Salient Lessons To Learn From Chris Rock’s Expensive Joke And Will Smith’s Oscar Slap

By Sandra Ijeoma Okoye

If there is any episode in history that has set the stage on how audiences will be responding to bellicose and unfunny jokes of humourists across the world, it is unarguably the squabble that occurred between Will Smith and Chris Rock. The squabble as widely reported was triggered by Rock, in a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith (Smith’s wife), wherein he referenced the 1997 film G.I. Jane in which actress Demi Moore shaved her head. It was unclear whether Rock was aware that Smith’s wife has a disease that causes hair loss. Without doubt, what Rock thought to be a joke that would tickle his audiences to hearty laugh would for a long time to come remain a blight on Oscar Award.

As widely known, comedy is an incredibly powerful tool for conveying a message or strong set of opinions and when done well it can be educational. There are countless talented comedians out there today using comedy as a way of bringing people together and using humour to shed light on topics that need to be spoken about. For instance, the comedy industry in Nigeria has become a multi-million naira industry with many using the art form to become notable personalities within and outside the shores of the country.

In recent time, comedy has been used as a tool of communication to address salient national and local issues. However, there is a massive difference in addressing a difficult issue in a way that is tasteful, witty and empowering than doing so by preying on vulnerability and using humour to cut somebody down.

In fact, there are salient lessons for Nigerian Comedians to learn from both Will Smith and Chris Rock as both of them were reported to have been remorseful through apologies as a result of the incident.

As gathered, Will Smith has publicly apologized to Chris Rock for slapping him across the face on the Oscars stage Sunday night.

"Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behaviour at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable," Smith wrote on Instagram.

The apology comes hours after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Monday condemned Smith's actions and launched an official inquiry into the incident.

Smith wrote in his apology, "Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally."

It would be recalled that Pinkett Smith has been in the eyes of the public about the fact that she is living with alopecia and has been candid about it: "Me and this alopecia are going to be friends ... period!" she wrote on Instagram last December.

In a similar vein, Chris Rock who has issued his own apologetic statement regarding the imbroglio, said, “As a comedian it can be difficult to understand which lines are to be crossed and which ones aren’t. Last night I crossed a line that I shouldn’t have and paid the enormous price of my reputation as a renowned comedian. Comedy is never about poking fun at or making light of people with major ordeals happening in their lives. Comedy is about using real life circumstances to create laughter and bring light to an otherwise dark world. With that said, I sincerely apologize to my friend’s Jada Pinkett-Smith, Will Smith, and the rest of the Smith family for the disrespect and disregard I displayed which was unfortunately broadcast for the world to see. I hope that, with time, forgiveness can come of this situation and we can all be better, more considerate people in the end”, -Chris Rock wrote.

Looking at the imbroglio from the perspective of the apologies tendered by both figures in the global entertainment industry, there are salient lessons to learn, particularly by comedians in Nigeria.

First and foremost, Comedians should try as much as possible to draw a line between offensive jokes and hilarious jokes. There should be a sort of ethical self-regulation. For instance, “How will the world of work be when an accountant falsely classify a large amount of fraudulent transaction in operating expenses as assets? How will it be when an engineer is asked by his father-in-law, who is a potential bidder, to disclose the tender assessment criteria of a construction project under his supervision? How will it be when a bank manager is offered a golf club membership by a long-term client if he approves the application for loan by the client’s friend?

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is not out of place to ask; “How will it be when comedians continue to crack bellicose and unfunny jokes, and as a result of that continue to dampen the spirit of audiences that paid money to watch them perform all in the name of Comedy?

Again, Comedians in Nigeria should understand that they are today practising Comedy in the age of outrage. So, they should eschew taking their jokes too far. This is because audiences today can be so sensitive to edgy jokes, and they would not mind publicly shaming the comedians who ridiculed them in the name of joke, and further leaves them in shame. In fact, it is apt to advise Comedians that never a time in their practice should they lose their collective sense of humour, and resort to mocking their followers through their jokes.

The expediency of heeding to the foregoing advice cannot be argued against as people are now more sensitive, more than ever before, in swallowing hook, line and sinker disgusting remarks made by comedians when performing, and there is a growing feeling that comedians can no longer say anything without offending somebody. It seems all it takes is one joke to be taken out of context by a performing Comedian, and the audiences will be begin to reel with laughter. In these days of social media, some of the unfunny and bellicose jokes are virally posted on Twitter or Facebook, and with this a comic can expect a storm of invective from people who are either outraged or pretending to be.

In fact, Comedians’ overarching intention is to amuse, not to offend. Some may intend to make their audiences reel with laughter, but it is hard to think of many mainstream instances these days where comedians deliberately set out to wound an individual with their words. But it should be realized that no comedian has ever prospered by alienating their potential audience.

Sandra Ijeoma Okoye (Author)

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