Will Smith gave comedy another unneeded slap in the face – New York Daily News
Stand-up comedy has never been a safe space for the timid.
But after millions of Academy Award viewers saw actor Will Smith slap comedian Chris Rock on stage Sunday — then receive an award — a whole different kind of insecurity came to mind.
Comedian Kathy Griffin wondered on Twitter if comedians are safe.
“Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters,” she wrote.
That will be on the minds of the people who take the stage at comedy clubs in the city — and those who run them.
Comedians have to hope audience members don’t make themselves part of the show. (Shutterstock)
In May, the Friars Club will honor comedian Tracy Morgan at an event in the Ziegfeld Ballroom. The club’s director Anthony Trombetta says there will be “measures in place” to make sure the evening goes smoothly.
“Gone is the age of the heckler,” he told the Daily News. “Now you have to worry.”
Trombetta, whose club made famous the celebrity roast, said he’s never experienced anything like what happened at the 94th Academy Awards presentation. He feels that being a comedian — especially an insult comic doing a risqué comedy show — is stressful enough in polarizing times without the specter of physical violence looming.
“Comedians don’t want to do (roasts) because they’re going to be canceled,” he said. “Something like that slap can set things back.”
According to Trombetta, people who attend comedy events have a responsibility to roll with the punches, but only figuratively.
“The guy on the stage is fair game and so is the guy with the toupee in the front row,” he said.
Comedians have been subject to hecklers, but now they could face physical threats. (Shutterstock)
Actor Ronnie Marmo is touring as controversial comic Lenny Bruce in his provocative one-man show “I’m Not a Comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce.” What he saw Smith do to Rock didn’t sit well with him.
“Will Smith is well known and has a lot of fans,” Marmo told The News. “He’s now given permission to a whole lot of people that if they don’t like something, they can literally take physical action.”
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After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, he and director Joe Montegna removed the N-word from their show because the times suddenly felt wrong. Prior to that, Marmo said people would sometimes walk out of the theater when he said it, but most audience members knew what they were signing up for when they purchased their tickets and never attacked him on stage.
“Obviously you hope that people know better, but if [Smith] didn’t know better, then I’m sure there are plenty who don’t,” he said.
Will Smith, right, hits presenter Chris Rock at the Oscars on Sunday. (Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
No doubt other jokes were told on Oscars night that offended someone in the audience, Marmo noted. But no one else felt it was their place to assault the people on stage. Considering there’s a war raging in eastern Europe, Marmo initially brushed off the Hollywood melodrama that occurred on Oscars night.
“Then I realized I’m playing Lenny Bruce and the fact that comedians are feeling threatened not just for censorship, but now their physical well being … probably largely like he did back then, made me realize this conversation is sadly always too relevant,” he said. “Now we’ve taken it to another level and given it a whole new meaning.”
Carolines on Broadway owner Caroline Hirsch said she’s never seen anything like Smith’s attack on Rock, but sees no reason to change the way her popular Times Square venue operates.
“I hope this doesn’t mislead people to think this is acceptable behavior, because it’s not,” she said.
Carolines on Broadway owner Caroline Hirsch. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)
Hirsch said she met Rock when he was about 20 years old and getting his start in comedy. She thinks being smacked on live TV must have been “traumatic” for the funnyman, but won’t throw him — or other comics — off their game long-term.
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“I think in a week or two, comedians will be past it and get back to normal,” she said.
While Hirsch said there seems to be a wider “lack of respect for people in the culture” right now, she doesn’t believe what Smith did will normalize assaulting performers. She doesn’t even think Smith — who has apologized to Rock — believes what he did should be the norm.
“I’m sure Will Smith is thinking ‘how can I take back what I just did?’” she said.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News