Former Oscars Host Billy Crystal Opens Up About ‘Shocking’ Will Smith Slap Moment, But Shares Thoughts About Chris Rock’s Jada Pinkett Smith Joke

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It’s been a little over three weeks since the 2022 Academy Award winners were announced, but the ceremony is still being talked about. While Amy Schumer has garnered some attention for her controversial bit with Kirsten Dunst and a scrapped joke involving Alec Baldwin, the chief topic that remains on many minds is Will Smith slapping Chris Rock after the comedian joked about Jada Pinkett Smith. Billy Crystal, who goes way back with the Oscars, has given his take on both the slap itself and the Joke Rock told.

If anyone’s qualified to talk about the Oscars, it’s Billy Crystal, as the When Harry Met Sally actor has hosted the ceremony nine times, the first time in 1990 and most recently in 2012. He dropped by CNN+’s Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace (via Mediaite) to talk about his career, and when the eponymous host brought up Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards, Crystal had this to say about the incident itself:

So and I thought Chris handle himself as well as he could and to keep it together. It was a shocking moment that I was concerned. Very much for the mental state of Will. That’s what, I was kind of very worried and concerned and shocked by the aftermath of that, too.

On the off chance you need a refresher, ahead of presenting the Best Documentary Feature that evening, Chris Rock told a handful of jokes, including making a crack about how he looked forward to seeing Jada Pinkett Smith in G.I. Jane 2 (a reference to the actress’ bald head, which she shaved after being diagnosed with alopecia). Shortly thereafter, Will Smith came onstage and slapped Rock, and then upon getting back to his seat, he yelled “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!” twice. Rock was understandably rattled by what happened, but after a few seconds was able to get himself together and deliver the rest of his presentation. 

Later on in the ceremony, during his acceptance speech for the Best Actor Oscar, Smith apologized to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the incident, but he didn’t mention Chris Rock. Instead, Smith issued a formal public apology to the SNL vet the following day. Billy Crystal is able to see both sides of the situation. One the one hand, while he doesn’t condone what Smith did, he’s concerned about his mental state. On the other hand, he obviously didn’t want to see Rock slapped, but he also found the joke about Jada Pinkett Smith unsatisfying. As Crystal put it:

I just thought it, one, it wasn’t a great joke, and two, it was why, why go after her, you know, so I thought it just misplaced. And I love Chris and we’re friends and I so respect him. I just thought it was wrong.

Chris Rock declined to press charges against Will Smith for the slap in the hours after the ceremony. However, on April 1, the King Richard actor resigned from the Academy after the organization initiated disciplinary proceedings against him. Then on April 8, the Academy banned Smith from attending the Oscars and any other Academy event for the next 10 years.

Billy Crystal is just one of many celebrities who’ve given their take on Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, with other recent examples include DJ Jazzy Jeff saying Smith was only human for having a “lapse in judgement,” as well Jay Leno calling out the Academy for launching an investigation since there were “so many cameras on this incident.” Along with the aforementioned consequences, two of Smith’s movies have been put on pause, so we’ll have to wait and see how the aftermath of the slap will continue to be felt.

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