Comedian Chris Rock, returning to the stage Wednesday for the first time since being slapped by Will Smith at the Oscars, received several standing ovations at a soldout show in Boston before he even told one joke.
But Rock only briefly addressed the slap, saying he was “still kind of processing what happened” Sunday. He never mentioned Smith nor his wife by name.
“Other than the weird thing, life is pretty good,” Rock said at one point midway through his first of two sets. The nighttime performances in Boston came just three days after Smith struck the comedian for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Rock wore all white for his performance and seemed to be almost embarrassed by the multiple standing ovations he received. As the applause carried on for minutes – with fans yelling “I love you, Chris!” – the comedian appeared to be getting emotional, a guest seated near the stage told The Associated Press.
“How was your weekend?” Rock joked before getting into his set.
Ticket prices skyrocketed after the Oscar confrontation, but the comedian made clear he wasn’t going to talk at length about it Wednesday.
“If you came to hear that, I’m not ... I had like a whole show I wrote before this weekend,” Rock said.
Though he never touched on the Smith confrontation at the Academy Awards, he spent much of the night skewering celebrities and politicians. Among them were the Duchess of Sussex, the Kardashians, as well as U.S. President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and former President Donald Trump.
Members of the audience shouted their support for the comedian. At least one person yelled that Rock should sue Smith. Outside the venue, a fan showed off a T-shirt featuring the G.I. Jane logo and Pinkett Smith’s face. Another had a shirt he made that showed Smith’s face and displayed a crude joke about the couple’s relationship.
At Sunday’s Oscars, Rock had made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s buzzed haircut. Pinkett Smith has spoken publicly about her diagnosis of alopecia, which can cause baldness.
“Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Rock said while presenting an award, comparing Pinkett Smith to Demi Moore’s G.I. Jane character, who had a buzz cut in the 1997 film.
Smith promptly stood up from his seat at the front of the venue and took to the stage, slapping Rock across the face before sitting back down and yelling at Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth.
Within an hour, Smith won best actor, receiving a standing ovation. During his five-minute acceptance speech, Smith talked about defending his family and apologized to the academy. A day later, Smith issued an apology to the comedian, to the academy and to viewers at home, saying he was “out of line” and that his actions are “not indicative of the man I want to be.”
George Guay, a 24-year-old fan from Boston who grew up on Everybody Hates Chris, said he bought a ticket after the Academy Awards.
“He’s the most popular celebrity so I want to be here,” Guay said before the show, adding that he hoped Rock would open with a response to the situation. “I just want a good show.”
After the show, some fans were a little disappointed he did not address the controversy more directly. But they also said they could see from his body language that he wasn’t sure how to do it.
“As soon as I saw him, his mood was a little bit shocked,” said Dave Henriquez, a 48-year-old musician from Newton, Massachusetts. “I got that it was weighing on him.”
Erin Ryan, a 33-year-old teacher also from Newton who was with Henriquez, said she felt Rock wanted to perform his act, “not make the standup about the one incident.”
Kathryn West-Hines, a 50-year-old palates instructor from Malden, Massachusetts, said she came away with even more respect for Rock. “I thought it was amazing, classy,” she said, adding that he wasn’t going to let “what happened Sunday” take away his shine.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences condemned Smith striking Rock. Its board of governors met Wednesday to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violations of the group’s standards of conduct. The academy said it had asked Smith to leave Sunday’s Oscar ceremony after hitting Rock, but he refused to do so.
The Los Angeles Police Department said Sunday it was aware of what happened but was not pursuing an investigation because the person involved declined to file a police report.
Pinkett Smith responded Tuesday with a graphic on Instagram that read: “This is a season of healing and I’m here for it.” She offered no further comment.
This was not the first time that Rock had made a joke at Pinkett Smith’s expense. When he hosted the 2016 Oscars, some people boycotted the ceremony over the #OscarsSoWhite group of nominees, including the Smiths. Said Rock then: “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
Wanda Sykes, who co-hosted the Oscars with Amy Schumer and Regina Hall, said she felt physically ill after Smith slapped Rock. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres scheduled to air April 7, Sykes also said letting Smith stay and accept his award should not have happened.
Several stars rushed to counsel and calm Smith after he returned to his seat, including Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper and Tyler Perry.
The drama overshadowed some historical wins at an Oscars. The deaf family drama CODA became the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. For the first time, a streaming service, Apple TV+, took Hollywood’s top honour, signalling a profound shift in Hollywood and in movie-going. Wins for Ariana DeBose of West Side Story, Troy Kotsur of CODA and Jane Campion, director of The Power of the Dog, all had made history.
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