A lot of comedians like to complain about getting “canceled” for telling edgy jokes, but only one got smacked across the face on live television by Will Smith in the middle of the Oscars—and that comedian is Chris Rock. The wild moment brought the ceremony to a stand-still, and while many at first assumed it was part of a scripted gag, the immediate silencing of the audio feed underscored the fact that it wasn’t a staged a bit.
Rock, a former Oscars host whose awards show monologues are known for their cutting remarks about the celebrities in attendance, was presenting the award for Best Documentary feature when he cut a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, possibly starring in G.I. Jane 2 (for the Gen Z amongst us: G.I. Jane was a ’90s movie in which Demi Moore quite famously shaved off her raven locks to play an army lieutenant). Moments later, Smith walked on stage and promptly smacked Rock.
In America, the audio feed immediately went silent, but some overseas audiences heard the moment uncensored. When Smith returned to his seat, he yelled at Rock, “keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth.”
Pinkett-Smith was diagnosed with alopecia back in 2018, an experience she opened up about publicly just weeks ago. Others pointed out that Rock also made a joke about Pinkett-Smith when he lasted hosted the Oscars in 2018.
Smith is nominated for Best Actor in King Richard, and is widely expected to win, capping a decades-long career as one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. But it’s no surprise that the Smiths’s very modern marriage has been a topic of public speculation for some time. In fact, it was the second joke about the couple that night, with co-host Regina Hall cracking one earlier in the evening.
Despite resorting to violence, Smith was not immediately escorted from the audience. According to Vanity Fair reporter Rebecca Ford, Denzel Washington apparently tried to calm the Smiths after the incident.