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Silverman: We need to stand up to bullies, at the Oscars or in the Kremlin

Russia's president must be penalized for his war crimes. Decent people take sides with comedians Chris Rock and Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Humor is hard these days. Witness Chris Rock, who got slapped hard by Will Smith for a bad bald joke. Weeks later, Chris Rock and the world are still processing what we witnessed. 

The last thing this world needs right now is more violence, pain and bullying. Putin’s War and worldwide pandemics don’t lend themselves to pleasing punchlines. Bullies and illnesses are not funny. Bullies hate comedy.

Current comedians have their work cut out. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a lawyer, enjoyed a second career as a comedian, starring in Servant of the People. Life imitated art. Zelenskyy won the real Ukrainian presidency through a landslide democratic election

Craig Silverman

Bullying Russian President Putin won’t allow Ukraine to flourish under the scrappy Zelenskyy and democracy. “Love me or else” is Putin’s megalomaniacal mantra. With his Bucha massacre and his missile strikes on maternity wards and train stations, Putin personifies bullying.

Merriam-Webster defines a “bully” as someone who is “habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.”  

Lesser bullies exist among us. Will Smith was large enough to convincingly portray heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Comedian Chris Rock is a much smaller man.

On their Fly on the Wall podcast, diminutive comedians Dana Carvey and David Spade gut-reacted to the bullying aspect of Smith’s violence against their pal, Rock. Spade admitted to being “a certified pipsqueak and always being pushed around, and it really hit a nerve with me, and Dana also, and Rock had talked about this (being bullied) on this podcast. That slap in the face was a real slap in the face for comedy.” 

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Would the slap have happened if the G.I. Jane joke was made by 6’5” 260-pound The Rock, Dwayne Johnson? Doubtful. 

Rock may not be large, but he proved himself the bigger man post-slap. His calm reaction saved the situation from being worse. Last Friday, the motion picture academy banned Smith for 10 years from its awards ceremony and expressed “deep gratitude to Mr. Rock for maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances.”  

One of the world’s largest men, legendary Lakers’ center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, brilliantly dissected the disastrous aspects of the Smith-Rock slap. Abdul-Jabbar correctly put the blame squarely on Smith.    

Another super-large Lakers’ center, and 2022 Academy Award winner, Shaquille O’Neal told his Big Podcast audience he’d have reacted the same way Smith did if someone made fun of his spouse. O’Neal praised Rock for not retaliating, calling him the bigger man, but said he would have struck back immediately, wrongly applying athletic thinking to a non-sports situation. 

Last November, Nuggets’ MVP Nikola Jokic gut-retaliated in memorable body-blow style to a cheap shot he received from the Miami Heat’s Markieff Morris. The Joker was ejected and given a one-game suspension. O’Neal vehemently defended Jokic’s retaliation. Regardless, the Joker apologized. To his credit, Smith has also apologized

Colorado State Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, never apologized for his Jan. 14, 2008, kicking of Rocky Mountain News photographer Javier Manzano. The photojournalist had snapped a picture of Bruce during the statehouse’s morning prayer.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff controversially allowed Bruce to be sworn in later that day despite the kicking. Two weeks later, in an unprecedented move, the House voted 62-1 to publicly censure Bruce, and ordered an apology. Bruce refused. Republican primary voters retired Bruce, who narrowly lost in an August 2008 primary to Mark Waller. Bruce had several negative encounters with law enforcement thereafter.  

The Smith-Rock Hollywood slap obscured actor Sean Penn’s (yet to be fulfilled) promise to smelt his Oscar if Ukrainian President Zelenskyy was not allowed to participate in the academy’s award ceremony. Penn had gotten to know Ukraine and Zelenskyy and felt compelled to explain his strong feelings in an extraordinary interview with Sean Hannity

People who know and love Ukraine are doing extraordinary interviews to call out Putin’s bullying of this smaller, weaker country. Colorado native and U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Tim Tymkovich spoke passionately to me on his first-ever podcast, describing his travels, work and deep roots in Ukraine. 

Just as democracy and rule of law were blossoming in Ukraine, the big bully Putin reacted. Now, lawyers and judges are putting down books and picking up weapons to defend their country. Ukrainians are correctly second-guessing their decision to give up nuclear weapons, rendering themselves more susceptible to Putin’s nuclear-backed bullying. 

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The world watches in horror now as Russia attacks its smaller, weaker neighbor Ukraine. It’s as if Smith were still standing on the awards ceremony stage pummeling the smaller man. Surely law enforcement and others would have intervened if Smith’s attack on Rock had been more violent or prolonged. 

The civilized world must intervene in Ukraine. When we witness a bully relentlessly pummeling someone weaker, every human instinct cries out to stop the violence and punish the bully.

Putin must be penalized for his war crimes. Decent people take sides with comedians Chris Rock and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Don’t ever expect, or accept, a Putin apology. Putin’s War is the furthest thing from funny.


Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.


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