Slapgate Is Chris Rock’s Defining Moment

Slapgate Is Chris Rock's Defining Moment
Photo illustration VIP+: AP Photo

While Will Smith wisely issued an apology Monday regarding the slap heard round the world, the silence coming from Chris Rock is conspicuous, to say the least. How the comedian feels about getting assaulted on live TV remains a mystery.

No doubt Rock is experiencing a wide range of emotions after such a dramatic incident. But, counterintuitively, the debacle is already paying dividends for him.

The fringe benefits are manifesting for his conveniently timed stand-up tour, which opened Wednesday night to a sold-out crowd in Boston, with secondary ticketing marketplace TickPick disclosing that more tickets sold in the night before than in all of the previous month. Ticket prices also surged.

It’s not difficult to understand why. Slapgate has reinforced Rock’s brand as a no-holds-barred comic.

What reflected even better on Rock was how he handled Smith’s attack. Rather than getting into an ugly onstage fracas, he quite literally turned the other cheek, kept his composure under unimaginable pressure, made light of having been slapped and continued to present the award for documentary feature.

And if Rock was rattled by the incident, it sure didn’t seem like it when he was photographed later that night at Guy Oseary’s Oscar after-party smiling in the company of legends including Robert De Niro and Woody Harrelson.

If that doesn’t cement his cool-guy bona fides, nothing will.

Here’s what isn’t cool: releasing a formal statement in response to Smith, like the actor did for his apology. Much as fans might want to hear what’s on Rock’s mind right now, the last thing he should do is take this matter so seriously that it would feel off-brand for the funnyman.

Better to save what he has to say for the stage on what he’s calling his Ego Death World Tour — which should surely be rebranded.

How about The Talking Smack Tour?

With all due respect to Rock, who has maintained a fairly unsullied image over the years, a veteran comedian like him can always use a little mid-career brand burnishing, something that brings into sharp relief his core attributes — because after a long while, those attributes can fade a bit in the public’s estimation.

In recent years, he’s strayed somewhat from his cutting-edge stand-up persona with film and TV roles including “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” and “Fargo.” While they may demonstrate his range as an actor, they don’t bring out what’s most memorable about the man.

Hopefully, Rock won’t be remembered for the “G.I. Jane” joke that triggered the Oscars incident. Regardless of whether he knew about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, it was a lame jab.

The Smith slap may not qualify for the lede in Rock’s obituary, but it certainly won’t be a footnote in his biography, either. It provides the kind of anecdote that feeds the mythology he’s built up over time as one of the best comedians ever. It will be remembered in the way another legendary comedian, Lenny Bruce, is remembered for tangling with the police who sought to censor him.

Here’s a prediction: Rock will not only bury the hatchet with Smith, but when the time is right, the two men will share a stage together in some forum or another. Maybe if the Academy doesn’t end up banning Smith forever, the two will end up co-presenting Best Picture in the future.

So, don’t waste too much time feeling sorry for Rock. He’s going to be just fine.