It was the slap heard round the world, and it reverberated nearly a month later in Baltimore, as comedian Chris Rock took the stage Friday night at the Lyric Performing Arts Center.
Walking on to the nearly sold-out show, with some ticket prices $600 and higher, the 57-year-old comedian was met with a standing ovation, weeks after actor Will Smith slapped him in the face during the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
“I’m aight, I’m aight,” said Rock dressed in all white, to shouts and applause.
He had some “nicks and bruises,” he said, “but for the most part I’ve healed.”
In a moment that stunned Oscars viewers around the globe and that fueled weeks worth of entertainment news, Smith struck Rock after the comedian joked about his wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who suffers from alopecia. Rock had said he looked forward to seeing her in “G.I. Jane 2,” a reference to her buzzed head.
Everyone seemingly had a take on what happened. While many people condemned Smith’s action, some had said Rock’s joke went too far.
But the Brooklyn-raised comedian was in no mood to hold back Friday in Baltimore, telling the audience that “America is in trouble” because “everybody’s scared they’re going to offend someone.”
He critiqued the notion that “words hurt,” stating “words only hurt if you’ve never been punched in the face.”
The crowd of mostly-Rock supporters doubled over in laughter in their seats, some wiping away tears, during his 90-minute set that skewered “fake outrage” and “fake empathy” in equal measure. He blasted virtue signaling of companies like Lululemon and Meghan Markle’s surprise at experiencing racism within the royal family: “Didn’t they invest in slavery like it was ‘Shark Tank’?”
His set meandered towards his reflections on parenthood, relationships, and life as a single man following his 2016 divorce from Malaak Compton-Rock.
During one bit, Rock asked an audience member to help him read lewd text messages sent by a former paramour. Rock asked her name, she responded: “Jada.” Rock shot back: “Sit your [butt] down.” The audience roared its approval.
“He went there,” said John Green, 57, of Baltimore. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m glad he’s so comfortable,” Green said, calling Rock “a true pro.”
For the most part, Rock steered clear of addressing the Smith controversy directly, making hinting references to it.
“Life is good, except for some [malarkey],” he said.
“I would have loved to hear his take [on the slap],” said Adam Oberfeld, a 52-year-old Owings Mills resident, after the show. But Oberfeld was far from disappointed in the performance from Rock, whom he compared to a modern-day Socrates.
Claudia Tonti, marketing manager for the Lyric, said the arts center announced the show on February 28. Tickets were already selling at a steady clip before March 27, the night of the Academy Awards.
“We knew Chris Rock was a big name and he was going to do well anyway,” Tonti said. But on the night of the Oscars, “within three hours both shows were sold out. It was crazy.”
A few single seats remained up for grabs, with prices up to $625 on Ticketmaster just before the show.
Roblyn Hymes, 61, of Mitchellville, said she had purchased tickets to the performance immediately after the Oscars ceremony because she “wanted to come and show support” for the comedian.
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Others, like David Jackson, 62, of Ellicott City, said they purchased tickets through an online presale site “way before” the Oscars. “They were pretty cheap,” Jackson said. Friends had suggested Jackson could sell his tickets and make a profit, but he wasn’t interested.
Rock spent Wednesday and Thursday in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and heads next to The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas
Rock is to appear again Saturday night at the Lyric; earlier in the day, he was seen in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood at the Sound Garden record shop, according to a photo posted to Twitter.
A short while after slapping Rock, Smith received a standing ovation during a tearful acceptance speech after winning the Academy Award for best actor. Smith later made light of the event, joking on social media “You can’t invite people from Philly or Baltimore nowhere!!” His wife is from Baltimore, and the two married in Timonium.
But in recent weeks, Smith has faced fallout. He has been banned from attending the Academy Awards for the next 10 years and resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In closing his set Friday night, Rock telegraphed a desire to move forward, reflecting during one set on relationships that: “Love starts at forgiveness.”