Opinion: Chris Rock showed why you never slap a comedian

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Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @[email protected]. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.


It’s been almost a year since the whole country, if not the entire world, was talking about “the slap.”

The slap in question occurred, of course, when Hollywood star Will Smith walked onto the stage at last year’s Academy Awards and struck presenter Chris Rock after a joke the comedian made about his wife. After smacking Rock in the face, Smith shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!”

Dean Obeidallah

On Saturday, Rock struck back: Hosting Netflix’s first live stand-up special, he showed Smith and the world what happens when you slap a famous comedian. The comedy special was titled “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage” but could more accurately have been called “Rock’s Revenge.”

It was clear that Rock was venting his rage at one person: Will Smith. But the special also took aim, to a lesser extent, at the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, whose name Smith angrily shouted that Rock needed to keep out of his mouth.

After the special, Chris Rock was trending on Twitter, and for good reason. The comedian hilariously — and at times angrily — went after Smith for assaulting him in front of the world. The three-time Grammy-winning comedian opened his hourlong set by teasing that he would discuss the incident, joking, “People always say, ‘Words hurt.’ … Anybody who says, ‘Words hurt,’ has never been punched in the face.” He then riffed on a number of different topics, including addiction, abortion, racism and “wokeness.”

In the last 10 minutes of the show Rock really came alive. He started the section by saying, “You all know what happened to me, getting smacked … and people are like, ‘Did it hurt?’ It still hurts! I got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ear!” (Rock was referring to the 1991 hit song “Summertime” that Smith recorded with DJ Jazzy Jeff.) But, the comedian said, “I’m not a victim, baby. You’ll never see me on Oprah or Gayle crying,” adding that he “took that hit like Pacquiao.”

That’s right, Rock didn’t whine about being slapped — instead he worked on a comedy set that would stream as a massively popular Netflix special, to even the score.

And did he ever. Like Muhammad Ali (whom Smith played in the film “Ali”) Rock floated around that stage like a butterfly but stung Smith like a bee. First, he got the audience on his side by noting how much bigger Smith is than him: “This guy does his movies with his shirt off!” Rock joked. “You’ve never seen me do a movie with my shirt off,” adding, “If I’m in a movie getting open heart surgery, I got on a sweater.”

Then he offered a little backstory, reminding the audience how Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith had publicly shared that she cheated on him with one of their son’s friends. Rock listed various people who had mocked Smith for this revelation, from the hosts of “The View” to well-known rappers. Everybody, he said, was talking about it.

“Everybody! Everybody!” the comedian joked. “And who does he hit? Me!”

The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member also shared that in the past, he had “loved” Smith: “I rooted for Will Smith my whole life.” But after the slap, all that has changed.

Rock ended the special by addressing one question that has been put to him repeatedly since the slap: “‘How come you didn’t do nothing back that night?’” the comedian said people have frequently asked him.

He gave his response in the final line of his show: “Because I got parents. You know what my parents taught me? Don’t fight in front of White people.” With that, Rock dropped his microphone as members of the cheering audience rose to their feet.

But he could have added that he didn’t need to fight Smith. What Rock did in his comedy special had to be much more painful for Smith — and far more cathartic for Rock — than if he slapped the actor at the Oscars.

At that Oscars ceremony a year ago, Smith returned to the stage after the slap to accept the best actor award — a career highlight — for his portrayal of the father of Serena and Venus Williams in the biopic “King Richard.

“Love will make you do crazy things,” the actor told the audience as he accepted the statuette. The following month, Smith received a decade-long suspension from the Oscars. Then in July, he released a video saying he was “deeply remorseful” for his assault on Rock. I have no doubt that on Saturday, Rock made him feel remorse all over again.

The lesson from the entire encounter is simple: Never slap a comedian, especially a famous one. Unless of course, you want to be turned into a punchline for the whole world.