It’s been nearly a full year since the slap heard round the world. The moment rapper / actor Will Smith stepped onstage and assaulted comedian Chris Rock in front of a live audience of Hollywood elites, isn’t something one easily forgets.
Yes, it was shocking. Sure, it was unexpected, but we all knew there would be a comeback. Famous or not, an audience member does not simply heckle or harass a great comedian in the middle of a set without opening the door for vicious mental repercussions. We were all ready for it, yet months and months later there was nothing.
In the oversaturated aftermath, we chewed though the replay, unending millions of media reactions, and dissected one of the oddest and most memorable moments in television history frame by frame.
Deep down though, everyone knew that at some point, the razor sharp mind of the legend that is Chris Rock would find his inevitable punchline. The only question was when. With so much time elapsing, the art of the counter dictates that too much space is now between the present and the incident. Saturday night in a live telecast, Chris Rock showed us that he doesn’t care for norms. He can rewrite the rules of the comeback.
Selective Outrage is the sixth entry in the career of headlining stand up specials from Rock. While Chris is no stranger to a hungry audience, this work in particular has been awaited more than any other previous, as we all knew at some point he was going to talk about Will Smith and let loose.
Up until now we’ve had little from Rock on the incident. He’s been methodical in picking his moment. Avoiding the subject almost completely in the last year’s material and not speaking on it in interviews, there was nothing but build to this special. In all likelihood that’s what got Chris a fast green light on this and a live airing which speaks of its anticipation.
On the other hand, we’ve heard plenty from Will Smith. In a July internet apology video that seemed quite sincere, and multiple interviews he hasn’t avoided talking about this at all. At this point he may be throwing genuine and heartfelt hail marys trying to save his career, or just saying what needs to be said and selling it. There’s no argument that the man is a gifted artist and could convince us of his sorrow without hesitation whether real or not. That said, we all want to believe Will is sorry and see him back, just maybe not at the Oscars anytime soon.
Apologies aside, no one likes a bully and Smith needs to take his medicine. He messed with a comedian and now it is finally time for payback. No matter what is said, he needs to swallow it and smile as just punishment. He should absorb it the same way Rock did his blow and carry on with dignity, calling it done and buried. Smith knew it would come, we all knew it would come. It’s been a year and now it was time for the comeback. And so it was that on March 4th Chris Rock picked his moment and set his trap.
Selective Outrage is easily Chris Rock’s best work since 2004’s Never Scared. Making keen insight into race, the royal family, wokeism, children, wealth, and dating as only he can, Chris still has the power to deftly control his audience and leave you gasping for air. At times he gets ahead of himself and stumbles on his punchline, but it is quickly forgotten as we all know this was his moment and he was building energy for the diss.
Throughout the set, multiple references to angering rappers via joke, are laid out and we bite. We wait, we watch for the man to deliver the death blow and yet he swerved back into his material and kept the laughs coming. Then it happened. In the final moments of his special Chris opens up and fells anyone who doubted him after the Oscars. He not only goes into detail on the incident but the reasons behind it, which of course had little to do with him and more to do with another’s damaged masculinity. Without giving away the punchline it’s safe to say that after nearly a dozen uses of the word “bitch” to describe his adversary, and not painting himself as a victim ever, he has easily defeated and eviscerated his cuckolded foe.
In many ways the infamous slap gave Chris something real to focus on. Since he found his success in the late 90’s he’s had his fingers on the pulse of societal differences and his observations were cutting edge. As with all artists, success and notoriety take the bite off both the message and the hunger. The slap reinvigorated Chris not only in the entirety of material in the special, but also in his Count of Monte Cristo style comedic revenge. He had something authentic to say that we can all identify with. Even the rich and famous can be bullied, even they can feel emasculated. What Chris did to react in his way, and end it in his own way in this special is something we can all marvel at. Available now on Netflix.