Fran Lebowitz Will Smith Chris Rock Oscars slap

Fran Lebowitz on Will Smith, Chris Rock and the slap heard round the world

In a one-on-one interview, we spoke with the renowned author and social critic about all the implications of the slap and Will Smith’s outrageous acceptance speech.

NYC author, public speaker and well known social critic Fran Lebowitz was cast as a judge in The Wolf of Wall Street for a reason. Lebowitz, who will be speaking in Montreal on May 6, had a conversation with Cult MTL on Tuesday, expressing “snap judgments” on a variety of topics, from the war in Ukraine to post-pandemic life in cities and beyond. While the full interview will be published in our April issue, we had to share her thoughts on one of the hottest topics of the week: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars.

On the very existence of the Oscars

“I’d like to first say that I think it’s ridiculous they still have the Oscars. I am old, so if I think it’s old-fashioned, how old-fashioned could it be? For years, I’ve been saying, ‘This is absurd, this is something from another era, they shouldn’t have this anymore.’ In a way it’s like if they were having a butter-churning contest.

“In addition, people who are up for Oscars are among the most highly and overly rewarded people on planet Earth, they don’t also have to be given golden knickknacks.

“Truthfully, there are not even movies anymore — the movie business, in the way that people think of it, is gone, so move on.”

On Will Smith’s ego

“In regards to Will Smith, here’s what I think: You don’t get to hit someone because you don’t like a joke. It’s unbelievable to me that that was tolerated, and it was tolerated. They let him sit there for the whole hour or however long it was until he got his award.

“Will Smith was well aware that he was on television. It’s not like he lost his temper or something because there was too much time between those two things. He didn’t jump up right away, he sat there at first, he laughed, though I’m sure he didn’t think it was funny. Everyone knows, if you’re sitting there, there’s a high chance you’re on TV and that is why, when they announce the winners, they shoot to the audience and they show the losers, and all the losers know that they’re being shot and they smile and they applaud, even though they’re thinking, ‘I should’ve won!’

“It’s not the first time someone got angry at a joke, but it was outrageous to me that he did that, it was outrageous to me that they let him sit there, but most outrageous was that self-serving, self-regarding speech that he made, with the tears — which were for himself — and the way that he talked about himself, which is not uncommon in Hollywood. These people talk about themselves like they’re countries. They’re actors, they’re not countries! ‘I’m a vessel, I’m a river’ — I thought, ‘You are an actor! This is not actually the highest form of human life.’ That speech was ridiculous and outrageous.”

On Chris Rock’s stature and silence

“I know Chris, and one thing I know about Chris is that he’s a very slight guy, physically. He’s not terribly short, but he’s slight; Will Smith is at least twice his size, so that alone is a kind of bullying.

“Chris has wisely not said a thing, and I think that’s the best way for him to go because what could he say?”

On whether it was a bit

“A lot of people tell me that when Will Smith got up, they thought it was a bit, but I didn’t. I knew that he was going to hit him because I could see by the way he was walking that it was real. I also could see — and I hate to use the word ‘thought’ in regard to whatever went through his mind, such as it is — but he knew he was going to do it, and it seemed pretty clear to me that Chris didn’t, because naturally it’s really unusual for someone to get up and hit someone during the Oscars.”

On the potential for violence at the Oscars

“I don’t recall it ever happening before, even though I’m certain that there’s never been an Oscars where tons of people didn’t feel like hitting one another, because the Oscars is a competition. People can smile when they lose, but they’re angry. There’s a lot of emotion, there’s a lot of tension; it’s very competitive, it’s very important to these people.”

On the notion that Smith was defending his wife

“One thing that really angered me as a woman was when people said (Will Smith was) defending his wife. And I thought to myself, ‘Really?’ First of all, did Chris hit his wife? If Chris had hit his wife then he should’ve been arrested, but he didn’t hit his wife, he told a joke that was not funny. It was a bad joke. He told a bad joke about his wife, but that doesn’t mean you get to hit him. If she had gotten up and slapped him, it would’ve been outrageous, but a little less outrageous from the point of view of women. The wife can defend herself if she needs to be defended.”

On the precedent set by this incident

“No one should hit people because they don’t like a joke. First of all, this is a terrible precedent because most comedians tell lots of jokes that are bad, most jokes are not funny, most people are not that good at their job. Does it mean now that someone can get up from the audience and hit you? It’s totally ridiculous.

“That should be it for the Oscars. This is a good excuse. They should say, ‘Well, we’re not going to have it anymore because we don’t want everyone to get hit.’”

On the Academy’s investigation

“There was some kind of statement from the Academy saying they’re going to look into it — what do you mean ‘look into it?’ Millions of people saw it live. It’s like looking into the January 6 riot — I’m not comparing them in importance, but we have a movie of these crimes, we all saw these crimes in real time. Everyone saw it.”

On Will Smith’s ego, pt. 2

“It was really unfair if you care about the Oscars — which I don’t — for all the people that follow that because what Will Smith did was take all the attention and keep it on himself, and he still has it on himself two days later — and that, by the way, is the goal of all actors.” ■

Look for the rest of our interview with Fran Lebowitz in the April issue of Cult MTL, out April 7. Fran Lebowitz will be speaking in Montreal at Eglise St-Jean Baptiste (4237 Henri-Julien) on Friday, May 6, 8 p.m., $55–$71.50.

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