Mr. & Mrs. Smith

This post is an exercise in free speech. And if you don’t like it, per the How-Can-She-Slap video: “Why don’t you go and f*ck off then?”

Early Monday morning, I realized why I consider 2008’s Best Picture, No Country For Old Men, the greatest film of the millennium. The movie opens and closes with Tommy Lee Jones monologues, the former of which concludes thus:

𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘳𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘴𝘦𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘸, 𝘪𝘵’𝘴 𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘪𝘵𝘴 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘦. 𝘐𝘵’𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐’𝘮 𝘢𝘧𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘪𝘵. 𝘐 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘸 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘩𝘢𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘥𝘪𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘯 𝘥𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘫𝘰𝘣. 𝘉𝘶𝘵 𝘐 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘶𝘴𝘩 𝘮𝘺 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘱𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘨𝘰 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘦𝘦𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘐 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘥. 𝘈 𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘶𝘵 𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘭 𝘢𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘻𝘢𝘳𝘥. 𝘏𝘦’𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘢𝘺, “𝘖𝘒. 𝘐’𝘭𝘭 𝘣𝘦 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥.”

OK. I’ll be part of this world. The flick is about how the United States is “hard on people,” and how you can age out of relevance. Jones’ Men In Black (1997) co-star, Will Smith, bitch-slapped Chris Rock onstage. It wasn’t the moment of impact that has profoundly disappointed me, but rather the reaction by many people I once considered to be sane. It’s easy sometimes to feel like I’m Kathy Bates in Misery (1990):

𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘬𝘪𝘥𝘴 𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥! 𝘉𝘜𝘛 𝘐 𝘋𝘐𝘋𝘕’𝘛 𝘊𝘏𝘌𝘌𝘙. 𝘐 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘶𝘱 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨, “𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘴𝘯’𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘸𝘦𝘦𝘬 — 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘨𝘰𝘵 𝘈𝘔𝘕𝘌𝘚𝘐𝘈? 𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘶𝘴! 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘯’𝘵 𝘧𝘢𝘪𝘳! 𝘏𝘌 𝘋𝘐𝘋𝘕’𝘛 𝘎𝘌𝘛 𝘖𝘜𝘛 𝘖𝘍 𝘛𝘏𝘌 𝘊𝘖𝘊𝘒𝘈𝘋𝘖𝘖𝘋𝘐𝘌 𝘊𝘈𝘙!”

But it’s also possible that the ones who are appalled by The Slap, Donald Trump, the Woke Left, school shootings on the reg, fentanyl deaths on the reg, etc., are the sane ones. Indeed, I nearly wept on January 6, 2021, when my old place of work was stormed by those bastards, but it was the normalization of that day that frightened me then and continues to haunt me now. Ironically, it’s the same with the 2017 Oscars, when Meryl Streep tearfully pleaded on behalf of the disabled reporter whom Trump attacked. The entire right-wing ecosystem tore her down and people I knew just stood there and applauded. I’m emotionally scarred by these events. So, this post is my harshest ever, but realize that comedians are backed into a corner and scared for our lives.

We live in a sick and insane society. America is a truly F’d-up place and I don’t know how much longer I can take it. I’ve aged out. And that presents a real problem for a new dad and for a comedian, since our entire jobs are role model and social commentator.

And so I told fellow-new-dad Utkarsh Ambudkar how utterly grateful I was that he, who’d freestyled alongside Questlove at the 2020 Oscars, reached out Sunday night on his own to provide some much-needed comfort to a comedian.

On Monday evening, Smith apologized to Rock. That was inevitable.

SLAP backwards is PALS.

But this is merely incidental. The damage to comedy has been done. Yes, they are part of the Big Club that George Carlin described: “It’s a big club — and you ain’t in it.” One for the affluent and the powerful. We already knew that. But the message that people will take away is that it’s OK to assault a comedian for telling a joke. It’s like most people’s reactions to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) negotiations: “Oh, who cares about a bunch of rich actors?” Well, you should care, because most SAG performers aren’t Tom Cruise: they’re working paycheck-to-paycheck. As usual, it’s the everyday no-name working comedians who’ll suffer.

To that, you might say, “Well, that isn’t the message I took,” and that’s because you are sane. You weren’t going to slap, punch, knife, or shoot one of us. (And make no mistake: God forbid, but a comedian will get shot in the coming months. When I saw Fight Club (1999), I was thinking, “Well, they’d have been OK if they would’ve just fought at Lou’s place instead of fire-bombing buildings.” But that’s the nature of violence: it escalates. A slap today is a gunshot tomorrow.)

It’s the nuts who will receive that message. Actions speak louder than words and the condonement of this behavior emboldens those who might’ve thought twice about doing something. Moreover, though, it poisons the well for all of us. It’s the water in which we now swim. When Trump was elected, one of the most insidious effects was the outright bigotry in which people could now indulge. Between the kind of hate speech it engenders, and the constant mind control of the politically correct on the opposite end of the spectrum telling us what we can and cannot say, it squeezes us in the middle so hard that otherwise reasonable people turn into Matt Damon in The Departed (2006): “I don’t have to f*cking explain anything to anybody! I can f*cking investigate anyone I f*cking want to!”

It’s with this backdrop that people texted me things like: “This is why you cannot invite Blacks to nice events.” “Maybe it wasn’t so bad when the Oscars were all White?” “Black people are so ghetto.” And how am I to reply? That was some ghetto-ass shit! That’s a terrible thing for anyone — especially an ally — to write, but this is the natural consequence of an America that offers no reasonable discourse on virtually any matter. We’ve become a nation of walking YouTube comments.

Don’t offer comedians a choice between Hate Speech and No Speech… many of us will begrudgingly choose the former. Don’t turn me into someone who listens to Joe Rogan, watches Jordan Peterson, and puts a TRUMP 2024 yardsign in their backyard. Because it could come to that. And moderates will lose one of their strongest advocates.

On a lighter note, I guess we solved #OscarsSoWhite? 🤷🏾‍♂️

What’s important to recognize is that Will Smith’s initial reaction was a genuine laugh. Go back and watch the recording.

It was only when he saw his wife’s disapproval that he went into Beast Mode. So, to anyone saying it was a genuine reaction to an attack on his family, you are demonstrably incorrect. An adjacent argument is that he was being chivalrous by defending Jada Pinkett Smith’s honor. First off, consenting adults can engage in any kind of legal sexual behavior they choose, but it’s an open Hollywood secret that they’re both gay swingers. They routinely bang other people. So, I’m not so sure about the defending-her-honor take. But more importantly, Will Smith acted like a pussy. He sucker-slapped the much-smaller Rock and then wept like a little bitch throughout his phony-ass acceptance speech. That’s manly to you?

Anyone defending that behavior is as guilty as Will Smith. It’s shamefully hypocritical for people on any point in the gender spectrum to call men out for Toxic Masculinity and then — THE ONE TIME TOXIC MASCULINITY LITERALLY SLAPS SOMEONE IN THE FACE — come to its rescue. (Former) Comedian Tiffany Haddish called W Smith’s actions, “The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” I’d be enraged if I weren’t so overcome by pity for her. Thank God I’m married and don’t have to choose amidst this trash.

I normally mark the Oscars on my calendar. Many of you know I’ve watched every telecast since the 1980s. This one slipped my mind due to covid and so I’d already set up a show about 12 minutes away in Glendale, CA. I caught the slap before I left, caught up on the news as I arrived at the venue, and caught the crowd up on what had transpired. I got a lot of applause for defending free speech. And of course, a lot of laughter since I’m hilarious. I thanked the crowd and was hanging out, supporting the other comics. The night was going well until this couple started offering their bullshit viewpoints on the matter. This Asian chick starts going off about how you shouldn’t make jokes about women. That was enough for me to reply, “Um, so it’s OK to bust on males but we can’t do the same with females?” That’s when her Black douchey boyfriend steps in and tries to flex his big dick energy in my direction: “Oh, I’d-a slapped him, too.” In my heart, I felt like Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): “Oh, what a big man you are!”

Like a pro, though, I defused the situation without backing down. I pivoted my body and took one step back. Not multiple steps: that’s a backpeddle. He said that Rock has been going after Pinkett Smith for a bit. A tactic of de-escalation is to give additional weight to a point you don’t actually consider as central. I replied, “Oh, I didn’t realize that,” but standing my ground, I continued, “Dude, if Smith had wanted to be a man, at most, he could grab the mic. Yell at him. Challenge him to a duel after the show.” Ironically, he didn’t have the Will.

Incident averted… and this wasn’t 1% as impressive as the way Rock handled himself on international television. The worst part about this couple is their goddam opinions don’t matter. They can go on with their night. It’s comedians who are in the crosshairs.

If you side with Will Smith, know that you are not only not welcome at my shows but also in my life. I do not want the support of people who overlook, let alone cheer, violence. You’re human scum. I don’t need mentally deranged people in my world, thank you very much. And also know that, if you ever lay a hand on me at a show, I will not be as magnanimous as Chris Rock (or as funny, let’s face it). I’ll prosecute you to the fullest extent of both criminal and civil law. So, perhaps I’ll be like the US to Russia: I won’t come at you militarily, but I’ll ruin you financially.

Dave Chappelle said in The Bird Revelation (2017) that comedians have the need to speak recklessly. And though I wrote about how his trans jokes were over the line, I never said he shouldn’t be allowed to make them. Free Speech includes Bad Taste — and the reaction to Bad Taste. The stage is the last bastion of free speech in society. Comedians are the ones fighting everyday for YOUR right to free speech. With all deference to real soldiers (and mad props to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an actual comedian and actual soldier), it’s not an exaggeration to say, in modern society, WE are the ones taking the fire so that YOU can have free speech. If COMEDIANS are not allowed to make JOKES, then we are on a dangerous path.

Let me rephrase that since we’re all pretty damn sure there will be no serious consequences for Smith (given he was dancing at an after-party to one of his own hits):

Since comedians aren’t allowed to make jokes,

we’re already in a dangerous place.

Ask any victim of domestic violence and one word you’ll repeatedly hear is “boundaries.” Civilization needs uncrossable lines — and it’s always been the divide between words and actions. There’s a reason one of Chappelle’s specials was called Sticks and Stones. I largely blame the Woke Left for this, which has claimed that words are violence… silence is violence… and a bunch of other crap. And since we’ve equivocated words and actions, soon there’ll be no difference between a whisper and a murder. Sound extreme? Time will tell. Barriers are important. Once Bill Clinton, in cahoots with both Republicans and Democrats, repealed Glass-Steagall, removing the fence between commercial and investment banking, it took only nine years for the global economy to collapse.

As a group, comedians are sick of being told what we can and cannot do, say, or think. It has seeped into my brain and affected my creative process, my mental state, and my very soul. It’s hugely depressing and anxiety-inducing. So, while there have been people saying that it’s not up to us to judge Black people because we don’t know what it’s like to be Black, I say, “I understand that, but do you know what it’s like to be a comedian?” No, you probably don’t. Since the advent of widespread cancel culture, our livelihoods have long been in jeopardy. But now so are our LIVES. Don’t you dare tell me what I can and cannot say. I have the right to make jokes and they don’t even have to be funny. We are tired of walking on eggshells.

Don’t tell me to stay in my lane. I don’t have a lane. I’m the highway, bitch.

What’s the list of jokes we can’t make now? No racial jokes. No trans jokes. No women jokes. No Jada Pinkett Smith jokes. You would’ve thought that last one was a made-up reference until 24 hours ago. It’s no joke. It’s deadly serious. Some are saying that Black women have to endure too much. Fine. But your point goes out the proverbial window when you forget that CHRIS ROCK IS BLACK. Had a White man made that same joke, yeah… not cool, honky. However, here’s the thing: that mostly White audience just sat there because everyone’s so scared of being seen as “putting Black people in their place.” Consider this: Brown people are granted no such leeway. If Joseph Patel had slapped Riz Ahmed (the only other South Asian onstage), you can bet your ass our people would’ve been booed and the two of them would’ve been escorted out, replete with some kind of hidden terrorism fears. Now, how offended am I supposed to be about this? The racial slur against us is “sandni**er.” I can’t even write out the insult White people call us for fear of offending Black people. How F’d-up is that?

Let me tell you: No community has a monopoly on pain. Black women feel pain. Trans people feel pain. Yeah, and so do couples who have a hard time getting pregnant. I can speak from experience: we spent many nights, holding each other, in tears. Our pain was very real. Does that give me the right to demand that no jokes should be made about this subject? We either have free speech or we don’t. Barring extreme cases (fire in a crowded theater), there can be no exceptions or it doesn’t work. Where does it end?

Guess what…

Nobody knows what it’s like to be anybody else.

Will other public figures speak out? Maybe. I applaud comedians Paul Varghese and Tom Segura for going in early and often. And I’m impressed by Jim Carrey.

I was blown away by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take, which resonated even deeper as we’re watching Winning Time on HBO.) But beyond KAJ & RAJ, don’t hold out much hope for others. Judd Apatow deleted his relatively benign tweets. They’re all paid by the same system.

It’s a big club — and you ain’t in it.

So, I’ll end this on an uplifting and a funny note. Sure, racists will see Smith’s behavior as indicative of Black men. But I encourage us all to look at the way Rock responded: with grace, poise, and style. That, too, is indicative of Black men.

And now, let’s laugh at the jokes that have been made.

So, the only way to end this kind of a post is by laughing at the jokes that have been made.

My favorite? “What’s that on Chris Rock’s face? Fresh Prints.”

Feel free to post your favorites in the comments. And please pull an Utkarsh and send a message to tell a comedian you love them. My brother, Vikas, called me up and apologized on behalf of people everywhere. Whether he can do that… well… let’s just say it meant the world to me. Lord knows we need your love, support, and protection today.

Rajiv Satyal is a standup comedian… and one of those old men with no country.

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