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Jimmy Kimmel comes out swinging in monologue that tackles Will Smith’s Oscars slap

A man in a tuxedo stands in concentric circles onstage.
Jimmy Kimmel opens the 95th Academy Awards in the Dolby Theatre on March 12 in Hollywood.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Well, Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel came out swinging when he opened the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday.

The “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” host pulled no punches — er, slaps — when he addressed the giant elephant in the room at this year’s Oscars.

The elephant being that show-stopping moment during last year’s ceremony when “King Richard” star and lead-actor winner Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, onstage during the live telecast.

“We want you to feel safe. And most importantly, we want me to feel safe,” Kimmel said during his monologue. “So we have strict policies in place. If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence, you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute-long speech.”

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Kimmel referred to the crisis team the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences installed to handle slap-like circumstances, but immediately undercut its purpose.

“If anything unpredictable or violent happens during the ceremony, just do what you did last year: nothing. Sit there and do absolutely nothing. Maybe even give the assailant a hug.

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“And if any of you get mad at a joke and decide you want to come up here and ‘get jiggy with it,’ it’s not gonna be easy,” Kimmel said, referring to Smith’s 1997 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and name-checking the formidable attendees a strike-seeking person would “have to get through first.”

The defensive host pointed to members of the audience and referenced their famed characters, including Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Michelle Yeoh, Pedro Pascal’s “The Mandalorian,” Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man and Steven Spielberg’s “Fabelman,” as well as Kimmel’s “right-hand man,” Guillermo Rodriguez.

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“I know. He’s cute, but make no mistake, you even so much as wave at me, that sweet little man will beat the Lydia Tár out of you, OK?” he added. “There’ll be no nonsense tonight. We have no time for shenanigans. This is a celebration of everyone here.”

Incidentally, the three-time Oscars host is no stranger to on-air mishaps. He emceed the 2017 ceremony that culminated in the erroneous announcement of “La La Land” as the best-picture winner instead of “Moonlight” because of an envelope mixup. “I knew I would screw this show up, I really did,” the host quipped at the time, but then returned to host the following year before the ceremony went through a three-year host drought.

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He also made headlines at the Emmy Awards last September when he played dead for a misguided gag in the middle of Quinta Brunson’s acceptance speech. He later apologized to the “Abbott Elementary” star and creator more formally on his late-night show.

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As for the fallout from the slap heard ’round the world: Smith went on to win the lead actor Academy Award less than an hour after striking Rock. Although he got to keep his Oscar and repeatedly apologized, the “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” star was subsequently banned from the Academy Awards and its related events for 10 years. (That explains why Smith will not be attending or presenting the Oscar for lead actress tonight, as is tradition.)

Meanwhile, Rock initially kept fairly quiet about the incident, only briefly alluding to it in stand-up routines over the last year. But he made his most public remarks last weekend onstage at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore — Pinkett Smith’s hometown — during his comedy special for Netflix, “Selective Outrage.”

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Elsewhere in the monologue, Kimmel plugged “Till” and “The Woman King,” Rihanna‘s son and made references to the Oscars envelope gaffe. The comedian also took aim at Nicole Kidman’s AMC Theatres commercials, diabetes drug Ozempic, Irish actors, directors Spielberg and James Cameron, the dearth of female directors being nominated, “Babylon” reportedly losing $100 million, and two actors from “Encino Man” (Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan) being nominated for Oscars.

But Kimmel’s opener isn’t where the slap references stopped. When he returned to the stage to introduce the documentary feature category — the category Rock was presenting in 2022 when he was struck by Smith — Kimmel took another swing at Smith’s body of work. This time, it was the actor’s beloved 2005 rom-com “Hitch.”

“Our next category is documentary feature, which as you may recall is where we had that little skirmish last year,” he said. “Hopefully this time it goes off without a hitch. Or at least without Hitch. Please put your hands together and then keep them to yourself for Oscar winners Riz Ahmed and Ahmir Questlove Thompson.”

Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” win last year was eclipsed by the slap, and Oscars producers brought him back to present this year.

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Times staff writer Emily St. Martin contributed to this report.

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