What Comedians Actually Think of the New Chappelle Special
There has been tremendous backlash in the LGBTQ communities, as well as an unnerving silence from a range of Comedians in regards to the heated controversy around Dave Chapelle’s latest Comedy special The Closer.
Where is the appropriate line in “comedy” — from low brow humor to the most controversial social commentary intended to push our edges? What comedy is deemed as ground-breaking art versus cancel-worthy, veiled bigotry?
I reached out to many Bay Area diverse Comedians and entertainers to ask their unfiltered thoughts on how Dave Chapelle has walked this line as what Chapelle refers to as an “equal opportunity offender?”
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Bay Area Comedian of 17 years, Butch Escobar comments “Everybody who is a real comedian knows that this situation is severely divided. Your opinion will find you labeled either a transphobic or a racist person depending on who you’re talking to.”
Dan Moore, a bisexual male artist from the Bay Area says “I love his [Dave Chapelle’s] mind and what he does for his community, but I think he stepped the line and did so purposefully. He wanted the reaction. He wants to start a conversation. The problem was the way he did it. He tossed a group of people under the bus to do so.”
Bisexual Comedian Ivy Vasquez let me know, “I have not seen the comedy special and I have no intentions to watch it because of the high volume of my trans friends and fellow comedians that have expressed their hurt from it.
Chapelle starts the special in classic Chapelle form, hitting hard within minutes getting into both race and Coronavirus in one fell swoop. Chapelle jokes that he got Coronavirus but surprisingly didn’t even get a cough or feel the illness. He spouts “I am the Magic Johnson of Coronavirus.” The crowd roars in laughter.
He continues on to discuss the issue of the Stop Asian Hate movement and jokes “When I saw these black folks beating my beloved Asians, I thought that’s probably what’s happening inside my body,” He says this with masterful delivery, uncomfortably tying this joke to his previous Coronavirus bit. It takes a moment, but the crowd laughs as it catches up to this subtle and highly taboo comedic journey he is taking us on.
Chapelle sure sets the stage for “equal opportunity offending” by going into a bit about “ Space Jews” as well as facetiously writing a children’s book called “Clifford the Big Black Ni**er” which only in retrospect can we see that he is stringing together intentional jokes to weave a greater, highly provocative piece. Within mere minutes he brought up AIDS, Coronavirus, Jews, Asian Hate, racism, women’s rights, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Mar’Keyth Powell, a gay black Comedian & entertainer from the Bay Area states “I think Dave was trying to stimulate conversation between the two groups. He is saying gay black men have made more progress in the movement, and I find it 100% true. I walk into a building with dreadlocks and tie as black man and get stared down, but as soon as I say ‘girrrrl’ everybody loves me. I get received way better as a gay black boy than a black man in this society.”
Chapelle reveals: “This is my last special because I have an objective… I’d like to start by addressing the LGBTQ correctly…and I come in peace and hope to negotiate the release of DaBaby.” The crowd roars more.
Chapelle explains how DaBaby was a #1 streaming artist until he said some “loud stuff” about the LBGTQ community during a concert. Chapelle controversially jokes, “He punched them right in the AIDS. Can’t do that.” He continues to say he believes DaBaby made a very egregious mistake.
He continues commentary about DaBaby, where he says “He [DaBaby] once shot a n***a and killed him in Walmart…Oh, this is true. Google it. DaBaby shot and killed a n***a in Walmart in North Carolina and nothing bad happened to his career. Do you see where I am going with this?”
Chapelle begins to reveal his underpinning issue: “In our country, you can shoot and kill a n***a but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings. And this is precisely the disparity that I wish to discuss…You think I hate gay people, and what you’re really seeing is that I am jealous of gay people.“
Chapelle continues, “Is is possible that a gay person can be racist…of course it’s possible. Look at Mike Pence.” The crowd roared. “…He looks like one of them gays who prays about it… [mimicking Pence:] ‘Jesus, make these buttholes look ugly to me.’ ”
Trans Comedian, Mx Dahlia Belle expounds in her open letter to Dave, “You cunningly ask your audience: ‘Is it possible that a gay person can be racist?’ Obviously, the answer is yes, and obviously that has nothing to do with your comedy being outdated, transphobic, and, frankly, hack. In an honest debate, you can’t simply use ‘racist, white, (gay) male’ interchangeably with ‘LBGT’, which is also not synonymous with ‘the trans’. Since you also enjoy Google, I recommend the following terms: ‘straw man’, ‘gaslighting’, and ‘motte-and-bailey fallacy’. Also, just to be petty, you owe me royalties for that ‘Mike Pence is gay’ joke. I wrote it four years ago, when it was first relevant.”
Mar’Keyth Powell continues, “Comedians have zero responsibility to be politically correct. There is nothing Dave Chapelle should do better or different because at the end of the day it’s entertainment. It’s not politics or religion. He did what he was supposed to be and be a court jester and got the court to react. Now the court is reacting.”
Bisexual, demisexual Entertainer, Angel Metro articulates, “He alluded to POC (People of Color) being more marginalized than the lgbtq+ community throughout the special. He’s ignored the fact that our society still targets the Gay, and especially the Trans community for discrimination and violence. This year is the deadliest year in this country for Trans people. And yet he still presents these mediocre but charged and potentially dangerous transphobic ‘jokes’. “
Chapelle says in the special, “You think I hate gay people, and what you’re really seeing is that I am jealous of gay people. Oh, I’m jealous. And I am not the only Black person who feels this way. We Blacks, we look at the gay community and we say ‘Goddamn it, look how well that movement is going. Look at how well you are doing, and we have been trapped in this predicament for hundreds of years. How the hell are you making that kind of progress?’”
Emily Van Dyke who is Bay Area cis-gendered, bisexual female comic with a mixed race family, offers an insightful perspective. Whilst adamantly reminding me that her mixed family makes her no less white, she says “I can say as a white person, he [Dave] has a much deserved beef with white people and his point is that queer white people are able to use their white privilege to fight oppression, similar to the white feminist movement.”
If you think even Martin Luther King will come out of this special unscathed, you are mistaken. Chapelle also says in The Closer, “ I can’t help but feel like, if blacks had baby oil and booty shorts, we might have been free a hundred years sooner…If Martin Luther King was like (mimicking MLK’s voice) ‘I want everrrrybody to get up on those floooats and get ya bodies good and shiny…”
Chapelle clarifies, “I don’t hate gay people at all. I respect the shit out of you. Well, not all of you. I’m not fond of these newer gays. Too sensitive. Too brittle. I miss them old school gays…they didn’t take shit from anybody…”
Flame Monroe, a Trans Comedian remarks about Chapelle, “ We have to be able as grown people to stop being so sensitive. It’s only a joke. No one lost their life.”
It has offended and hurt Chapelle’s many admirers that he does not choose to use his celebrity to bring more understanding to the Trans and LGBQ+ community for their plight, but instead uses it as a springboard example to show that, from his perspective, the black community, simply and plainly still has it worse.
Chapelle recounts on stage, when he was in a club and one white gay man called the police on him. Chapelle explains, “Gay people are minorities until they need to be white again…I’m being very brutally honest so we can solve this problem…a black gay person would have never done that because a black gay person knows when the police show up, they’re not gonna care who called them…”
Not many articles on this topic acknowledge that Chapelle himself, recounts his own ignorance doing transgender jokes 16 years ago in a hole in the wall joint in Oakland, California. “My pronoun game was not as nice as it is today. I went too far and I said things like Tranny and shit because I didn’t know these words were bad and a woman stood up and just gave me the business…” Chapelle briefly displays some awareness of his unawareness.
As Chapelle starts to dig deep into the controversy, he says “And now we get to the core of the crisis. What is a woman? Is there even such a thing as a woman or a man or anything? Hmmm…women get mad at me…gay people get mad at me, lesbians get mad at me…but these transgenders…want me dead. I’ve gone too far. I’ve said too much.”
He further jokes that someone after a show said to him, “Careful, Dave, they after you.” Chapelle pauses and says, “One they or many theys?” His eyes peer up in his very notable Dave Chapelle fashion. The crowd roars again.
Chapelle mentions, “Before I even say anything about that community…I am not indifferent to the suffering of someone else. There are laws, mean laws…” he then goes in depth on speaking out against North Carolina’s notorious anti-trans bathroom law.
Ten year comedian FC Sierra writes in a poignant open letter, “I’m also a trans person (transwoman, if you will; and not a white one)…But I want you to know that your decision to spread your stunted opinions to a 500+million person audience on Netflix is actually making life harder for trans people…I’m just a dumb fucking comic, but every time I’ve entered a room for the last couple of weeks, I’ve thought to myself ‘I hope nobody asks me about Chappelle just because I’m Trans’—the same way that I think ‘I hope nobody asks me if I know about poppers just because they dilate the anus and I guess that’s on brand for me now’…You’ve made my life more difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis, as both a comic and as a Transwoman…YOU ARE LAUGHING AT US THE WRONG WAY, DAVE.”
If Chapelle would have chosen to stick to making fun of Mike Pence and the absurdity of anti-trans bathroom laws, he may have been able to turn things around with the LGBTQ+ community. However, he continued to defend his stance and focus on the core message that has driven his entire career: the plight of the African American community in comparison to other minorities, and doing so in a crass and politically incorrect fashion.
“It doesn’t even matter if I think Dave is transphobic or not,” Powell says. “But I do think if Dave was truly transphobic, his jokes would have hit a lot harder. He can roast someone to burnt toast if he wanted to. At the end of the day the science of comedy is to provoke thought. If his outlook makes me laugh, then my adoration is in his comedy, not that we have to share the same belief system.”
Angel Metro drives home the point, “When you speak one person’s personal opinion into a microphone that reaches millions, and wrongly speaks for millions, and cannot recognize the error in that, the error in spreading controversial takes that can easily be misconstrued and harnessed to potentially put someone in harm’s way, you are then ignoring their struggle and no longer aligning yourself with their best interests.”
A masterful joke catches us by surprise. It tricks our sense of what we thought we knew to be true. In its most beautiful expression, a joke may expand our way of viewing two sides of the same coin. But when a joke lands the wrong way, it can pierce our deepest wounds. All the most controversial comedians seem to kick through the metaphoric curtain and find themselves tangled up in this thin veil at some point in their careers. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, the underlying design of this art form irritates us into thought provoking reflection, quite like no other. But the important question still remains: At what cost?