What began as a slap heard around the world ended Saturday night in Baltimore as comedian Chris Rock stepped onto the stage at the Hippodrome Theatre and shared his response in a performance carried live on Netflix.
The veteran funnyman offered his most thorough rebuttal to the now-infamous incident, riffing to a sold-out crowd on the blow delivered by actor Will Smith during the 2022 Academy Awards.
“People are like, ‘Did it hurt?’ It still hurts,” Rock exclaimed, addressing the slap during the final minutes of his more-than-hourlong show. “I’ve got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears!”
The show at the Hippodrome in Baltimore’s Westside neighborhood was broadcast live on streaming service Netflix in a first-of-its-kind marquee event. Rock workshopped material for the special, dubbed “Selective Outrage,” during a series of performances in Baltimore over the past three weeks.
He appeared, however, to save his most pointed material for the audience Saturday.
Rock suggested Jada Pinkett Smith, the Baltimore-born actress who is married to Will Smith, has escaped responsibility for the slap, which her husband planted on the comedian after Rock poked fun at his wife’s hairless head. Rock noted Pinkett Smith was among a group of Hollywood actors who called on the comedian to boycott the Oscars when he was slated to host in 2016 amid concerns about the diversity of the awards.
“She said me, a grown-ass man, should quit his job because her husband didn’t get nominated for ‘Concussion,’” Rock said, referencing the 2015 film that Will Smith headlined.
“Nobody is picking on this b---h,” Rock added. “She started this s--t.”
The show, which was part of Rock’s “Ego Death Tour,” made history as the first comedy performance to be streamed live by Netflix. The stream appeared to Netflix members across the world without the customary delay, typically used by broadcast television, to edit out offensive material.
Rock took full advantage, delivering an uncensored routine, pledging at the start to “try his best” not to offend anyone.
[ Key moments and highlights from Chris Rock’s Netflix live special at the Hippodrome in Baltimore ]
“You never know who might get triggered,” he said in an early nod to the slap, which was left unresolved until the show’s final moments.
The comedy special, which was Rock’s second stand-up show for Netflix following 2018′s “Tamborine,” was presented almost one year after the confrontation between Rock and Smith. It drew an audience eager to finally hear Rock’s take.
Both Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott were in the theater for the performance. Other familiar faces could be seen in crowd shots during the livestream, including Thiru Vignarajah, who was a candidate last year for state’s attorney.
The much-talked-about assault occurred March 27, 2022, as Rock was presenting the Oscar for best documentary feature. The comedian made a joke about the shaved head of Pinkett Smith. The actress has revealed that she suffers from alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss.
“Jada, I love you,” Rock said during the awards presentation, which was broadcast live on ABC to more than 16 million Americans. “‘G.I. Jane II,’ can’t wait to see it, aight?”
Initially, the camera caught Smith laughing at Rock’s remarks, though Pinkett Smith appeared pained. Seconds later, Will Smith climbed onto the stage and slapped Rock across the face hard enough to make the other man stumble.
Though Rock has included references to the infamous slap during the past year as he crisscrossed the nation on tour, he has kept his remarks superficial.
On Saturday, Rock said the camera doesn’t capture how much larger Smith, at 6-foot-2, is compared with the comedian.
“He does movies with his shirt off. You never see me in a movie with my shirt off,” Rock quipped. “Will Smith played Muhammad Ali in a movie. You think I auditioned for that part? I played Pookie in ‘New Jack City.’”
As he did during an earlier appearance in Baltimore, Rock blamed the attack on the couple’s marital troubles which were widely publicized ahead of the Oscars.
In July 2020, Pinkett Smith revealed that four years earlier, she had begun an affair with her children’s friend, 23-year-old rapper August Alsina, at a time when she and her husband were estranged. Fourteen months later, Will Smith confirmed that he and his wife had an open marriage.
“Will Smith practices selective outrage,” Rock said in a nod to the comedy special’s name. “Everybody that really knows, knows I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t have any entanglements.”
Rock questioned why the pair went public with their problems. The comedian argued he was one of the few people not taking shots at Smith in the aftermath.
“Everybody in the world called him a b---h,” Rock said.
But Pinkett Smith provoked Rock, he argued, when she called on him to boycott hosting the Oscars.
“So did I do some jokes about her? Who gives a f--k?” Rock said.
“That’s how it is. She started it, I finish it, OK?” the comedian said to nervous laughter from the crowd.
Rock returned to a joke that drew criticism on social media as pieces of his routine were publicized ahead of Saturday’s performance.
“Now I watch ‘Emancipation’ just to see him get whupped,” Rock said, referring to Smith’s performance in the 2022 film about a runaway slave.
The comedian defended, however, his decision not to physically fight back against Smith during the Academy Awards ceremony.
“You know what my parents taught me? Don’t fight in front of white people,” he said, dropping the microphone to the stage. The crowd sprang to its feet in appreciation.
Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.