More than one comedian feels the slap of Will Smith

When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock for a joke at the Oscars, other comedians felt the sting.

“I know Chris and I know what it’s like to be on stage in front of an audience that doesn’t like your material,” said comedian Judy Gold. “But being physically assaulted, that’s another thing. It felt like every comedian got hit in the face. It really felt like that.”

Smith’s actions come at a stressful time for the comedy. While the boundaries of humor are constantly shifting (recall George Carlin’s 1972 monologue about seven of the so-called “dirty words” banned from television), comedians say they have felt more pushback from the public and society. Comedian great Dave Chappelle came under fire last year for what some saw as anti-transgender humor in his Netflix special “The Closer.” Kathy Griffin’s career was derailed in 2017 when she was photographed holding a model of former President Donald Trump’s head.

Some comedians warned about the possible side effects of Smith’s behavior and its consequences.

“Nobody came up to Chris Rock and said, ‘Are you okay?’” Sheryl Underwood, co-host of “The Talk,” said on Tuesday’s show. “I’m going to say this as a comedian: Now I’m scared to go on stage because on my third show, when everyone’s been drinking, if they don’t like my joke, will they now think they can get up and slap me? There needs to be faster accountability.”

Griffin tweeted that “now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.”

“What’s the worst crime here?” veteran comedian Gilbert Gottfried said in an interview. “The physical assault on Chris Rock or the Chris Rock joke? That’s it, pure and simple. He made a joke.”

Dean Obeidallah, a lawyer and stand-up comedian who hosts a show on the SiriusXM Progress channel, said there is never “a place for a violent response to a joke,” but he doubts there will be imitators of Smith’s behavior. In all his years in comedy clubs, he’s seen screaming and screaming and, once, a person throwing a glass at someone. But never a slap or punch.

“If someone hit a comedian, they would be criminally prosecuted. They don’t have the privilege that Will Smith has,” Obeidallah said.

Gold said she has been confronted but never beaten, and she knows other female comedians have faced difficult circumstances. “People have been coming up on stage, people have been throwing things,” she said.

The picture also looks different for comedian and actress Yamaneika Saunders, but that has nothing to do with what she called Smith’s disturbing behavior and a sad day for “two beloved black men in the entertainment industry.”

“I am a black woman in comedy,” Saunders said. “I am constantly threatened…by a man who doesn’t like something (expletive) I said about being a woman, a white man who doesn’t like something (expletive) I said about being black.”

Offensive humor is not new to prominent ceremonies, which turn to comedians to liven up what can be tedious events. Ricky Gervais made celebrity gossip at successive Golden Globes and the audience smiled, or grimaced, and took it. Most famous target: Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where he sat undaunted during lengthy banter from then-President Barack Obama.

Rock wasn’t the first to make a joke about Smith or his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at Sunday’s Oscars. Ceremony co-host Regina Hall made what appeared to be a veiled joke about her marriage by unsuccessfully trying to lure Smith into a skit.

Rock’s prank was directed at Pinkett Smith. “Jada, I love you. ‘GI Jane 2,’ I can’t wait,” the comedian told the actress, whose shaved head resembled Demi Moore’s in the 1997 movie “GI Jane.” It is unknown if Rock knew that Pinkett Smith has alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that can cause baldness. But Smith reacted with the punch and an angry warning: “Get my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth!”

Smith later tearfully accepted the Oscar for best actor for “King Richard” with a somewhat apologetic speech and a standing ovation from the crowd at the Theater. Dolby. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has since condemned the attack and said it was reviewing the matter.

Whatever the outcome, his actions indelibly marred the ceremony and ignited discussions about violence, toxic masculinity, and the perks of fame. Smith, who conspicuously left Rock out of his speech on Sunday, apologized to the comedian and condemned “violence in all its forms” the next day in a statement.

Pinkett Smith’s first public statement came on Instagram: “This is a season of healing and I’m here for it.” Rock briefly addressed the slap at a comedy show Wednesday in Boston, saying she was still “processing what happened.” She seemed to get emotional as she received several standing ovations.

Whatever attacks comedians may receive on stage, verbal or physical, they shouldn’t censor themselves to avoid it, and they won’t, Obeidallah said: “They shouldn’t change, and there’s nothing here that tells me they will change.” .

They can’t, because they see their role as more than providing laughs.

“We are the ones who tell the truth. We speak truth to power,” said Gold, author of the 2020 book “Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble.” (Yes, I can say that: When they come for comedians, we’re all in trouble.)

Gottfried quoted one of Carlin’s favorite lines: “It is the duty of the comedian to discover where the line is drawn and to cross it deliberately.” And he couldn’t resist cracking a joke.

“If Will Smith is reading this, my God, please don’t come to my shows,” he said.

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