Billy Crystal Doubles Down On His Thoughts About The Will Smith Slap

In the wake of actor Will Smith's violent outburst at the 2022 Oscars, former host of the award show Billy Crystal referred to the altercation as "a most disturbing incident" on an episode of HBO Max's "Back on the Record with Bob Costas," per Deadline. "It was an assault," he declared. According to Crystal, however, audience members acting on impulse is nothing new. "I've had experiences. I hosted the Grammys three times and I've been thrown things," he revealed. "In [Oscars] pre-production, the amazing Gil Cates, we would go through – he was the producer for six of the nine that I did – we would go through the rundown and I'd say, 'Maybe I should be there because something might happen there. If that person wins, I should follow that," he recalled.

But now Crystal is digging his heels in even further as he has even more to say about the incident.

Billy Crystal says Will Smith's slap was a 'crime'

Bad boy for life? 

During a recent appearance on CNN+'s "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace," Billy Crystal told host Chris Wallace that he believed that comedian Chris Rock's joke at Jada Pinkett's expense wasn't great. "I love Chris and we're friends and I so respect him. I just thought it was wrong," he maintained. Still, he minced no words regarding how Smith handled it. "It's a crime," he declared matter-of-factly. "I thought Chris handled himself as well as he could and to keep it together. It was a shocking moment that I was concerned very much for the mental state of Will. I was very worried and concerned and shocked by the aftermath of that too," he added. 

Following the public outburst, Smith issued a public apology to Rock, resigned from the Academy, and noted that he would "accept any further consequences the Board deems appropriate," as reported by CNN. In turn, the professional honorary organization opted to ban Smith from the award show for the next ten years, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Billy Crystal joked about the slap to an audience

The big slap seems to be one of the most easily recognizable references in pop culture following the 2022 Academy Awards. Former Oscars host Billy Crystal even referenced the shocking moment before his more direct critiques in interviews. During a March 29 dress rehearsal for "Mr. Saturday Night" — a musical comedy on Broadway — Crystal briefly mentioned the moment in his curtain speech, according to the New York Post. "We got through a show and no one got slapped. Unbelievable," he said.

Jokes can certainly go too far, as Crystal mentioned regarding Chris Rock's dig at Jada Pinkett, but the show typically moves on in stride and the very notable figures in the front rows stay put. During Crystal's opening monologue for the 1993 Academy Awards, he continued the tradition by poking fun at the top nominees. When he got to Jack Nicholson, the teasing pulled big laughs from the audience.

"I love Jack, he's sitting right there smiling at me. I feel like a Laker girl," he said, referencing both the actor's love of sitting courtside and his well-known playboy reputation. Nicholson laughed along and stood to approach the host. Luckily, this time around, the two shook hands and Nicholson can be heard saying, "Thank you, Billy." What a good sport. Crystal has a lot of experience on what the dynamic at an award show should be, and hopes future hosts can set the bar high.

Billy Crystal explains the importance of an Oscars host

Many celebrities have shared their opinions on the drama of the 2022 Oscars, but the opinion of Billy Crystal seems to hold a great deal of weight. His nine years as a host to the star-studded event definitely makes him somewhat of an expert figure. "I had so many great memories hosting the show," he told People. "It was a history of cinema for me." Throughout the many changes of how the Academy Awards is structured and the debate on whether or not there should be a host at all, Crystal defends the role as a necessity: "You need a center." 

There was no official host for 2019, 2020, or 2021 — something that made a little more sense during the pandemic. Seemingly making up for lost time, it was announced that Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes would share the duties, per EW, but the triple coverage still couldn't dim the spotlight from the shock of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.

Crystal spoke about how the host is essential in surprise moments during an interview with Extra in 2021. "I think the funniest times are the times when something wrong happened on the show," he explained. "And so I think you need somebody there ... in case something happens. That's the fun part of it, to have somebody to comment on it and to run with it." Maybe it's time for Crystal to remind us how it's done.