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Chris Rock talks about 'The Slap' in his Netflix special

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Chris Rock finally spoke publicly about getting slapped by Will Smith during last year's Oscars broadcast, he did not hold back. In a stand-up comedy set, he joked that he even watched Smith's Civil War-era movie "Emancipation" differently.

(SOUNDBITE OF "CHRIS ROCK: SELECTIVE OUTRAGE")

CHRIS ROCK: I have rooted for Will Smith my whole life. And now I watch "Emancipation" just to see him get whooped (ph) - got me rooting for massa (ph), OK?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: That joke was part of an eight-minute barrage of barbs and reaction during Chris Rock's live special for Netflix called "Selective Outrage." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans watched it. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: You wrote about the special on our website, npr.org, and noted how angry he still is about what happened and, specifically, at Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. What's his side of that story?

DEGGANS: Well, Chris Rock basically said that he was unfairly drawn into this drama that's been surrounding that couple after they talked publicly about Jada sleeping with her son's friend. And Rock said that Smith was a coward and picked on him - he's much smaller than Will Smith - to deal with his frustrations. And, of course (laughter), he did that using a lot of curse words we can't say or play on the radio.

But Rock also noted that his beef with Jada goes all the way back to 2016, when she said during the OscarsSoWhite controversy that he should quit hosting the Oscars after Smith didn't get nominated for his role in the movie "Concussion." Now, at first, Chris Rock kind of - he was so emotional, he kind of messed up the punchline. But eventually, he got the joke out. Let's listen to a clip of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF "CHRIS ROCK: SELECTIVE OUTRAGE")

ROCK: She said of me, a grown [expletive] man should quit his job 'cause her husband didn't get nominated for "Concussion." And then this [expletive] gives me a concussion, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: So you can tell he was pretty emotionally wound up by that point.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. What did you make of his response to all this? He's not given an in-depth interview to anybody, so it's kind of his most extensive public comment on what happened.

DEGGANS: Yeah. You know, I'm no psychologist, right? But listening to all his anger on Saturday, I mean, it felt like the slap had happened last week as opposed to last year. And there was this moment where he insisted he's not a victim, saying he wasn't crying to Oprah or Gayle King, and boasting that he took this slap like a boxer taking a punch. So he seemed to be trying really hard to take this moment that seemed emasculating and spin it into a show of power and perseverance.

And even his decision to make all these statements in a stand-up comedy performance - that's something he controls and that he would profit from - that seemed kind of an effort to present his side in the most comfortable environment possible for him in a routine that he's honed over a bunch of previous stand-up concerts. Now, I'm still interested in seeing what he might say about this in a couple more years, when maybe he's further from the pressure to talk about it all and he has a little more time to process everything.

SHAPIRO: As you noted, this talk about Will Smith came at the end of a stand-up special that was more than an hour long. What else did Chris Rock talk about, and how was the special as a whole? Like, was it funny?

DEGGANS: Well, OK. Humor is a real subjective thing (laughter). And I'm somebody who's watched and covered Chris Rock's career for a very long time. I think he's one of the best stand-up comics in the game. But I also expect a lot from him in a showcase like this that was hyped up so much by Netflix. I was surprised by how outdated some of this felt. He talked about Meghan Markle and the Kardashians and O.J. Simpson, for example. Parts of his show seemed calibrated to draw criticisms from liberals. He joked about people setting a woke trap for you at work, trying to take your job when you say something politically incorrect. And he joked about how dating women around his age - he's 58 - means that they ask you to help fix their roof or help keep car mechanics from ripping them off. I mean, because he's such a great comic, a lot of this was actually funny, but it also felt kind of dated and could be insulting to women. And I was just hoping for something that had a little more insight and a little less empty provocation.

SHAPIRO: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks a lot.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET'S "UNSQUARE DANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.