What does Will Smith’s slap mean for comedians?


(NewsNation) — Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock for joking about his wife during the Oscars is a personal conflict between two men, not a reflection on the broader comedy community, a comedian told “Morning in America.”

“I think people, especially comics, shouldn’t really make this about themselves and comedy shows. The Oscars are not your regular comedy club on a Friday or Saturday night. You know, what’s more, annoying than in Will Smith smacking someone? Some bachelorette parties can be more disruptive,” comedian Brian Babylon said on “Morning in America.” “So it’s not about comedy. It’s about two guys at the Oscars, which is not a comedy club, in my personal opinion.”

Smith shocked the Dolby Theatre crowd and viewers at home when he took the stage after Rock, appearing as a presenter, joked: “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”

The joke touched a nerve. Pinkett Smith, whose head is shaved, has spoken publicly about her alopecia diagnosis. Smith strode on stage and slapped Rock across the face. Back in his seat, Smith twice shouted for Rock to “get my wife’s name out your (expletive) mouth.” His words echoed clearly throughout the Dolby, though broadcaster ABC cut the audio for about 15 seconds. Within an hour, Smith won best actor, receiving a standing ovation.

Babylon said that the Oscars have a history of poking fun at celebrities.

“We also have to understand that the Oscars, thanks to Ricky Gervais, have become an over-the-top roast of Hollywood. So in that case, you know, expect to be roasted, if you’re in that front row,” Babylon said. “Those are the top-tier seats at the Oscars to be even been in that realm. That’s your job. I mean, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith put their personal life out on display on the red carpet show. So they should know. That’s, that’s the price of the pudding. That’s what it costs to be a celebrity.”

Smith issued an apology to the comedian, to the academy and to viewers at home Monday evening, saying he was “out of line” and that his actions are “not indicative of the man I want to be.”

Rock had joked about Pinkett Smith before. He hosted the 2016 Oscars when some were boycotting 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.”

Ticket prices for Rock’s standup tour have skyrocketed since the slap. While Babylon says he doesn’t believe the slap was a publicity stunt, he thinks Rock will profit off the incident.

“I think the report just before this is said that his ticket prices went from $40 to $300. So in this capitalist society, Chris’s winning, you know, I think he took and it wasn’t a punch, it was a slap,” Babylon said.

However other comedians express worry over the future of comedy as the incident could enable others to think they can hit comedians.

“Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters,” comedian Kathy Griffin wrote on Twitter.

“He could have killed him,” comedy director Judd Apatow wrote in a now-deleted tweet republished by Variety editor-at-large Kate Aurthur. “That’s pure out-of-control rage and violence. They’ve heard a million jokes about them in the last three decades. They are not freshman in the world of Hollywood and comedy,” Apatow added. “He lost his mind.”

Comedian George Wallace said he would still tell “yo’ momma jokes,” suggesting that anyone who comes at him on stage can “try drivin’ home from the Laugh Factory with a mic stand wrapped around your head and what not.” 

The film academy said that it reviewed Smith’s actions and “will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” The Los Angeles Police Department said Sunday it was aware of the incident but was not pursuing an investigation because the person involved declined to file a police report.

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