I guess Chris Rock heeded Will Smith’s order to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth, because not once during his “Selective Outrage” Netflix special last night, livestreamed from Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre, did the comedian utter the words “Jada Pinkett Smith.”
He did, however, say the words “bitch” and “predator.” In her hometown. But at least he didn’t say her name!
Look — Smith earned himself the 10-minute intensive drubbing at the hands and mouth of the man he slapped in the face on live television for insulting his wife. You can’t run around slapping people and not face consequences, and if the person you slapped happens to be a wildly popular standup comedian, you can expect your pummeling to come with words, if not fists. I don’t believe Rock, who for years was my favorite comedian, owes Smith his forgiveness, no matter how sincere his apologies since the 2022 Oscars may have been. The former Fresh Prince made this particular bed, and he’s gotta lie in it as long as Rock decides he should.
But Jada Pinkett Smith didn’t hit Chris Rock. Her husband did. And I can’t help but notice that this special wasn’t filmed in Philadelphia, or in Bel Air, even. It was filmed in Baltimore, and as a taxpayer I appreciate the spotlight on the city’s tourism and business interests. I hope everybody does a special here! But for Rock to do so, the week before the first anniversary of The Slap, is nastily strategic. And once again, a woman catches brutally comedic strays. 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 how it’s like living in “The Wire.” Warmup comic and “Roastmaster General” Jeff Ross got the ball rolling last night, as he did at Friday’s show, by naming the city’s “Three C’s: Cal Ripken, crab cakes and crime.” Oh, so clever. We have crime here? Never heard that before.
Rock’s namecheck of the city was funnier, 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’re the same place.” (He’s not wrong.) But the next hour or so all 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” rant. “Anybody who says ‘Words hurt’ has never been punched in the face,” Rock insisted, but he sure knew that his words that evening were expertly honed to hurt, to do damage. And again, you punch a dude 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 grates. First off, Rock’s premise is that he and his face were the innocent bystanders to Smith’s humiliation at his wife’s infidelity is shaky. He insisted last night that “nobody was picking on that bitch!” while he’s been picking on that woman from behind the mic since the late 1990s.
He boiled her boycott of the 2016 Oscars, which had no Black acting nominees, down to being mad that her husband hadn’t been honored for his work in “Concussion,” a bit he flubbed last night. Y’all can call it jokes if you want, but Rock has a history of cheap shots at her. In 2016, he said “Jada 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 hitting on unsuccessfully, in this? She was just sitting there, living her life being fabulous and not sleeping with Chris Rock. She didn’t ask to be reduced to her panties.
It’s interesting to me that Rock kept insisting that he wasn’t a victim in need of “a safe space” when his onstage logic in going after Pinkett Smith positions himself as exactly that. Will Smith, he says, was just a man lashing out at the most convenient jaw because the world questioned his manhood when his wife admitted to sleeping with August Alsina, their son’s much younger friend.
“She started this shit!” he spit.
No mention of the couple’s open marriage, or of Smith’s own alleged indiscretions. Nope, it’s all this evil predatory slut who can’t stop talking about her personal life, who spurred her poor dumb husband that Rock had once admired to haul off and pop him across 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 punch.)
Again, don’t attack anyone, particularly with all the receipts of international television and the internet.
But Rock contradicted himself when he ended his show last night saying that he hadn’t hit Smith back 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 also joking about rooting for Massa to beat Smith’s character in “Emanicipation”? Didn’t you come to a Black woman’s city to call her out of her name to extend a fight and collect a check in front of a paying audience in the theater and across the world?
You get to be mad. If somebody hit me in public I’d be tempted to change my name to “Leslie Gray This Dude Hit Me Streeter” so nobody forgot. But again, Jada didn’t hit him. Her husband did. And to change the narrative to further explain talking about her proves that it’s not just Smith’s outrage that’s selective. Rock’s is, too. Along with his memory.