“Chris Rock is the hero here and has been a hero many times to me in my life. He is not just one of the state-of-the-art comedians we have ever had. But at that moment, on a much smaller level, he was Jackie Kennedy after the assassination of [John F. Kennedy],” Maher, 66, said during an interview with TMZ on Tuesday, March 29. “We are looking at someone to pull it together with dignity and get the train back on the tracks. He did it and I think he should get a lot of credit for it.”
The political commentator noted that Rock, 57, handled the incident well considering the segment was live.
“I think Chris Rock did a lot of good. I thought he reacted as well as you could in that situation,” Maher added. “It was not a good look for Will. I could make a case that we all have been under a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of emotion running through him. It was just out of line and it reinforced the idea that jokes are the enemy. It is sort of, like, cancel culture encapsulated.”
During the 94th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27, the Saturday Night Live alum made a joke where he referred to Jada Pinkett Smith as G.I. Jane due to her shaved head. Her husband, 53, then walked up to the stage and slapped the comedian after his wife, 50, rolled her eyes at the comment. The Girls Trip actress has previously revealed that she has alopecia.
“Will Smith just smacked the s—t out of me,” the South Carolina native said in censored footage that later circulated online. The King Richard star yelled at Rock multiple times to “keep my wife’s name out your f—king mouth.” In response, Rock attempted to laugh the interaction off before promising not to mention Pinkett Smith.
For Maher, the altercation didn’t make sense since Smith initially seemed to find the joke funny. “At first you saw he was laughing at the joke. This is what happens a lot with cancel stuff,” the television host said on Tuesday while questioning if the Suicide Squad star felt he was meant to get offended. “Then there’s the overreaction.”
The Real Time with Bill Maher host pointed out that he found Rock’s joke to be a compliment to the Red Table Talk host.
“I had heard the term alopecia but I didn’t really associate it. I knew it was something, whatever, and then I [realized] it was losing hair. Alopecia is not leukemia. We are all struggling with our hair,” the New York native said. “It is kind of ridiculous. If that is where you draw the line, that is the no joke zone, then you need to get over yourself.”
One day after the shocking moment made headlines, the Academy Award winner apologized for his “unacceptable and inexcusable” actions toward Rock. “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness,” Smith wrote via Instagram.
The Philadelphia native added: “I would also like to apologize to The Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.”
Pinkett Smith, for her part, shared an Instagram quote on Tuesday, which read, “This is a season for healing and I’m here for it.”
That same day, comedian Jim Carrey also defended Rock after watching the altercation. “I was sickened,” Carrey, 60, said during an appearance on CBS Mornings. “I was sickened by the standing ovation [when Will later won the Academy Award for best actor]. I felt like Hollywood is just spineless en masse. It really felt like, ‘Oh, this is a really clear indication that we’re not the cool club anymore.”
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