The Chris Rock reaction was a lesson in self control

This morning I got asked by a leader to unpack the saga that was played out between Chris Rock and Will Smith at the Oscars this week. Which will go down in history as the slapping event that occurred following a Chris Rock joke… that was not part of the script… 

And was obviously too personal, and not well thought through, in the moment. 

So, my take on it. Noting that my take will be not what you expect. And not as direct as the opinions of people like Jim Carrey, who has publicly asked for an assault charge to be laid. 

Will Smith first though. And briefly only. Even though it was his action really that we are talking about. In his apology on Twitter the following day (in what appeared to be sincere, and heart felt), Smith used the words: ‘I reacted emotionally’. Yes, he did. He gave himself permission in the moment to not process information, and respond, but to react. Enough said on that point, but if you would like to understand more about what that means, check out my blog post at:

Back to Chris Rock. 

Big picture first. 

What is the real culture of the Oscars? 

Where are you going with this one, you might think… well, what I go straight to when it comes to episodes like this is – what was it about the culture that contributed to it, or that even encouraged it. There’s a thought. What encouraged it? 

There has been a lot of commentary this past few days about the fact that (paraphrasing here) ‘the presenters are going to make jokes from the stage, and the actors need to suck it up’. Seriously, the stars presenting the awards would have months to come up with material to use on stage. Surely, we don’t have to make it normal to make jokes about people. Surely Chris Rock (who I love, BTW, as I do Will Smith) can do better than that. He is a funny human. He doesn’t need to take the mickey out of people.  

Or is it just me that feels that you can be funny without being insulting…  

Why risk hurting other humans when you don’t need to. Just to be funny.  
Help me out, what am I missing here? 

FYI, there have been actors come out and say that what occurred on stage this week (after a personal joke) was their greatest fear. It kept them up at night. Here’s a thought – change the joke. You might even get more sleep.  

The excuse will be that Chris Rock didn’t know about the health condition of Jada Pinkett Smith. Not good enough, in my view. 

I hope the Oscars read this blog post, and address this. 

Chris Rock’s response was near perfect 

“Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” Chris Rock said, while Smith walked away after slapping him.  

“Wow, dude,” Rock continued “It was a G.I. Jane joke.” 

Watch the video closely, and you will see Chris Rock respond (NOT REACT) to being publicly slapped.  

Most viewers (I guess) would have expected him to respond like that.  

But here is the alternative. Imagine this – Chris Rock hits back. There is a fight on stage. They roll off stage together wrestling. Other actors have to rush in to step the melee. It can’t be stopped, and security are called… and on it goes… And I believe that could have happened.  

The poise and presence that Chris Rock displayed in the immediate moments after the incident says so much about his emotional intelligence and emotional control. His facial expression was disbelief first, then questioning – what just happened. He was processing. Deciding how to respond. Putting the incident through his frontal lobes, not through his limbic system (emotional brain). 

You can nearly see his brain working through his body language (which was really open and not aggressive in any way). 

Chris Rock saved the night. Saved the event. And I hope he gets credit for that, rather than the internet bashing of Will Smith. 

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What can we learn from Chris Rock’s response? 

Firstly, here are some random thoughts: 

  • I feel like Chris Rock would make a different joke if he had his time again 
  • Rock maintained emotional control, which created behavioural control, and situational control 
  • There was an element of care factor in Rock’s response (a care factor for the audience and a respect for the event, if nothing else) 
  • I feel like he respected Will Smith enough not to react 
  • Rock made the decision to ‘punch on’ (pun intended) and keep the show going 
  • Which he did beautifully 
  • While the control room scrambled in the background trying to comprehend what just happened 

We got a lesson in emotional intelligence and emotional control from Chris Rock. Regardless of what is going on, who is looking at you, you always have the choice.  

You don’t have to ‘react emotionally’.  

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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