Comedians are still rattled by Will Smith’s Oscars slap

Shortly after the incident, comedians leaped to Rock’s defense and voiced concerns about their safety:

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

Hari Kondabolu tweeted: “As a comedian, watching Will Smith storm the stage & smack Chris Rock was terrifying. I’ve certainly worried about an audience member attacking me before.”

Both were then roundly mocked by some for those fears. In the past couple of days, Oscars hosts Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes have spoken out in defense of Rock, with Schumer saying in a now-deleted Instagram post she was “triggered and traumatized” by what happened.

As vocal as many comedians were on Sunday night, plenty didn’t want to talk about it later, not while emotions were still running high. More than 20 comedians declined to comment to The Washington Post, were unavailable or did not return a request for comment through their representatives. But the conversations and concerns about what happened at the Oscars have not gone away.

One famous comedian who has no problem speaking out is George Wallace, who told The Post he was upset by how Smith “ruined” the evening. He said he immediately called Rock and left a voice mail, “to let him know I love him.” He said he also loves Smith but “lost a lot of respect for him” in that moment. Wallace also wondered whether the slap has opened the door for more people to stroll onstage if they don’t like something a comedian says.

“Chris Rock will never forget being slapped in front of millions of people — he has the rest of his life to think about that,” Wallace said. “Every time Chris goes onstage, he’s going to be wondering if someone will slap him.”

It is a weird time to be a stand-up comedian, trying to connect with rooms full of people after a period of prolonged social isolation. People are on edge. This week the Hollywood Reporter, talking with comedy club owners, pointed to “an overall mood shift in the stand-up comedy world” during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds being angrier than usual — even before the Smith slap.

“Hopefully it’s isolated. But the dangerous thing about it is when you see a big star do it, you think, ‘Well if a big star can do it, I certainly can,’” comedian Gilbert Gottfried said in an interview with The Post. “And that it was then followed up, after he smacked him — he gets a standing ovation and the audience is cheering. So it further makes you think, ‘Oh, that’s a good thing to do.’”

Wallace suggested — maybe not jokingly — that comedians should do an announcement now at the top of their sets: “Leave your problems at the door. … Come enjoy the show and relax. Laughter is the best medicine. But stay in your seats, because if you approach the stage, you’re going to be arrested.”

Though Rock disappeared from public view immediately after the slap, tabloid spies spotted him at talent manager Guy Oseary’s Oscars after-party Sunday night. Page Six reported that Sykes, Sacha Baron Cohen and Woody Harrelson were spotted hanging out with and consoling Rock, who stayed at the event until around 2:30 a.m. While it was a no-social-media kind of party, Oseary later posted a photo of him with Rock, Harrelson and Robert De Niro.

Rock took the stage Wednesday for the first time since the Oscars, in Boston for first night of his new tour. He was greeted by a long standing ovation but steered clear of the one thing everyone wanted to hear him talk about.

Meanwhile, others in comedy circles are still discussing not only what the incident means not only for comedians’ safety but for what they can say in general. Some are worried that people could see Smith as having every right to get physical, given that Rock made a joke about the particularly sensitive topic of Pinkett Smith’s bald head. (She has spoken publicly about having alopecia.)

One publicist who works with comedians, who asked not to be quoted by name to protect industry relationships, said that stand-ups are shocked that Smith’s actions were still seen by some as “a man protecting his family” instead of an inexcusable outburst.

“Podcast bits get cut up and placed out of context to purposely get people in trouble. People interrupt shows at the clubs when they don’t like a joke,” the publicist said. “So unless you are totally vanilla and boring, you risk online outrage to the point of cancellation and … apparently getting slapped by the Fresh Prince.”

Geoff Edgers contributed to this report.

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