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  • Writer's picturejalexanderapr

PR Lessons from Oscars 2022

Back of House to Blame for Bad, Bad Joke

Thinking Emoji
What were they thinking? credit: Marcus Winkler: Unsplash

As a professor of public relations, I feel compelled to write this post. As almost everyone knows by now Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars - live, on stage. Before I begin, let me say that Will Smith was wrong to raise his hand in anger. My question is, where were the people who had the power to stop this horrible joke from ever reaching the ears of Jada Pinkett Smith?


The Academy Awards is an epic production. Planning, writing, rehearsing all play a huge part in the event before you and I ever see a glimpse of the broadcast. Yes, there is a "live" component to the event. But, there is also something known as a "run of show." This document helps the camera operators know what is planned to happen on stage so that they know where and when the camera needs to focus on a specific person(s). Typically, this document is written and edited during rehearsal or more than one rehearsal. People had to be present at the rehearsal and hear or at least read the jokes intended for the evening prior to the actual event. And these people were likely hired by the Academy to produce this show. Why did they remain silent? Why did they do nothing to stop this joke before it made its way to a live performance? Perhaps it is true that this joke was not shared in rehearsal, as I have read. If so, why do the producers allow content that has not been rehearsed? For the shock value? So, let's consider another scenario.

Jada Pinkett Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith

Am I to understand that Chris Rock writes his own jokes and never shares them with anyone before performing? I find this extremely hard to believe. And even harder to understand how a team of writers can think it is acceptable to write a joke about a medical condition that Jada Pinkett Smith has publicly discussed on more than one occasion. Then, once it was written on paper and shared with multiple people, Chris Rock rehearsed (perhaps to a small group of his people) and people watched. Why did they remain silent? Why did they do nothing to stop this joke before it made its way to a live performance? Perhaps he came up with this joke in the moment and performed it live at the Academy Awards without sharing it with anyone, not one single person. I simply cannot imagine this happening.

PR Students are Watching

My students happen to be on Spring Break this week. I anticipate there will be much discussion in class next week about this topic. It is my hope that PR students view this as a learning moment.

  • As PR practitioners, it is our responsibility to know what is planned at an event we are planning, and understand the consequences.

  • It is our place to speak up and discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly if we anticipate that something may result in a bad, bad joke.

  • The "Run of Show" has an important role in any event. Use it, rehearse and own what happens at your event.

I place the bulk of the blame on the producers and writers behind the scenes at the Oscars. Their collective silence led to unnecessary pain for Jada who happened to look beautiful.

Jada, I applaud you for your candor. For openly sharing your feelings, life challenges and encouraging all of us to look deep.

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