Chris Rock was asked to return to host the Academy Awards after the infamous slap heard around the world. But the superstar comedian declined and during a recent comedy show likened returning to host the awards to Nicole Brown Simpson “returning to the restaurant.”
At a show in Arizona on his current tour, Rock said he declined the offer to return and host the Oscars after he was slapped by Will Smith at this year’s show, after making a joke about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith.
Rock said it would be like “returning to the scene of the crime.” The comedian referenced the O.J. Simpson double murder trial, which began with his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson having dinner at a restaurant before she and her boyfriend Ron Goldman were stabbed to death outside Brown and Simpson’s home.
All material is fair for a comic, especially if an incident directly involves them. By slapping Rock at the Oscars, Smith didn’t stop Rock from making jokes. He just added more fuel to the fire.
During his routine Rock made reference to Smith portraying the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali in a 2001 film.
“He’s bigger than me,” Rock said. “The state of Nevada would not sanction a fight between me and Will Smith.”
As a result of the slap, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences banned Smith for a decade.
All of this for a joke about Pinkett Smith being in G.I. Jane 2 due to her shaved head.
It’s all pretty lame, but here we are.
Smith has since posted a video apology to Rock and has attempted to reach the comedian personally. There has been no reconciliation.
As to the O.J. Simpson murder trial joke. It was low-hanging fruit but nothing to get up in arms about. Rock has been making O.J. jokes since his 1996 HBO special “Bring the Pain.”
During that special Rock mentions possible reasons Simpson might have gotten angry with his ex-wife — she may have allowed Goldman to drive a car Simpson bought her, for instance — ending with the punchline “I’m not saying he should have killed her. But I understand.”
If you want to take offense, that is far more offensive than what Rock said in Arizona last weekend.
But they’re both jokes and part of a bit. Rock uses observational comedy and satire brilliantly to draw responses from his audience. The job of a comic is to get laughs. Like it or not, the skits about O.J. Simpson murder trial draw lots of laughs.
As the norms and rules in society change comics will need to adjust their routines to avoid public backlash and criticism. Such is the way of the world.
Part of Rock and many other comedians’ shtick is being offensive. In a society that continues to push back on that, it will become increasingly harder to deliver comedy in the same way.
But with time there is evolution. Smart comedians that are coming up will be raised in this environment and hone their skills in it. The future of the genre will look different than it does today.