The video is real. Will Smith really did tell a bald joke during an appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1991. However, there's no evidence to suggest that this joke was directed at someone with alopecia. The miscaptioned video went viral after Smith slapped Chris Rock during an Oscars telecast for making a bald joke about Smith's wife, who does suffer from alopecia areata.
Did Will Smith once do the exact same thing — make a bald joke directed at a person with alopecia — that led him to hit Chris Rock at the Oscars? While some social media users would have you believe that Smith's actions at the Oscars were especially hypocritical, there's no evidence to support the claim that a viral video clip from "The Arsenio Hall Show" features a man with alopecia.
On March 28, the day after Smith slapped Rock at the Oscars for making a bald joke directed at Jada Pinkett Smith (who was diagnosed with alopecia in 2018), a video started circulating on social media that appeared to show Smith making a similar joke during an appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show." One viral version of this video was shared on Twitter with the caption: “He gotta wax his head every morning.” Now this is a video of Will Smith saying a joke about someone with alopecia. One reason I love the internet, it never forgets."
While this clip is real, there's no evidence that Smith's joke was directed at someone with alopecia.
The clip appears to come from a February 1991 episode of "The Arsenio Hall Show." In the clip, Smith makes a joke about Hall's bassist, John B. Williams, saying "he has a rule, the bass player, he has to wax his head every morning." A longer version of Smith's 1991 appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show" can be seen below. The bald joke takes place around the 6:30 mark.
While Smith did make a bald joke during this appearance, there's no evidence that Williams, like Pinkett Smith, has alopecia. Alopecia, a medical term for hair loss, comes in many different forms. Pinkett Smith reportedly has alopecia areata, a form of alopecia known as spot baldness, that can cause splotchy patches of hair loss both on the head and on the body. A more common form of alopecia is known as male-pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia).
While Williams may appear to be showing signs of male-pattern baldness, he told Rolling Stone that he does not have alopecia and that he started shaving his head because the texture of his hair changed after he was treated for a case of the measles. Williams also noted that he didn't take offense to Smith's joke at the time, although he did sympathize with Smith for being upset at the Oscars.
Williams says the two jokes — one delivered by Smith and one causing Smith great offense — are clearly similar but also different in two important aspects.
First, Williams does not have alopecia, he tells Rolling Stone. He says the treatment he received for a case of the measles affected the texture of his hair, so he decided to shave everything off one day and never looked back.
Second, Smith's inability to take the joke in jest was because his wife was the target, not himself, Williams says.
"Chris Rock is a comedian. I like Chris Rock. When Chris first made the comment, Will was laughing. It wasn't until it became obvious Jada didn't think it was funny that Will went to her defense. Love makes you do all kinds of things. That's his wife, who he loves. He just reacted from outrage. I have sometimes reacted from outrage," Williams says.
We looked over Williams' bio on his website, profiles of the artist, and several interviews, and found no mention of Williams having alopecia. It appears that this claim was made up out of whole cloth in order to increase the video's virality by making Smith's actions appear especially hypocritical.
Smith has since apologized for hitting Rock at the Oscars. But has Rock apologized to Smith? You can read more about that rumor here.