Prolific comedian and agent provocateur, Dave Chappelle, has once agin found himself in hot water over his past and most recent jokes during his Neflix comedy special. The Closer represents his much anticipated final show for the streaming service. As usual, the out-spoken comedian covered a range of topics and made jokes about diverse populations representative of our modern culture (blacks, whites, gay, straight, politicians, Karens, etc.) Comedians have always held a special place within American culture being able to use their keen powers of observation and humor to expose and make light of “US” and themselves along with our specific behaviors, actions and proclivities that some might consider ironic, unusual, different or just plain old funny. With Chappelle’s comments about transgenders, however, some critics within the LBGQT+ community are calling for the cancellation of Chappelle and his most recent comedy special.
Chappelle poked fun at the LGBTQ+ community directly but he also showed respect for their past struggles for equal rights (Stonewall riots) as well as shared details about his heart felt relationship with another transgender comedian. In the past, Chappelle made it known that he does not harbor hate or malice towards anyone that he jokes about (women, minorities or members of the LGBTQ+ tribe etc.) but he wants to keep the creative license to be an equal opportunity offender as a comedic artist. In a world of cancel culture, Chappelle has now entered an arena where our culture allows jokes about “some” but not “others” potentially threatening the individual who chooses to either venture into the waters intentionally or via ignorance. For the sake of this post, I will not repeat his jokes toward the LGBTQ+ community because the issue for me is much deeper than his specific words especially since some seem to be unwilling to allow market forces to determine whether an artist’s art is considered as such.
In response to The Closer, Netflix’s transgender employees staged a walk out outside its headquarters to protest the Chappelle special and following the firing of a fellow employee who leaked private information about how much Chapelle earned for the special to the public. Netflix CEO, Ted Sarandos, recently reiterated that Chappelle’s comedy special was indeed in line with the company’s stringent policy on harmful content and refused to remove it. He stated that the content was age restricted already for language along with a disclaimer by Dave himself at the beginning of the show. Mr. Sarandos also stated that the inclusion of the special on Netflix was consistent with their comedy line up and with Chappelle’s comedy brand. In other words, you know what you’re getting if you choose to watch this show.
So what do I think about this controversy? I watched the comedy special twice – once for my initial gut reaction and the second time looking for hurtful, inflammatory or vile content. I found things that I did not like including the use of the N-word but nothing related to the discussion about the LBGTQ+ community. My reasons are as follows:
- While the LBGTQ+ long struggle and fight for equal rights is indeed quite real and continues today, Chappelle was balanced in his commentary offering both compliments and criticism based upon what he has observed. Perhaps, we can disagree about some of his personal comments related to what determines womanhood but we cannot deny that there is still room for discussion within our society. This tension is feeding ground for where comedy often originates. Transgender women are earning their props for being phenomenal members of the feminine tribe but their struggles to just BE are there too. Within this struggle is a discussion about biologically born women and the recognition due to them as well. There are simply some real reproductive experiences that biologically born females have that others will never have or be able to relate to in the physical. These issues need not cause a conflict between women (transgender or others) as long as a healthy dialogue of respect and understanding is allowed to exist. In no way should this negate the rights or freedoms of transgender women to be women.
- Dave Chappelle is a a comedian representing a long legacy of the comedic G.O.A.T.S (Carlin, Pryor, Murphy, Mabley etc.) who poked fun at themselves as well as the broader society. The essence of good comedy, at least for me, is always trUth. Unless we are willing to perpetuate illusions, we have to be able to look at ourselves, see our common flaws and idiosyncrasies and perhaps laugh at our foolery and pain. Humanity itself is a miracle with lots of triggering nuanced experiences and actions. To be able to laugh at oneself is a great gift that comedians provide for “US” all to share. If the jokes aren’t funny, we, as a collective, have the POWER to not watch.
- Cancel culture has become very interesting. I aways associated cancelling someone or something to mean to exercise my freedom to not associate with that someone or something. This often did not mean me deliberating trying to end the life, livelihood or opportunities for the other. Yet, today’s culture is very sensitive and selective with whom it cancels and to what degree the cancelling occurs. For example, unarmed black men have been killed with increased frequency during interactions with police yet we have not “cancelled” the police nor should we. Should we cancel people for simply saying something in jest that we do not like as some have proposed we do with Chappelle? Perhaps the crime does not fit the punishment in this case. We need to think about cancel culture again with some degree of maturity and prudence in order to make decisions about what warrants an ending, a slap on the wrist or even a good old fashioned scolding. After all, this country has built its reputation on freedom of speech and creative expression. Does this only apply to some and not “others”? If yes – – someone needs to release the memo for “US” all to review going forward.
- My grandfather used to say, “A hit dog will holla.” I really like this idiom because there is some real trUth to it. As humans, we react to comments and situations that trigger some hurt, anger, guilt or shame etc. within our ego and psyche. People take things personally when they are lied about or not completely comfortable in their own skin. When you are confident, a joke is not going to destroy your world or make you want to destroy someone. Remember … Dave Chappelle is a comedian. If you have followed me in the past, then my response will not surprise you. Each of us has an obligation to heal any past trauma and reconstruct our thinking about self irrespective of what others might say or believe. For example, I didn’t like Chappelle’s use of the N-word throughout his comedy special but I was not offended or angry. It did not trigger me to my core even though I belong to the tribe. As the great writer, James Baldwin, would say, “I am not your N-word!” I do not self identify with the derogatory term. In my opinion, the LGBTQ+ community must stop looking for acceptance from the general public but still fight for self acceptance, equals rights, opportunities and protections under the law just like every other minority group in this country. They must live their trUth without being insulted by what others think, say or do. Learning to love your authentic self (good, bad and ugly) is a process but worth it. No one, including minorities, have 100% acceptance in this society nor should anyone expect it. Yet, we are all a part of this big diverse human, dysfunctional family – – uniquely beautiful and divinely created.
Transgender comedian and agent provocateur, Flame Monroe, summed up my final thoughts best of all. She said, “You can never please everyone, so STOP TRYIN’!” In other words, do you Boo! Chappelle is a comedian – a sort of community reporter talking sh!t about the triumphs and underbelly of our society. I respect him and any person who is willing to stand alone in their trUth but he should not be able to diminish who and what you are unless you allow him to do so. Either his jokes, gaffes or off-color remarks will be funny or not but YOU have the ultimate POWER to accept or reject his observations and humor. Isn’t this what America is all about – – freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness? Or are we saying that we are incapable of taking a joke about “US” but is it ok for “others.” Let’s not forget that laughter is healing for the soul. Now think about how Blacks can still laugh at themselves and their culture after 400+ years of oppression. Trust me, I’ve learned from years of experience that what doesn’t kill you (injustice, jokes at one’s expense, racism, sexism etc. ) will indeed make you and your tribe better, wiser and much stronger than one could ever envision.
“Dave Chappelle is 100% right. This isn’t about the LGBTQ movement. It’s about woke cancel culture run amok, trying to silence free speech.
We must never yield or bow to those who wish to stop us from speaking our minds.”