Dave Chappelle does not make things easier.
He is one of the brightest comedians in the industry. But he also has fun challenging his audience – presenting them with ideas he knows to be uncomfortable and unpleasant to those who invest in modern notions of how to talk about feminism, gender, sexual orientation and sexuality. the race.
Sometimes he does it to make a bigger point. But sometimes, especially during her last special for Netflix, The closest, he also seems to have a daredevil taste to go to dangerous places on stage and ultimately win over his audience – regardless of what he actually says.
Of course, these days the fix is in place. Chappelle is considered the greatest of all time among many comedy fans – he says it himself, ironically, towards the end of the special – and The closest finds him surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd in Detroit ready to go wherever he takes them.
This is evident at the start of the special, where he talks about an idea for a film centered around an ancient civilization that discovered space travel, left the planet and then returned, determined to claim Earth for her- same. Its punchline is the title of the film: Space Jews.
Even the adoring public of Detroit breathed on this one. “It’s going to be worse than that,” Chappelle retorts, laughing. But I’m not sure that’s the case. Because it was pretty awful.
Coming from Chappelle, a joke like this sounded like a challenge. He knows, at the time, that such a punchline will briefly break his charm on audiences, make them rethink their allegiance to him, at least for a second. And he will have to work a bit to get them back into his team, which he does.
(He also knows that critics like me will quote the joke and criticize him for it, which I am. I don’t care what point he’s trying to make; a joke that looks like anti-Semitism escapes me. hardly.)
And the message Chappelle has for those who criticized him about transphobic, homophobic, or any other phobic jokes seems to be this: Race trumps everything.
This idea comes to the surface when he talks about rapper DaBaby, who was publicly pilloried for making homophobic comments at a concert in July. Chappelle jokes that DaBaby “hit the LGBTQ community directly in AIDS” before recalling a 2018 incident in which the rapper was involved in a brawl inside a North Carolina Walmart where another person was shot dead.
“In our country, you can shoot and kill a *****,” said Chappelle. “But you better not hurt the feelings of a gay man.”
What Chappelle doesn’t say is that DaBaby is claiming he was defending himself against two men who attempted to rob him and his family in the store. Eventually, he was convicted of one misdemeanor charge – carrying a concealed weapon – although the family of the 19-year-old insisted DaBaby started the fight.
In The closestChappelle ends up saying that he is jealous of the progress made by the gay rights movement in America. “If the slaves wore shorts of oil and loot, we might have been free 100 years earlier,” he cracks.
But lines like this assume that fighting oppression is a zero-sum game – that because some homosexuals have access to white privilege in America, all of their concerns about stereotypes and marginalization are hollow and subordinate to it. what black people face.
It ignores the fact that there are many non-white homosexuals who face oppression for both their sexual orientation and their race. And, of course, opposing these public statements of homophobia isn’t just about making gay people feel better; it’s about preventing the anger and prejudice behind those words from becoming widely acceptable or turning into action.
Too often in The closest, it looks like Chappelle is using white privilege to excuse his own homophobia and transphobia.
Because Chappelle is brilliant, his words on DaBaby make an important point; it’s sad that more people know about DaBaby’s homophobic comments than his involvement in this murderous encounter. But there’s more to the story besides its simplistic framing, which seems designed to excuse some pretty hurtful words.
“Gay people are minorities until they need to go white again,” Chappelle said capper to a different story about her conflict with a white man who called the police. The comic says the man he almost fought was gay.
And, yes, we do know what calling the police on a black man can mean in a post-George Floyd world. But if a belligerent jerk confronted me at a nightclub, I would probably call the cops, regardless of the jerk’s race. And Chappelle refuses to consider this possibility.
He goes on to joke that for years he thought the word “feminism” meant “fumpy d ** e”. That the #MeToo movement was “dumb” because wealthy women in Hollywood didn’t fire their agents and raise the women working in the mailroom. That just when he figured out how to nail whites to their racism, some whites changed the game by declaring that they are gender changing.
Chappelle recalls asking once why it was easier for Caitlyn Jenner to transition in public than for Cassius Clay to change her name to Muhammad Ali, ignoring the obvious answer: Ali adopted her name 50 years earlier. . Fortunately, times are changing as well.
The point is, these are all complicated topics, difficult to sum up in one punchline or anecdote. And watching Chappelle talk about it is like watching someone use a chainsaw as a letter opener.
Worse, it is evident during The closest that Chappelle can’t stand dealing with people who confront him about his most controversial jokes. More than once he tells the story of a person who puts himself in front of him about how he spoke about women, gay or transgender people, accusing him of “fighting”.
Chappelle can create his monologues to get the audience thinking. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily wants a lot of dialogue, especially with people who don’t like his ideas.
The closest ends with a poignant story about transgender comic book Daphne Dorman, which he befriended and allowed to open for him during a club appearance in San Francisco in 2019. Dorman became committed suicide the same year; Chappelle says she has received a lot of criticism online for defending him against allegations he was transphobic and for denying he was “hitting” his material.
Earlier, Chappelle said that this performance, her sixth special with Netflix, would be the last for some time. He also says he will no longer joke about LGBTQ topics.
“I’m done talking about it,” he said towards the end of The closest. “All I ask of your community, in all humility: will you please stop hitting my people? “
That line, with all of its terrible assumptions about who “your community” is and who “my people” are, just made me terribly angry and disappointed. Because disentangling homophobia, transphobia, racism and white privilege takes a lot more effort and understanding than Chappelle does here.
But if I was gay and heard a line like that of a wealthy Emmy-winning comedian at the end of a special that millions of his fans will likely watch and co-authored, I would probably have a more answer. simple: