In my review of David Chappelle’s 2019 special, Sticks and Stones, I called the highly controversial-yet-successful standup comic a fool. And in his latest special for Netflix, he’s here to defend himself, taking over from his devoted followers who have to do most of the defending on social media after every special, due to the star’s inactivity on social media. With an inactive Twitter and Instagram account, he is always aware of the ‘draggings’ that take place on the platforms, oftentimes, lasting days after a new special. While most of the ‘discussion’ have been against his LGBTQ jokes, notably, the transgender community and advocates, calling out his insensitivity, he still boasts a number of followers who are always on ground to defend him against these ‘draggings’. However, all of that should happen no more, as the man himself is here to give answers to questions raised about his jokes. While doing that, he won’t be joking around, or so he claims shortly into this eye-opening 1hr 12min stand-up special, serving as a finale to his collection of Netflix specials, which includes Deep In the Heart of Texas (2017), and Grammy-winning installments: The Age of Spin, Equanimity & The Bird Revelation, and Sticks & Stones.
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Standing on trial, he’s his whole defense team, the grade of laughter he receives from the audience serves as the jury, while the few strong faces in the audience might just be standing in as the prosecutor, who might not be finding his explanations funny after all even if he gets a few laughs from them. It is notable that people who should make up his unrelenting prosecutors are absent. Those who are actually addressed in the special might also be in the audience, but for the majority at home, behind their keypad, they’ll be ready to continue the lynching without full understanding of the jokes, impeccable deliveries and punch downs, sorry, punchlines. People would misconstrue a number of clips that would float on the internet in the coming days, some wouldn’t care to understand even when asked to watch the full special in order to grasp the context, and they might just be the ones doing the ‘punching down’, which is one of the hard hitting jokes that he shares during the evening.
So who would Dave Chappelle be addressing at the end of the day?
Sadly, still his devoted fans who won’t be seeing him again for a while, and no, this time he’s not leaving 50 million dollars behind in a bus. Serving as a space to discuss past controversies surrounding his Netflix specials, he has resolved to return to Detroit, a city that he claims to have talked the most shit about. “So why don’t I attempt to clean up my mess in a place where I’ve done the most shit dumping”, in my words, not his. Still feeling dirty from the shit talk? The first subject of the night is, yeah, you guessed it, the Coronavirus. The comedian claims that having Coronavirus made him feel dirty, as he thought about the objects he’d touched while reminiscing about the last time he felt so dirty was in the hands of a preacher, bringing religion and the numerous abuse accusations into his special, making it a 100+1 comedian to do that. Introducing many other “should I laugh or should I not” jokes of the night, he goes further to compare his asymptomatic Coronavirus experience to Blacks assaulting (beating) Asians last year, but this time, it was taking place in his body.
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With Dave Chappelle, there can’t be any ‘sit down and let’s address my previous specials’ without mentioning the LGBTQ community. At this point, he weighs in on the DaBaby controversy by showing support for the ‘cancelled’ rapper who made derogatory remarks against gays and AIDS patients, subtly helping viewers put a time stamp on when the special was performed. The Washington-native comedian compares the Black community with the gay community, emphasizing on their progress in seeking equality in the last years. However, he’s envious of the gay community’s progress because speaking against the gay community can get someone cancelled while shooting another human might not harm one’s career, bringing in DaBaby’s past with gun violence. What I find interesting is that at this point the joke is beyond the colour of one’s skin, since DaBaby remains behind the gun here and not a white man. To my understanding, this highlighted America’s seriousness towards gun violence and a gay person’s rights. While some might say both can’t be addressed on the same level, why’s a backlash to one milder than the other, and why can’t a comedian weigh in on this strangely funny issue.
During the remainder of the part-bit historical lecture, part-bit personal storytelling, Chappelle further draws talking points from race, sexuality, gender, and politics, as he’s always done without restraint in the past. Although in one of the sober moments, he talks about how he supports women’s MeToo movement, but is against how they go about it. It made me ask myself, who’s he to agree or disagree with how women go about an issue that they’ve personally experienced since the beginning of time. Almost like he heard me, as he says later in connection to another joke on another women’s issue that he shouldn’t speak on that subject since he’s not a woman and he’s not trans, drawing laughs from the crowd once more. So, it’s all about comedy, his chosen form that people might say feels like punching some minority groups down, but have they actually cared to listen and understand?
In The Closer, you get to see ways in which Dave is knowledgeable (not surprising, as a son of academics) and knows his stuff regarding American history, not just a comedian throwing around half-baked punchlines. His jokes are not ones to be taken and understood just based on a 15-sec clip that maybe talks about kicking a trans woman or refusing to call someone by their pronoun. Some of the punchlines span—and only hit after multiple jokes, and occasionally—the entire set. But some would rather just make their judgement and ‘punch down’ from twitter. The joke of the night for me is when he talks about the time he was warned that transgenders were after him. A person came up to him and said, “Be careful, Dave. They’re after you”. His reply was, “What? One they, or many theys?”, in what might make opponents more furious.
This finale also follows encounters and personal stories from his life. For those who actually care to listen, he’s telling us the group he’s actually got a problem with (hint: not transgenders), in what generates an audience-wide laughter and applause. Back to his lecture against Twitter, a particular story that he shares makes me question the actual goal of dragging and cancelling people as soon as a dark past is unearthed. How does it help? Thinking about it, how does it even change the person you’ve cancelled? What if they change, what if they don’t change, what does it leave them with? With a heartfelt story which I won’t recount so that everyone experiences it firsthand, he shares a carefully woven story as he always does, expectedly carrying humour, leaving an important message, which is for everyone to always pick empathy before (and over) their keypad, reminding me of Chimamanda Adichie’s recent essay.
While Dave Chappelle claims this would be his last special for a while, I expect him to have more acting gigs or other entertainment gigs before another released special. When he eventually returns, he promises to leave the trans jokes behind. So, what would his next special hold? I won’t be surprised if he begins his next set with a “You thought I was done with trans jokes. Gotcha!” joke. But until then, whether you believe him or not, he can only respond how best he does, by making more jokes. Hopefully people can understand that it’s all an art. While thinking about his past specials, while hoping he returns with another, no matter how long it takes, you should know, “It is art. You’re free to interpret this art however you like but I can tell you as the maker of this art that I don’t believe I feel this way”, which was his response to a disgruntled woman who walked up to him, and can also serve as a response for anything you hold against him.
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