I guess Chris Rock followed Will Smith’s orders to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth, because not once during his “Selective Outrage” Netflix special last night, streamed live from Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theater, did the comedian utter the words “Jada Pinkett Smith .”
However, he said the words “bitch” and “predator”. In her hometown. But at least he didn’t say her name!
Watch – Smith got himself the 10-minute intensive stabbing at the hands and mouth of the man he punched in the face on live TV for insulting his wife. You can’t run around slapping people and not face consequences, and if the person you punched happens to be a very popular stand-up comedian, you can expect your pummeling to come with words, if not fists. I don’t think Rock, who was my favorite comedian for years, owes Smith his forgiveness, no matter how sincere his apologies since the 2022 Oscars may have been. The former Fresh Prince made this bed and he has to stay in it for as long as Rock decides he will.
But Jada Pinkett Smith didn’t hit on Chris Rock. Her husband did. And I can’t help but notice that this particular one wasn’t filmed in Philadelphia, or in Bel Air, for that matter. It was filmed in Baltimore, and as a taxpayer I appreciate the spotlight on the city’s tourism and business interests. I hope everyone is doing something special here! But for Rock to do so, the week before the first anniversary of The Slap, is disgustingly strategic. And once again a woman captures brutally comic delusions. It’s depressingly predictable.
What’s worse, it wasn’t even that funny.
Baltimore itself is a character in this story, not just because Pinkett Smith is a native, but because it’s an easy target for jokes about what it’s like to live in “The Wire.” Warm-up comic and “Roastmaster General” Jeff Ross got the ball rolling last night, as he did on Friday’s show, by naming the city’s “Three C’s: Cal Ripken, crab cakes and crime.” Oh, so clever. Do we have crime here? Never heard that before.
Rock’s name check of the city was more fun, mentioning that the two questions he always asks in a new city are “Where should I not go and where can I buy coke? And usually they are in the same place.” (He’s not wrong.) But for the next hour or so, everything seemed to be a warm-up for the Smith family material we all knew was coming.
The earlier parts of the set were a contradictory, anti-safe space, “Get off my lawn” ranted. “Anyone who says ‘words hurt’ has never been punched in the face,” Rock insisted, but he knew his words that night were expertly honed to hurt, to do damage. And again, you punch a guy in the face, that’s what you’re going to get.
It’s what he said about Pinkett Smith, even without mentioning her name, that strikes. First, Rock’s premise that he and his face were the innocent bystanders to Smith’s humiliation because his wife’s infidelity is shaky. He insisted last night that “no one touched that bitch!” while he’s been picking on that woman behind the microphone since the late 1990s.
He boiled her boycott of the 2016 Academy Awards, which had no Black actors nominated, down to being angry that her husband hadn’t been honored for his work in “Concussion,” which he floated last night. You can call it jokes if you want, but Rock has a history of taking cheap shots at her. In 2016, he said that “Sure boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!” Why do you have to involve Rihanna, a woman Rock admits to unsuccessfully hitting on, in this? She just sat there and lived her life like she was fabulous and didn’t sleep with Chris Rock. She didn’t ask to stay reduced to panties.
It’s interesting to me that Rock continued to insist that he wasn’t a victim in need of “a safe space” when his logic on stage in going after Pinkett Smith positions himself as just that. Will Smith, he says, was just a man who snapped out of the most practical jaw because the world questioned his manhood when his wife admitted to sleeping with August Alsina, his son’s much younger friend.
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“She started this shit!” he spat.
No mention of the couple’s open marriage, or of Smith’s own alleged indiscretions. No, it’s all this evil predator who can’t stop talking about his personal life, which spurred the poor stupid husband whom Rock had once admired to go off and stab him in the mouth. (Also, for a guy who kept emphasizing that Smith was a bigger, stronger guy who came after him physically, he’s a guy with an international platform calling a woman who didn’t hit him a bitch, a verbal slap.)
Again, don’t attack anyone, especially with all the reception from international TV and the internet.
But Rock contradicted himself when he ended his show last night, saying he hadn’t hit back at Smith last year because he was raised “not to fight in front of white people.” Because isn’t that what you’re doing, my dude, while you’re also joking about Massa beating Smith’s character in “Emanicipation”? Didn’t you come to a black woman’s town to call her out by her name to continue her fight and collect a check in front of a paying audience in the theater and around the world?
You get angry. If someone hit me in public, I’d be tempted to change my name to “Leslie Gray This Dude Hit Me Streeter” so no one forgot. But then again, Jada didn’t beat him. Her husband did. And changing the narrative to explain talking about her further proves that it’s not just Smith’s outrage that’s selective. Rock’s is too. Along with his memory.