Chris Rock Takes Dig at Jussie Smollett at NAACP Image Awards: ‘What the Hell Was He Thinking?’
Chris Rock took a jab at Jussie Smollett on Saturday, calling the Empire star a “waste of light skin” less than a week after charges against the actor were dropped.
Rock, 54, was on hand to present an award at the NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles — and though he said he’d been told not to make mention of Smollett, the comedian went for it anyway.
“They said no Jussie Smollett jokes. I know, I know! What a waste of light skin, you know?” said Rock, drawing laughter from the crowd. “You know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair? My career would be outta here. F—ing running Hollywood. That’s no… What the hell was he thinking?”
The star continued, joking that the scandal — in which Smollett was accused of orchestrating an alleged hate crime against himself — had stripped him of his ability to go by his given name.
“From now on, I ain’t never gonna… You Jessie from now on. You don’t even get the ‘u’ no more,” he said, again getting laughs from stars like Trevor Noah. “That ‘u’ was respect — you ain’t getting no respect from me.”
— TV One (@tvonetv) March 31, 2019
Rock presented the award for outstanding comedy series to Black-ish, though star Yara Shahidi, 19, had a different take, telling the crowd as she accepted the trophy, “I stand with Jussie.”
Her co-star Anthony Anderson, who also served as the night’s host, previously expressed his support for Smollett as well, telling Variety he hoped to see the nominated Smollett in attendance.
“I hope he wins. I’m happy for him that the system worked for him in his favor because the system isn’t always fair, especially for people of color,” Anderson, 48, told the outlet. “So I’m glad it worked out for him. It’s not my place or any other person’s place to judge him or what not, but I’m glad that he’s nominated… I hope he wins because I’d be interested to hear his speech.”
Smollett was nominated for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for Empire, though he did not win and did not attend the dinner where his category was presented on Friday nor the televised awards ceremony on Saturday.
Smollett told police he’d been attacked on the street in downtown Chicago around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two masked men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, poured an “unknown chemical substance” on him and placed a rope around his neck.
Following an investigation, he was arrested Feb. 20 and indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports.
Police said in a press conference following the arrest that they believed Smollett paid $3,500 to stage a “bogus” attack on himself because he was unhappy with his Empire salary, though a source denied any dissatisfaction with money to PEOPLE.
The charges against Smollett — who has maintained his innocence — were dropped Tuesday.
“After reviewing all the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” reads a statement from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office obtained by PEOPLE.
The office added in a follow-up statement, “We stand by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation and our approval of charges.”
Smollett spoke out Tuesday shortly after the charges were dropped, insisting he has been telling the truth about the attack since the very beginning.
“I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” he told reporters at the Cook County courthouse in Chicago. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of doing what I was accused of.”
Two days later, city lawyers for Chicago issued a demand letter to Smollett on behalf of the city and its police department requesting the actor pay $130,106.15 to make up for overtime hours that were spent on the investigation, as they claimed he “knowingly filed a false police report.”
In response, Smollett’s attorneys released a statement to PEOPLE saying he would not be paying the money.
“It is the Mayor and the Police Chief who owe Jussie — owe him an apology — for dragging an innocent man’s character through the mud. Jussie has paid enough,” a rep of Smollett’s defense team said.
“Jussie did not do this crime and the charges have been dropped. He has always told the truth. His name is being dragged through the mud by a group of city leaders more focused on fighting each other than anything else,” another rep added. “We won’t participate in this back and forth. He deserves to move on with his life.”
Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police superintendent Eddie T. Johnson have publicly criticized the dropping of charges against Smollett, with Emanuel calling it “an unbelievable whitewash of justice.”