Chris Rock tells Boston fans he's still 'processing' the slap in first performance since Oscars

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Ticket holders wait to enter The Wilbur Theatre for a performance by Chris Rock on Wednesday. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
Ticket holders wait to enter The Wilbur Theatre for a performance by Chris Rock on Wednesday. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

There were plenty of predictions among fans in line as they waited for Chris Rock's show at The Wilbur in Boston on Wednesday night.

“I think he’s going to roast Will Smith for an hour straight and then probably get to the rest of his jokes,” said Isa Wells, from Foxborough.

It was the comedian's first performance since the Oscars when Will Smith slapped Rock during the telecast. Rock had made a comment on stage about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia.

Tickets prices for Rock's three-night engagement, part of his Ego Death World Tour, in Boston soared after Sunday night's incident.

But Rock didn't roast Smith, and only briefly acknowledged what had happened. In a video posted online by Variety, Rock opened the show by asking the audience how their weekends were. Then he said he was still "processing" what happened Sunday, and would talk more about it at some point. But his plan for now was to stick with the routine he'd already written before the Oscars.

Kathryn West-Hines, of Malden, was OK with that decision.

“When he first came out, we gave him an amazing standing ovation and then we did it again and again, three ovations and he was very misty eyed,” she said. “He started crying. You can see the tears ... He was amazing. He wasn’t gonna let Will Smith take his shine at all.”

Though Rock didn't talk about it, there were plenty of conversations in line about Rock's joke and Smith's response, ranging from reflections on comedy, to reflections on Blackness, Black women and the deep significance of their hair.

Theresa Grannum, from Dorchester, said the joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith's hair was just another example of how the world disrespects Black women. And, Grannum defended Smith's response though she doesn’t condone violence. “He was protecting his woman because he knew this was a sensitive situation for her,” she said. “Our hair is a sensitive situation for us.”

Fans wait outside The Wilbur for Chris Rock's show on Wednesday night. (Cristela Guerra/WBUR)
Fans wait outside The Wilbur for Chris Rock's show on Wednesday night. (Cristela Guerra/WBUR)

Some Chris Rock fans came out to the theater in search of tickets, including Chrissa Kaselis of Walpole. She heads a local support group for people with alopecia and has lived with it herself for around 25 years.

“I do, I love Chris Rock. I've always loved him. I think he's a great comedian. And I think that, you know what? He said it can offend some people, especially those who have alopecia. But it all depends on the context that you take it,” she said. “I'm looking at this as a learning experience. You know, we can educate the world about alopecia now. Thank you so much for saying, you know, something about being G.I. Jane. I've been called [that] over 100 times in my life.”

Kaselis was hoping to give Rock information about alopecia after the show, but she wasn't able to get last-minute tickets.

Local comedian Alex Giampapa has done comedy for ten years. He loves telling jokes and the feeling that he’s free to speak. What happened Sunday compromises some part of that, but he still came out to support Rock.

“I think a lot of big comedians come across as out of touch now, but his stuff really resonated with a lot of people,” Giampapa said. “Some people tried to goad him into [sort of] talking about it. People were yelling out, chanting Will Smith and stuff, but he just didn't go for it.”

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences released a statement saying it will initiate disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violating standards of conduct.

This segment aired on March 31, 2022.


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Cristela Guerra Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for WBUR.



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