On Sunday, March 27, my friends and I were huddled together watching the Oscars on our tiny Macbook screen, ecstatic to see celebrities and movies win huge awards. Our favorite actors and actresses, like Jennifer Lawrence and Timothée Chalamet, graced the screen as the winners of the numerous prestigious awards were announced. However, the night took a turn as we saw actor Will Smith assault comedian Chris Rock on live TV.
Rock was presenting at the Oscars and made a tasteless joke about Jada Pinkett Smith and her struggle with alopecia. Smith then marched up on stage, slapped Rock across the face and sat down while shouting profanities to the comedian. Since then, the Academy has launched an investigation regarding if Smith’s best actor award will be withdrawn.
It was a slap in the face. Literally.
The overall mood and energy of the award show was altered after the altercation between Smith and Rock. Even from behind the screen, I didn’t know how to react. I was more stunned at the fact that I just witnessed it on live television than when Smith won best actor for his role in “King Richard.”
Rock’s “joke” about Pinkett was disgusting and uncalled for, but that doesn’t clear Smith’s actions. Smith’s reaction was violent and discourteous. Both were in the wrong.
However, the controversy between Smith and Rock has raised multiple questions regarding morality and comedy as a whole. For decades, comedians have come under fire and received consequences for their crude “comedy.” For example, Roseanne Barr had her TV sitcom “Roseann” canceled, after the comedian tweeted racist remarks toward the Obama administration. Or after comedian and actor Seth Mcfarland hosted the Oscars and made numerous sexist jokes, his following projects and movies underperformed as a result of the scrutiny.
While some might say that comedians cannot joke about anything these days without someone feeling “offended” or “upset,” jokes about someone else’s race, disability, identity or culture are not funny. There are limits in comedy, and comedians need to learn them and take responsibility for the harm that their jokes cause. Exploiting a person or group of people for your own gain and the possibility of a few pity laughs isn’t comedy.
Achieving overall diversity and inclusivity isn’t a hard task to tackle. To embrace is to learn and flourish, and while comedians strive to make people laugh, they must seek out creating a safe environment for all.
All not is lost within the comedy industry, and there are multiple rising comedians trying to rewrite the definition of comedy while still being inclusive. Comedian Naomi Ekperigin is an amazing example. Most recently seen in Netflix’s special, “The Standup,” she is paving the way for newer comedians to find success in comedy by staying respectful towards their audience.
Comedy shouldn’t be focused on making fun of someone or something for your own gain, it should be for everyone to enjoy without the risk of being exploited. Comedy should be inclusive to all, so that people from all around can enjoy themselves.