Jimmy Kimmel Says Chris Rock 'Should Be Proud' How He Kept His Cool After Will Smith Slap at Oscars

"I mean, to be slapped in the face and to stay that cool is something that Chris should be proud of," Jimmy Kimmel says

Jimmy Kimmel
Photo: Matt Sayles/ABC

When Jimmy Kimmel hosted the Oscars for the first time in 2017, the unimaginable happened: the wrong Best Picture winner was announced on live TV thanks to a backstage envelope snafu.

"In some ways it feels like an episode of a TV show I watched and then put out of my head," Kimmel tells PEOPLE of the jaw-dropping moment. "It was a very intense and confusing end to what was otherwise a pretty great night."

But in retrospect, Envelopegate seems more an unfortunate blip compared to the incident on last year's telecast when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock across the face onstage.

"It's still shocking that that happened," says Kimmel, 55, who was watching from home in disbelief. "To see something like that happen outside of like The Maury Povich Show is shocking. And then for it to happen on the Oscars magnifies it by about a million times…. I think it's something that everybody regrets and that we will move past. One day it will be looked at in the same way as that guy running onstage naked is looked at: a weird moment that we all talked about and we hopefully learn from."

Chris Rock is seen backstage during the 94th Annual Academy
Chris Rock. Al Seib/A.M.P.A.S./Getty

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While Kimmel hasn't talked to Smith, he has touched base with Rock, and commends the comedian for keeping calm in real-time.

"I mean, to be slapped in the face and to stay that cool is something that Chris should be proud of," he says. "Chris's grandchildren, I hope, will still be proud of that when he's dead and gone."

Kimmel, who returns to host the Oscars for a third time on March 12, knows well to expect the unexpected when it comes to live TV. In fact, he thrives on the improv of it all.

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"I like to go in 75 percent prepared and leave some room for improvisation and reacting to the show as it's happening," he says. "I remember hosting the American Music Awards and Missy Elliot was very late for her award, and Dick Clark came bounding up to me backstage and said, 'Missy Elliot isn't here. You've got to fill!' … I had to stand out there and BS my way through of few minutes of nothing until Missy pulled in."

His reaction to the experience? "I don't remember what I said, but I remember really feeling alive at that moment and enjoying it!," he recalls.

No matter what may befall him during this year's telecast, Kimmel knows one thing for sure: "I'm going to give it 110 percent."

The Oscars air live on ABC on Sunday, March 12, at 8 p.m. ET.

For more from Jimmy Kimmel, pick up this week's issue, on newsstands on Friday.

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