Comedy Club Owners Fear Will Smith's Violent Outburst Could Have Chilling Effect on Society: 'Comics Must Be Protected'


The big loser at the Oscars, it was widely (and appropriately) assumed, was Will Smith.

It didn’t matter that he won his first Best Actor award for his role in “King Richard.” In just one week since Smith smacked Chris Rock for making a mostly innocuous (if somewhat witless) joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair, the New York Post reported that Smith has already seen two major projects put on the “back burner,” a polite way Hollywood of saying they’re essentially kiboshed if the Fresh Prince cannot rebuild his reputation.

This includes “Bad Boys 4,” meaning that — in addition to all of the other dispiriting economic numbers President Joe Biden is facing — unemployment among actors named Martin Lawrence is now running at a staggering 100 percent.

Despite the negative impact on Smith’s career and public image, however, a poll reported by Mediaite found that a majority of Americans actually blame Rock for the incident: 52 percent of all respondents said the comedian was more in the wrong, including almost 57 percent of women.

It’s unclear how many of those polled go into America’s comedy clubs every week, but the fact that anyone thinks Rock shares any blame here should have comedy club owners seriously worried.

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Last week, The U.S. Sun interviewed one who was.

Dani Zoldan runs Stand Up NYC in the borough of Manhattan. He said he’d never seen “unhinged” behavior like Smith’s slap in his club — but he’s worried that it could metastasize to the point where others might take the stage to smack a performer.

“Of course, we have hecklers every once in a while, usually when they’ve had one too many to drink,” Zoldan told the Sun.

“But in 13 years nobody has ever come onto the stage — let alone hit one of our comics.

Do you think comics are in danger of attack thanks to Will Smith's action at the Oscars?

“What happened on Sunday night was way over the line,” he added, saying that “to physically attack a comedian for a joke — a mildly offensive joke — with a slap in the face was just a horrible thing.”

Zoldan said Rock has visited the club various times over the last decade-and-a-half. He called the comedian “reserved” when not on stage and a “very nice, normal person.”

“He’s not how most people see him when he’s on stage, where he’s animated and loud,” said Zoldan. “When he comes to my club, he usually comes in alone, stands at the back, and keeps a low profile.”

Zoldan, meanwhile, thinks Smith probably thought he could get away with it, given he’s had people “kiss his a** all day for the last 30 years”, telling him how great he is.

“I don’t think he realized where he was even, perhaps,” he told the newspaper. “I think his ego just got the best of him, and he just felt like, ‘Hey, I’ll get up and slap this guy because I’m famous and I can do what I want. I don’t care.'”

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And, Zoldan is worried about what might happen at his own comedy club.

“I really hope he comes out and says, ‘nobody should ever attack a comedian physically and I have no excuses,'” Zoldan said.

“I really hope he says that and he and Jada don’t make it about themselves, but I already heard he’s planning on going on his wife’s talk show to discuss it … I really hope that’s not the case.

“But I believe he owes an apology to all the comedians out there,” he added, “because that’s not the way to treat a comic.”

He’s not the only club owner to worry about Smith’s treatment of Rock. Take Caroline Hirsch, owner of Caroline’s on Broadway.

“Comedians should be able to feel comfortable in being able to perform without the fear of being attacked on stage,” Hirsch told the New York Post.

“That was a violent assault committed by a role model on live television in front of an international audience. He should issue a public apology to Chris, and he needs to be held accountable because this sets a very dangerous precedent,” she added.

“I hope this incident doesn’t inspire people to believe that it’s acceptable behavior to resort to violence when a comedian tells a joke that offends them. If you’re offended by the material, don’t laugh.”

New York City comedy club The Stand also had issues.

“What we are worried about now is that this last reaction on international television will spurn others to do the same at comedy clubs and smaller venues,” an Instagram post from the club stated, according to the Post. “We urge fans to continue to be respectful of the comedian at work and if there is a moment where club goers feel uncomfortable, standup and walk away. A peaceful resolution is for the best.”

Comics, too, didn’t exactly take kindly to the slap.

“Very nervous for my shows at the @TheIrvineImprov tomorrow and Tuesday. Anyone have a catcher’s mask I can borrow?” said Patton Oswalt of “Ratatouille” and “The King of Queens” fame after Smith’s slap.

Yes, that’s a slightly funny way of a comedian getting some clicks and giggles out of this, but here are two of the most liked replies to Oswalt’s tweet:

Don’t say what we don’t like and you won’t get slapped!

The great part of this is that Oswalt is an outspoken liberal who has ridden the tiger of progressive opinion since the George W. Bush administration, when he rose to fame in part by amusing the left with lame jokes

As for what the left should have done with Dubya? Patton wasn’t above advocating a little violence — under the guise of humor.

“I mean, if the standard of impeachment is covering up a burglary or getting a b*****b, shouldn’t Bush have been executed at this point? … I’m just saying, if that’s your standard, he should have just been beaten to death on the lawn of the White House with Aerosmith playing, being like, ‘Yeah, f*** that guy!'”

Not saying that Oswalt is regretting his decision to make that “joke,” but keep in mind this is the guy still taking heat from the Holding Him Accountable™ for Oswalt’s decision to meet up with his old friend and fellow comedian Dave Chappelle on New Year’s Eve because, in case you haven’t heard, Chappelle is a “transphobe.”

“He’s a fellow comedian, the funniest I’ve ever met. I wanted to post a pic & an IG story about it — so I did. The friend is Dave Chappelle. Thirty-four YEARS we’ve been friends,” he said on Instagram. “We’ve done bad & good gigs, open mikes & TV tapings.”

“[W]e 100% disagree about transgender rights & representation. I support trans peoples’ rights — ANYONE’S rights — to live safely in the world as their fullest selves,” he continued.

Except, clearly, when it comes to people who disagree with him politically.

The issue is this: If words and alliances are violence, you can only safely do political comedy if you’re to the left of your entire audience.

And if words are violence, then — pray tell — what are Don Rickles’ takedowns?

WARNING: The following video contains graphic language that some viewers will find offensive.

Of course, this is a hypothetical question. Rickles is dead. But, asking for a friend: Is it wrong to slap a corpse?

Somewhere in the vicinity of the cemetery, I think I hear an answer: “Depends. Is he mocking someone’s medical condition?”

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture