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Chris Rock says he’s ‘still kind of processing’ Oscars in stage return

The comedian, performing in Boston on Wednesday night, has little to say about Will Smith’s slap at the Academy Awards

Fans lined up at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston on March 30 for the first Chris Rock show three days after the Oscars incident. (Video: Reuters)

BOSTON — Chris Rock wasn’t defiant, but he was clear: If you came to his first gig since the Oscars looking for him to riff about the slap seen around the world, you might want to ask for your money back.

“Let me do a show, y’all,” Rock mock-pleaded after being greeted by a long standing ovation. “Don’t get all misty and s---.”

After a slight pause, Rock looked out into the sold-out Wilbur Theatre and asked: “How was your weekend?”

Busy Tremont Street in downtown Boston was lined with journalists, from local TV reporters to “Inside Edition,” “Entertainment Tonight” and even Agence France-Presse. Tickets were going for more than $1,000 on resale sites. And a pair of Boston ministers gathered to make a sidewalk speech calling for more attention to Black-on-Black crime.

Will Smith slapped Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about Smith's wife's hair during the Oscars on March 27. Smith won best actor for "King Richard." (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post, Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters/The Washington Post)

But Rock, dressed all in white onstage, chose not to even mention Will Smith, whose angry attack during the Academy Awards broadcast has become the main topic in the world of entertainment and culture.

“I had like a whole show I wrote before the weekend,” he said. “And I’m still kind of processing what happened. At some point, I’ll talk about that s---.”

A man in the balcony yelled, “Sue him, Chris; sue him, Chris,” in reference to the “King Richard” star.

Rock, 57, didn’t even pause before launching into his routine.

“You know what the problem with covid is? Not deadly enough.”

Anybody watching Rock work could understand why he didn’t want to do any Will Smith material. He doesn’t work the crowd, he doesn’t improvise. His material isn’t conceived, written and ready within 72 hours. On Wednesday, in the first of six shows in Boston, Rock darted through a range of subjects, tackling racism, the royal family, the problem with both political parties and the reason he had his daughter kicked out of high school.

And he used one of his best formulas, introducing each segment with a shocking premise that makes perfect sense as he unpacks it.

So, when Rock says, “In some ways, the Ukraine’s better off than us,” it’s because “at least they’re together,” he posits, as he details the countless ways “America’s done.” When he slams Meghan Markle, it’s in part the absurdity of being shocked to find racism at Buckingham Palace. “Didn’t they create colonialism?” he said. “That’s like marrying into the Budweiser family and saying, ‘I can’t believe how much they drink.' ”

And when he talks about pleading with the head of his daughter’s school to expel her for bad behavior, it’s because of the lesson he thinks it will teach her — a lesson the other rich parents, who hired “some good lawyers, some NFL-rape lawyers” to keep their kids from being disciplined, should have considered. He also makes sure to let us know that Lola is now in college.

For at least one set in a dark theater, it was easy to forget the surreal week that started when Oscar presenter Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, even though the actress has been public about her struggles with alopecia. Will Smith, her husband, walked onstage, slapped Rock across the face and returned to his front-row seat and yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your f---ing mouth.” (On Wednesday evening, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed that Will Smith had been asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after the slap, but refused.)

Smith later apologized, but Rock has said nothing publicly. So, when he arrived in Boston on Tuesday, international press were waiting to report that the comedian, “head down under a ball cap,” got into a van, and a local news camera crew captured him checking into his hotel. O.J. Simpson, the former football star accused and later acquitted of killing his ex-wife, made a video in which he talked about identifying with Smith’s frustration at being targeted by comedians.

Outside the Wilbur on Wednesday afternoon, news vans crowded the street.

Stevenson Pierre, working the front desk at the Marriott across from the theater, admitted he wanted to see Rock perform. He’s already seen Katt Williams, Trevor Noah and Michael Blackson. But when he checked, tickets were going for $436. That would look like a bargain as showtime approached.

On the sidewalk, Randy Muhammad, minister at Mosque No. 11 in nearby Dorchester, gathered reporters along with the Rev. Kevin Peterson of the Metropolitan Baptist Church to call for “peace and atonement.” Muhammadpraised Smith for apologizing but complained about his being allowed to remain at the Oscars.

“This is what the whole world is talking about, right?” he said. “We’re concerned that others who see that, our young people in particular, will think that’s a way to resolve conflicts. It’s an unfortunate message the Academy sent.”

The Wilbur’s security team seemed flustered, yelling at one point at the ministers to move along so they could set up lines for ticket-holders. And fans arriving were confronted by reporters. Many were interested in getting into the theater. They had to abide by the covid protocol Rock required — either a vaccine card or a negative test — and also the comedian’s policy of having cellphones locked in pouches during the performance. (During the show, security also told reporters inside they could not write in their notebooks.)

Some fans outside complained about the press. Others thought it made the scene more exciting. Nobody talked about selling their tickets, even though they were worth 10 times what many of them had paid.

“I wouldn’t sell them,” said Danielle Maragus, who drove down from Portland, Maine. “I really enjoy him and I think this will be exciting.”

Opener Rick Ingraham made the resale prices part of his act. He looked up at the balcony and asked, “Ever think you’d pay $1,000 for the worst seats in the house?”

One man, who paid more than $500 to sit up there, said he didn’t need Rock to talk about the slap; he just wanted to be present.

“This is comedy history,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “I don’t care if he references it or not. I just want to be in the room when this happens.”

correction

A previous version of this article gave an incorrect name for Chris Rock's opener. He is Rick Ingraham, not Rich Ingraham.

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