By now you are probably waist deep in memes about the Will Smith and Chris Rock incident at the 2022 Oscars. If you’re already up speed, skip this paragraph. If not, let me do a quick recap. Chris Rock hosted the Oscars and made a joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. In the joke Chris Rock pokes fun at Jada’s short hair by comparing the hairstyle to G.I. Jane, a movie from 1997 that starred Demi Moore who famously shaved her head for the role. Chris jokingly suggested that Jada’s hairstyle was for a sequel to the movie. Shortly after the joke, Jada was seen shaking her head but Will appeared to be laughing, well, at first at least. Will then walked up on stage and slapped Chris. At first the audience and viewers at home were unsure if this was a stunt. Clips show what happened after. Will Smith shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of you f****** mouth.” A stunned Chris tries to continue on by making another joke.
The Oscars, are infamous for jabs and jokes made about guests and nominees. This isn’t the only award show or series to do so and it isn’t the first time the Oscars have faced controversy. Hosts are expected to rile the audience up by roasting celebrities in the audience. It has become a tradition. If you are not familiar with the term roasting, I am not talking about making dinner. Roasting is a term used to describe poking fun or making jokes at someone else’s expense. It’s a weird tradition that has become a way to “honor” someone. There’s even a series, Comedy Central Roast, where celebrities are honored by other celebrities but not by listing their accomplishments. Instead, the guest of honor is subjected to being made fun of and nothing is off the table.
This incident, begs the question, should we end roasting altogether? In fact, Will Smith was set to appear on an upcoming episode of Comedy Central Roast. However, it might not happen after this incident.
Although I do not condone Will Smith’s reaction, it begs the question, when is it too much? There are jokes that were widely acceptable just a few years ago, that if made now there would be an uproar, rightfully so. Such as sexist or racists jokes and even jokes about someone’s weight. All of which were a regular part of sitcoms and stand up acts not too long ago. In fact, the show Friends has been called out for many of their jokes that didn’t age well such as the jokes about Monica’s weight. So will this joke be added to the list of jokes that will not age well? If you’re wondering why the joke was not taken lightly by the Smiths, Jada recently shared that her hairstyle wasn’t a choice, but rather caused by a recent diagnosis of alopecia.
Although roasting, even among friends and family, is considered to be normal and a way to show affection or admiration for someone, it is tricky.
Why are we normalizing forced smiles and laughs while someone else makes us uncomfortable? A lot of people have suggested and commented that Will Smith should have just taken the joke in stride. However, this tradition of roasting, is harmful and vicious. Although I am not sure if Chris Rock knew about Jada’s condition, we shouldn’t have to make a public announcement for people to choose kindness.
Growing up, in New York especially, roasting was a normal part of life especially in high school. Looking back, most of those jokes deeply affected me although I didn’t let on outwardly. Of course there are jokes we all make around people we know personally and intimately, and even then, they sometimes miss the mark.
It might be time for new tradition.