Montreal comedians divided over Chris Rock’s right to ‘cross the line’ following Will Smith’s Oscar slap

The most talked about moment at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday night left Montreal comedian Renzel Dashington speechless.

“To be honest, I’m not even sure it actually happened. I’m still in shock.”

Dashington, along with audiences around the world, watched in disbelief as Best Actor Oscar winner Will Smith took the stage and the slapped presenter and comedian, Chris Rock, after Rock pranks Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

The slap heard around the world sparked a heated debate on social media, with many denouncing Smith’s backlash, others supporting him for defending Pinkett Smith and some questioning the boundaries of comedy.

But for Dashington, a well-known Montreal comedian and owner of comedy club Bad Boys du Rire, this art form knows no bounds.

“As a comedian, for you to be the best at what we do, you have to give yourself the space to walk the line consistently,” he said.

Dashington said he personally tends to be unapologetic in his comedy.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone. I think most people who do what I do don’t want to hurt anyone, but a joke is always a laugh at something or someone’s expense.”

WATCH | Eva Alexo explains why she understood Will Smith’s reaction to the joke:

“Everyone is reaching their breaking point,” says Montreal comedian Eva Alexo

Eva Alexo, a local comedian, said Will Smith’s reaction to Chris Rock’s joke was understandable, given how much Smith was ridiculed on social media. 0:59

Pinkett Smith has for years been open about her struggles with hair loss caused by alopecia. Rock hit her shaved head while she was on stage to present the award for Best Documentary, prompting a surprise confrontation from Smith.

Eva Alexo, Montreal comedian and co-creator and producer of Montreal’s English-language comedy show, The Rebound, said while Sunday night’s violence was unwarranted, she understands Smith’s emotional reaction to the joke.

The ridicule of Smith and his wife on social media has been well documented.

“As an actor, I would say that [the slap] was a lot at first sight; as a human being, I will say there is always context and everyone reaches their breaking point,” Alexo said.

“It’s really easy for us to look at celebrities and judge them and say they’re not allowed to have feelings because they have all this money, but they’re probably cyberbullied more than the average person.”

WATCH | Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on stage:

Will Smith bangs Chris Rock on stage during the Oscars

Actor Will Smith slammed Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars during the live stream, after the comedian made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. 2h30

Alexo said it was important for comedians to change over time. She said there was a limit to some of the topics considered funny in 2022.

“Comedy is supposed to be about healing and finding light in really dark situations and making people feel better about it or being able to relate to you,” she said.

“It’s not for me to talk about something I don’t know.”

Rock showed professionalism, the comedians agree

What Dashington and Alexo agree on, however, is Rock’s demeanor after the slap, touting his professionalism.

“It was the most beautiful evening in the history of television,” joked Rock before presenting the award for best documentary.

Dashington said if he had been in Rock’s shoes, he would have filed charges against Smith.

“I wouldn’t give anyone leeway to think it’s appropriate behavior because you didn’t like something I said,” he said.

Bruce Hills, president of Montreal comedy festival Just For Laughs, echoed Dashington’s sentiment, taking to Twitter to denounce the lack of consequences for Smith after the attack.

Montreal comedian Mike Ward, who was found last year by the Supreme Court of Canada not to have violated the limits of freedom of expression for having regularly made fun of a disabled child singer during the of his comedy number, called Rock’s bit in a tweet “innocent.” joke.”

The limit on free speech is a common debate in the comedy world, Alexo said. She says that as a stand-up comedian, she expresses herself first and foremost, but she draws the line by poking fun at the trauma of others.

“It’s not my life experience. It’s not my story…And it’s not something I will do.”