Local comedians react to Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Even if you didn't watch Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony, you probably saw or heard about the shocking moment when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock live on stage.

The altercation was followed by a joke Rock made about Smith's wife, Jada. Reaction has been pouring in from all over.

"It is our job I feel, as comedians, to try to take some of the most serious things that we deal with as a people, as a human and try to bring some levity to it," said Justin Leon, a comedian from Kansas City who recently relocated to the Milwaukee area.

Leon has been in the business of comedy for more than 20 years and knows the pressures of stand-up comedy. "Life is not easy but there are times where you can find laughter and joy." He says that's why he became a comedian.

Like the rest of the world, Leon was shocked by the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock. He says the GI Jane joke that sparked the chaos was in bad taste.

"First of all, the joke wasn't great. It’s a reference to a 25-year-old movie. I love Chris Rock and he could do better than that. That's a reach for a joke," said Leon. He says the Oscars may not have been the appropriate audience for such a joke but despite that, Will's reaction was over the top. "You have every right to leave but you don't hit someone," he said.

Leon says he doesn’t believe the joke was specifically targeting people with Alopecia, which Smith's wife Jada has been battling for years. But he says it's not up to him to decide what is offensive to others. So, where do comics draw the line between comedy and insult? Leon says that all depends on the comedian. "Sometimes as comedians we don’t care and we go ahead and cross those bounds," he said.

"What offends me might be different than what offends you," said Tucker Millett, a Chicago comedian who recently appeared at a show in Milwaukee. Chris Rock is known for being a comedian that often pushes boundaries. Millett says most people expect that from him.

"I think that's a line that's drawn by each individual performer, but no matter how offensive something is, I don’t think the appropriate response is to assault somebody," said Millett.

Leon agrees but says as a husband, he understands how Will may have felt in that moment. But he says he would have respected him more if he had used his words to confront Chris Rock and not his hands.

After apologizing during his Best Actor acceptance speech, Smith issued a written apology Monday evening saying in part:

“My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. 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. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be."
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