Former Oscars host Billy Crystal calls “disturbing” Will Smith incident an “assault”

Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

Nine-time Academy Awards host Billy Crystal called the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock “terribly distressing.”

In the latest episode of HBO Max’s Back on the Record with Bob Costas, the host was admittedly hesitant to ask Crystal about the so-called “slap heard ’round the world.”

Crystal was game to respond, though, albeit briefly. He said, “It was a most disturbing incident for sure. It was an assault.”

Billy then demurred, explaining that, as a host, he always felt responsible to be “in charge” of the shows he’s emceed, in case something goes sideways. He recalled that when he was hosting the Grammys one time, late comedian Jackie Mason made an “inflammatory” joke, as did the guy who followed him on stage, rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard. Crystal explained that he came out and improvised a joke to defuse the situation. 

Returning briefly to the Smith slap, Crystal said, “What we saw was terribly distressing,” adding, “It’s just unfortunate what has happened in society that this could happen now.”

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