Everyone seated in Baltimore’s ornate Hippodrome Theatre on Friday night knew what was coming. They just had to wait for it.

[UPDATE: Read columnist’s review of Chris Rock’s Netflix special]

At the very end of his last set before Saturday’s livestreamed Netflix special, “Selective Outrage,” Chris Rock finally launched a skilled, scathing comedic assault on Will Smith. And the loud, prolonged laughter felt like a sigh of relief. After almost a year of relative silence about The Slap, when Smith hit Rock onstage at the 2022 Oscars for mocking his wife’s baldness, the funny floodgates opened wide. And even though he waited till the end to get to it, that slap was obviously the theme.

How to watch “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage” on Netflix live

From the overwhelmingly raucous response the bit got Friday, there’s no reason to believe that there will be any fewer Slap-tastic jokes during the livestream. They went over so well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rock throws in a couple more.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The one comparing Smith’s strength, as the portrayer of Muhammad Ali, to the relatively slight Rock, who name checks his classic appearance as “New Jack City” crackhead Pookie, was a crowd-pleaser. But the audience seemed to wince a little bit when Rock riffed on watching Smith’s slavery epic, “Emancipation,” so “I could see him get whipped.” (Eww.)

The very name of the special refers to his opinion of the former Fresh Prince getting violently upset about the comedian’s joke that Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head might be part of a “G.I. Jane” sequel, and not salacious tidbits about the couple’s personal life. He never once mentioned the Baltimore-born actress by name, only as “his wife,” but he didn’t have to.

Although Rock saved his Smith-centric stuff for the set’s last several minutes, he’d teased it in his intro with a line about how those who think “words hurt have never been punched in the face.” (It was a slap, not a punch, but yes, point taken.) Before the finale, he’d touched on his spoiled daughters, how Meghan Markle should have known she was marrying into a racist family, and a lengthy section about how women his age are more expensive to date because they want new roofs rather than shoes. (Speaking as a single woman in her 50s, he’s right, although I can fix my own roof, thank you.)

Rock had a somewhat clumsy but effective segue into the Smith material with a bit about the power of female beauty. He noted that someone as gorgeous as Beyoncé could still turn the head of a rich celebrity like rapper Jay-Z, even if she was just Beyoncé the Burger King employee, but that it wouldn’t work the other way around. Rock then made a reference to “being slapped by another rapper.”

The people surrounding us in the Hippodrome’s balcony literally leaned forward in anticipation, like “Say it! Say it!” And boy, did he. Rock referred to his slapper as “Suge Smith,” a nod to currently imprisoned Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, professing that “the next day I was dizzy.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Rock’s approach to the scandal was to present himself as a relatively reasonable party who took his shocking assault stoically: “You never saw me on Oprah and Gayle” complaining about it, he said. In fact, he positioned himself as a lifelong fan of Smith’s who “was rooting for him.” What Smith was really mad about, Rock suggested, may be Pinkett Smith’s well-publicized “entanglement” with singer August Alsina, a friend of the couple’s son.

“She hurt him way more than he hurt me,” Rock said, proposing that public opinion of the situation and “everybody laughing at” Smith finally got to him. (Of course, Rock didn’t acknowledge that the Smiths had publicly declared themselves in an open marriage, or that the comedian has been coming after Pinkett Smith from behind the mic for years, including a swipe at the 2016 Oscars. Maybe nuance isn’t funny.)

Were the jokes nice? Of course not. Then again, as Rock intimated, those words probably hurt less than being slapped.


Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

More From The Banner