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Of course ‘SNL’ addressed the Slap. Here’s how the show lampooned the Oscars

"Saturday Night Live" musical guest Gunna, left, host Jerrod Carmichael, center, and cast member Heidi Gardner.
“Saturday Night Live” musical guest Gunna, left, host Jerrod Carmichael and cast member Heidi Gardner.
(Rosalind O’Connor / NBC)
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In times of cultural upset, we turn to a trusted — well, half-trusted; well, familiar — voice for context and relief and ask ourselves, “What Will ‘Saturday Night Live’ Do?”

Incisive or clumsy, to the point or nearly irrelevant, and almost certain to carry on any idea too long, it has become for many a sort of ritual way station in processing the awful nonsense of the real world into the manageable nonsense of comedy. On the Saturday following the Sunday when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock over Rock’s joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, it seemed as sure a bet as could be placed on Earth that some sort of re-creation-cum-reckoning would be forthcoming from the kids of Studio 8H at 30 Rock.

So it was something of a surprise not to see the Slap That Launched a Thousand Think Pieces addressed head-on in Saturday’s cold open; instead, there was a “Fox & Friends” bit that included a throwaway reference. “Did you see the famous slap?” James Austin Johnson’s Donald Trump was asked, as he descended into a torrent of Trumpian word salad, centered on Will Smith slapping Kevin James in the movie “Hitch.”

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Not saying anything in particular about The Thing initially seemed to be the strategy. Comedian Jerrod Carmichael was the week’s host; he had made news himself — of a happy sort — earlier in the week when his excellent HBO special, “Rothaniel,” became the platform for his public coming-out as gay. If “Rothaniel” was about facing things head-on, in his opening monologue he talked about the Oscars dust-up by talking around it.

Smith spent his remarkable 30-year career building toward Sunday’s Oscars triumph. With a single, impulsive act, he turned it into a moment of shame.

March 28, 2022

“I’m not going to talk about it,” he began. “I want to be clear up top. I talked about it enough. Kept talking about it. Kept thinking about it. I don’t want to talk about it. And you can’t make me talk about it. But I’ve got a question: Do you want to talk about it? Like, aren’t you sick of talking about it?

“Can you believe that it’s been six days?” he continued. “Doesn’t it feel like it happened years ago? Doesn’t it feel like it happened when we were all in high school? It feels like it happened between Jamiroquai and 9/11. A long, long time ago. It happened on Sunday. Sunday! It’s Saturday, bro.

“On Monday it was exciting. I’m not going to lie. If this were Monday, you wouldn’t be able to get me to shut up about it. Tuesday, still talking about it. A little less exciting because it stopped being about It, and it started being about a lot of proxy arguments — hair and Black men and white people on Twitter; on Wednesday I wanted to kill myself; I don’t really remember Thursday; but by Friday I made a vow to myself, and promised myself I would never talk about it again. Then Lorne came into my dressing room. He was like, ‘I think you need to talk about it. The nation needs to heal.’ … Heal the nation, I’ve been gay for like 48 hours; I’ve got so much gay stuff I’ve got to do before I heal the nation.”

Eventually, things got specific. In the evening’s designed Oscars sketch, Chris Redd, as Will Smith, alternated abruptly between chummy banter with Carmichael as a star-struck seat-filler and his verbal and (off-camera) physical attacks on Rock. It made no discernible point, but was rather a turn on the evergreen split-personality sketch — something you might have seen on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” or in an old Danny Kaye movie.

What wasn’t surprising was to find Michael Che and Colin Jost going straight at the subject, for as many jabs as they could decently squeeze in, right from the top of the “Weekend Update” segment. Neither was it unexpected that most of their jokes were directed toward Smith; comics stand up for comics.

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Jost: “Intelligence officials are saying that Vladimir Putin is being misinformed about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine; which is kind of like Will Smith’s agent telling him, “You crushed it at the Oscars.”

Che: “During his acceptance speech Will Smith said, ‘Love will make you do crazy things.’ You know what else makes you do crazy things? Crazy. But I understand where Will’s coming from. I mean, you can’t expect him to sit there and watch another man jump all over his wife — without signing an NDA.”

Will Smith has resigned from the film academy and says he’s willing to accept whatever punishment is coming his way.

April 1, 2022

There were several more like that, including a remark by Che that “just selfishly, as a comedian, I’m tired of people putting their own insecurities on our joke intentions — I mean, I can’t make a joke about it being cold outside without somebody yelling back, ‘Stop making fun of my small penis.’”

Jost concluded the barrage by saying, “I think we should just acknowledge that that was one of the craziest things we will ever see in our lives. It’s truly like the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, but if Janet’s nipple slapped Timberlake.”

Then Kenan Thompson came on, as O.J. Simpson, to comment on the question that had “divided Hollywood” — but all the jokes were actually about Simpson. Asked by Che which side he was on, he responded, “You know me, I hate conflict. … I mean, Will, I don’t want to say you got rage issues, but if the glove fits. … Whenever you do feel anger bubbling up inside, instead of reacting, just do what I do, take a nice long drive, or maybe let a friend drive you around.” Asked if he was on Rock’s side, he answered that maybe the comic had gone too far in attacking Smith’s family. “Like Will Smith said in his speech, love will make you do crazy things. Allegedly.”

“Hey, can I make a big confession that’s been a long time coming?” Thompson’s Simpson said finally. “I didn’t watch them Oscars.”

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