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Ricky Gervais defends Chris Rock: “You don’t hit someone over a joke”

The comedian finally has his say on the Will Smith slap

By Joe Goggins

Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock in a screengrab from HBO's 'Talking Funny'
Gervais and Rock discussed the art of comedy for HBO'S 'Talking Funny'. (Photo: YouTube)

Ricky Gervais has finally weighed in on the Will Smith Oscars slap controversy, defending Chris Rock in the process.

Yesterday (April 6) marked ten days since the incident that rocked the entertainment world, as Smith reacted to a joke by Rock about his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, by striking him with an open hand on stage at the Academy Awards, shortly before winning Best Actor for ‘King Richard’. He has since apologised publicly and resigned from the Academy; Rock has remained tight-lipped.

Observers wondered aloud on social media how Smith might have responded had Gervais been host. The star of ‘The Office’ and ‘After Life’ was master of ceremonies at the Golden Globes in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2019, and his no-holds-barred roasts of the A-list attendees are now the stuff of awards show legend.

Rock’s joke, many onlookers felt, was relatively gentle by Gervais’ standards. Sure enough, on a Twitter Live chat with followers on Sunday (April 3), the comedian confirmed: “That was like the tamest joke I would’ve ever told,” in reference to Rock’s dig at Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head; he told her he was looking forward to seeing her in ‘G.I. Jane 2’, referencing the 1997 war film for which star Demi Moore also wore a cropped haircut. “You don’t hit someone over a joke, however bad it is – and it wasn’t bad,” Gervais continued, per The Independent.

Pinkett-Smith has alopecia, but Gervais railed against the idea, raised by some online, that the condition constitutes a disability. “Well, I’m going a bit thin – I’m disabled,” he laughed, gesturing to his hairline. “That means that I can park right up next to Tescos now. And I’m fat, that’s a disease. I’m fat and balding. I should get fucking benefits!”

Rock, visibly rattled, rode out the moment on stage, joking that it was the “greatest night in the history of television” before regaining his composure to hand the award for Best Documentary feature to Questlove for ‘Summer of Soul’. Reflecting on how he would have responded in the same situation, Gervais had a quip of his own at the ready. 

“People were going, ‘What would have happened if Ricky Gervais had been doing it [hosting the Oscars]?’” Gervais continued. “Well, nothing, as I would not have made a joke about his wife’s hair. I would have made a joke about her boyfriend.” Smith and Pinkett-Smith have an open marriage, and the latter has previously discussed her “entanglement” with US singer Alsina on her ‘Red Table Talk’ chat show.