Chris Rock knows you want to hear about that slap, and with his standup special Selective Outrage, the comedy legend is finally ready to talk all about it.
The first-of-its-kind live-streamed Netflix event, which aired on Saturday night, was heavily hyped as Rock’s rebuttal to Will Smith’s 2022 Academy Awards meltdown. It’s been nearly a year since Smith interrupted Rock’s presentation of best documentary feature by storming the stage and striking him across the face in response to a joke directed at Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. A shock to viewers of the broadcast, the altercation overshadowed the night’s winners and completely shattered the facade of awards-season camaraderie. Smith’s experiences post-slap have been well documented—the actor has since released a public apology, undergone a formal inquiry by the Academy, and received a decade-long ban from the ceremony for his conduct—but Rock, a master of the comeback, has remained mum. During his recent Ego Death Tour, he addressed the incident by assuring audiences that he’d unpack it all later. “I’m still kind of processing what happened, so, at some point, I’ll talk about that,” Rock said onstage at Boston’s Wilbur theater mere days after the Oscars. “It’ll be serious, and it’ll be funny, but right now, I’m going to tell some jokes.”
Throughout his Netflix special, Rock teases his retort. “The last thing I need is another mad rapper,” he says as he ponders Snoop Dogg’s excess of endorsement deals and pokes fun at Jay-Z’s ability to attract a woman as sublime as Beyoncé. Smith is the main event, but he’s far from the only one on Rock’s hit list: Meghan Markle, wealthy private school parents, Lululemon, and the January 6 rioters all receive tongue lashings over the hour. The severity of their actions may differ—blindly marrying into royalty is considerably less destructive than attempting to overthrow the government—but Rock’s targets are united by what he considers hypocrisy. The selective outrage that allows luxury brands to tout their anti-racism stance while using exploitative labor practices, and allows bad actors to shield themselves by co-opting the language of social justice.