BOSTON — Chris Rock received several standing ovations before he told one joke Wednesday at his first comedy show since Will Smith slapped him in the face onstage at the Oscars.
Rock only briefly addressed the slap to the sold out crowd in Boston, saying he was “still kind of processing what happened.”
“Other than the weird thing, life is pretty good,” Rock said midway through his first of two sets. The nighttime performances came just three days after Smith smacked the comedian for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, while presenting an Academy Award.
Rock didn’t mention Smith or Pinkett Smith by name at his show in Boston. Wearing all white, he seemed to be almost embarrassed by the multiple 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 Smith took to the awards stage and slapped Rock on live TV, 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.
He spent much of the night skewering celebrities and politicians. Among them were the Duchess of Sussex, the Kardashians, as well as President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and former President Donald Trump.
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 least one person yelled during the show that Rock should sue Smith.
Rock’s joke at the Oscars was about Jada Pinkett Smith’s buzzed haircut: “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it,” Rock said, 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.
Pinkett Smith has spoken publicly about her diagnosis of alopecia, which can cause baldness.
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.”
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.
George Guay, a 24-year-old fan from Boston who grew up on “Everybody Hates Chris,” said he bought a ticket after Rock was slapped by Smith.
“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.”
Afterward, 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 Pilates 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 the ceremony after hitting Rock, but he refused to do so.
This was not the first time 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.
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 moviegoing. 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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