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Years after the blow, Chris Rock strikes back in a new special


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

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

Rock, who performed all in white with a Prince medallion around his neck, immediately cited last year’s Oscars as he lashed out at “waking up,” hypersensitivity, and what he called “selective outrage.”

“You never know who might get triggered,” Rock said. “Anyone who says words hurts has not been punched in the face.”

But Rock then launched into a series of disparate topics exploring contemporary issues, including virtue signaling, expensive yoga pants, the Duchess of Sussex, the Kardashians, abortion rights, the U.S. Capitol riot, and what he called America’s greatest addiction: attention.

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

Rock, who also hinted at how he would react if his father transitioned to a woman (he would support him, Rock said), made it clear that “Selective Outrage” wasn’t going to be just another Will Smith show. Only occasionally did Rock’s material tie in with the 2022 Oscars, like when Rock joked about the oddity of Snoop Dogg becoming such a revered advertiser pitchman.

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

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

“You all know what happened to me when I was beaten by Suge Smith. Everyone knows it,” Rock said. “It still hurts. I got ‘Summertime’ in my ears.

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

“I’m not a victim, honey,” Rock said. “You will never see me cry at Oprah or Gayle. You’ll never see it. Never going to happen.”

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

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

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

Finally, Rock suggested that he had just been caught in the crossfire in Smith’s relationship with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. It was a joke Rock told about Pinkett Smith that prompted Smith to step onstage and punch Rock. The comedian referred to Pinkett Smith’s previous admissions on Saturday that he was “entwined” with another man during his marriage.

“I had no complications,” Rock said. “She hurt him a lot more than he hurt me.”

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

Before dropping his mic and raising his arms in triumph, Rock left the crowd with one last zinger. Rock said the reason he didn’t retaliate physically at the Oscars was because “I have parents”.

“And do you know what my parents taught me?” he said. “Don’t fight in front of white people.”

Before and after the show, Netflix added bookends of star-studded live programming featuring, as host Ronny Chieng said, “every comedic legend that owes Netflix a favor.” Bono borrowed an opening introduction. Dana Carvey and David Spade hosted the aftershow. Paul McCartney, Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, and one of last year’s Oscar hosts, Wanda Sykes, all added pre-recorded messages. Arsenio Hall guaranteed that Rock’s set would cause Smith to smash his television set.

For much of the past year, Rock has been touring new material in a long string of gigs as part of his Ego Death tour. The shows, which were announced ahead of the 2022 Oscars, will feature performances by Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart.

Along the way, Rock has often worked on jokes and reflections on the slap. Rock first broke his public silence about the blow three nights after the Oscars, last year in Boston. “How was your weekend?” he asked the audience. He added that he was “still processing what happened”.

After much processing, Rock recaptured the cultural spotlight just a week before the March 12 Oscars, where the clap is sure to be revisited by this year’s host, Jimmy Kimmel. In the aftermath of last year’s events, Smith canceled his film school membership. The academy’s board of directors banned Smith from the Oscars and all other academy events for a decade.

At the annual luncheon for nominees last month, Janet Yang, president of the film academy, expressed regret for the way the incident was handled and called the academy’s response “inadequate”. Bill Kramer, the academy’s director, has said the academy has since established a crisis communications team to prepare for and respond more quickly to the unexpected.

“Selective Outrage” is Rock’s second special for Netflix, following 2018’s “Tamborine.” They’re part of a $40 million two-special deal that Rock signed with the streamer in 2016.

As new as the live “Selective Outrage” was to Netflix, it was hard not to notice a few familiar things about it.

“You have to give it to the tech companies for inventing something that’s been around for decades,” Chieng said. “We’re doing a Saturday night comedy show…live. Genius.”


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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.