed a joke about Pinkett-Smith’s proposed Oscar boycott the year her husband wasn’t nominated for Concussion.

Rock also seemed to be going a little harder with his energy and exaggerated delivery throughout the night. I couldn’t tell if that was because of the pressure of the live event or compensation for those occasional bits that are tired or uninspired; some of the material was just recycled gags about white panic for the poststorming Capitol Hill era.

While teasing the Smith material throughout the night, with light jabs about people getting triggered and mad rappers, Rock’s material was mostly about “woke” culture and social media. Rock also dipped his toe into some problematic trans humour without going as hard as others in his cohort like Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, because he was saving all his toxic energy for the end.

Rock introduced the show’s selective outrage concept by calling out audiences who boycott R. Kelly while still listening to Michael Jackson, since both, he says, are guilty of the same crimes. A bit about Lululemon virtue-signalling with the company’s anti-racist store signage while selling $100 yoga pants, which Rock describes as hostile to the poor, was actually fun. And Rock’s most engaging moments were rare sections where he turned his attention toward his own family, describing his relationship with daughters who lived comfortably off his success, and their relationship with his mom, who lived through the Jim Crow era.

Throughout the show, Rock was especially focused on women, the misogynoir that typically runs through his comedy surfacing at pointed moments. His jokes about Meghan Markle, questioning her surprise that the Royal Family would be racist, were great. But that set was entirely focused on Markle. Rock had no energy to go after Harry. Not a comedic bone in his body could muster up a gag about the prince who set his wife up for punishment knowing full well how his family operates, the Prince who keeps declaring that he’s moving on from the Royal Family while finding endless ways to profit from his proximity to them. Rock wasn’t up for that. Markle proved the irresistible target.

That misogynoir polluted his final section on Smith, which would have otherwise been a valid response for his hurt. Rock described absorbing the hit like Manny Pacquiao. He spoke bitterly about rooting for Smith throughout the years, up until now he jokes, as he watches Smith’s recent Emancipation just to see the actor get whooped. The best of this bit is his self-deprecating humour when comparing their body sizes. “He played Muhammad Ali,” Rock screams. “I played Pookie in New Jack City.”

But not long after, Rock turns his attention toward Pinkett-Smith as so many toxic commentators online did. So many men, particularly from the hip-hop community, aggressively chafe against a Black woman cheating on her husband and keeping her head up high while openly speaking on it. They gave her the hate they would never have for Jay-Z when it was revealed he cheated on Beyoncé. That Smith respects and defends his wife after the fact is an even bigger irritant for them.

Rock taps into that deeply online energy for his rant on Pinkett-Smith, as he trots out her indiscretions onstage, twisting the knife with his description of how her actions hurt Smith more than the slap hurt Rock.

The comedian also manipulates and misrepresents the root of his jokes about Pinkett-Smith. He made her slightly self-serving call for a boycott at the 2016 Academy Awards, when #OscarsSoWhite was in full swing, all about his hosting duties. He painted Pinkett-Smith’s general call for a boycott as a demand directed specifically at Rock to step down as host. “Nobody is picking on this bitch,” Rock said, as he continued to bully her instead of Smith. He, too, is all about the selective outrage.

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