On Dave Chappelle’s Return: I Ain’t For It

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Before I go in, let me make it clear: I have always loved Dave Chappelle. I mean, I made a whole post dedicated to him way back when–in the early days of this blog. I’ve seen every episode of Chappelle’s Show multple times. I watched his stand up. Correction–I memorized his stand up. I’ve studied his ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ interview and his Oprah interview. I watched him interview Maya Angelou before her death. For Dave’s whole career, I have been all in on “team Chappelle”. I’ve had nothing but love, respect and admiration for this brother.

…Until last month.

Since they were announced, I was anticipating his two Netflix specials, because I knew that what Dave has always said to be powerful and truth-seeking, and that now more than ever could we use his words to speak truth to power. The first special starts out smooth. As I’m watching, I’m thinking maybe the long-lost black prince has returned to claim his throne as the king of comedy.

But after about 15 minutes, it starts to get problematic real quick. I don’t know which came first–the rape jokes, the homophobia, or the transphobia. Either way, one thing is for sure: This new Chappelle, I ain’t for it.

Here are some of the jokes that made me turn in my seat from discomfort: 

On Gay Rights:

“Y’all always have some kind of gay political argument; the last one was about a petition in federal court to take the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ out of the law, and I said “Why would you want those words out the law?” He said “Because it discriminates against same-sex couples,” I was like “N****a please save me the semantics, take your chips out of the casino you’re about to crap out. Go outside, talk it over amongst yourselves, and whichever one of you is gayer, that’s the wife [audience laughs].””

On Caitlyn Jenner coming out as Trans:

“Whenever I see one of them Ts on the street I’m like “I don’t mind them but man I miss Bruce. [audience laughs]

“I knew before you guys knew. I heard things on the street in Hollywood, you know you used to be out, see people: “Hey what’s up Kanye, why the long face?” [audience laugh] “N***a you’ll see, I’ve got two mother in-laws now.”

On Trans Rights:

“I was shocked. Is this happening? Wait a minute, is this a time in American history when an American can make a decision for themselves, and even though other Americans don’t understand it they’ll support it, and let this person live a happy life? Is this what’s happening? If it is then good for America. [audience cheers] That’s Dave Chappelle, the American.

“Although Dave Chappelle the black American, he was a little jealous, I was like “How the fuck are transgender people beating black people in the discrimination Olympics? If the police shot half as many transgenders as they did n****s last year there’d be a fucking war in L.A. I know black dudes in Brooklyn, hard, street motherfuckers, who wear high heels just to feel safe.”

There are a lot of things to be critical over during the two specials. On my own end, it really hurts knowing how many parts that are cringe worthy, and the fact that it’s coming from someone who I’ve idolized since I was 14. But I kept watching regardless, because I was hoping maybe my hero would turn things around. And at moments I really thought he would, but it just never happened. What was  most alarming was how he centered one of the whole specials around the justification of rape. This is important. It is important because it was brought up in order for him to reconcile his inner conflict with the Bill Cosby rape allegations. He compares it to a super hero who can only activate his powers by rubbing a woman’s vagina. So in the event of a crisis, the only way he can save people, is by raping a woman. Chappelle’s words: “He rapes women. But he saves more than he rapes.” The audience laughs. 

To Chappelle, Bill Cosby more than likely raped these women, but even still, he was his idol. His conclusion–not mine–is that even if he did rape these women, he did a lot of good for the black community, and somehow that should absolve him from the trauma he instilled on these women.  With this in mind, everything else he says make sense. It’s an age-old dilemma, or not really a dilemma, but a plague within the black community. And it’s one that has always been reinforced: Black cis straight men, are really only here for other black cis straight men.

The Bill Cosby debate showed not just how  little we value women’s voices, or black women’s voices, but also their trauma. Dave also displays how much black men don’t value the trauma of LGBTQ and Trans folk, especially within black communities. He can only stand for his own oppression as a black man, and everyone else’s oppression needs to get to the side. Regardless if the same violence that has plagued black men also plagues LGBTQ folk and women, even in–especially in–the black community.

So I ain’t for it for a lot of reasons, but mainly because he has claimed before to be on a platform of social responsibility. Ten Years ago, when Dave came back from Africa, he told Oprah why he left Chappelle’s Show in an interview. He explains how he felt that he didn’t feel he was making white people question their racism, but rather enabling it. 

Chappelle’s Show was great for a lot reasons, mainly because of how he confronted the racism we see all around us. Chappelle’s Show took the reality of racism, and put a humorous spin onto it. In doing so, Chappelle was able to make the viewer stop and think, “maybe we need to stop normalizing all these things that are racist AF, and do better.”

But at some point in making the third season, Chappelle noticed a white dude laughing at his jokes behind the set. He discusses this in an Oprah interview. It was a different type of laughing, Chappelle notes, as if the racial stereotypes he was attempting to dismantle were actually being reinforced instead. As in this dude wasn’t laughing at the irony of Chappelle’s joke, he was laughing because he was probably racist AF. Chappelle felt that being on such a platform, meant understanding the social responsibility he had, and that maybe he wasn’t using his heightened visibility responsibly. That’s real. This is important, because ten years later, he has finally returned to the stage, but he appears to have abandoned any sense of “responsibility” when he chooses to discuss LGBTQ issues or rape culture. 

Dave Chappelle could have made a nuanced conversation around rape culture, homophobia, and transphobia. He could have highlighted the bigoted statements, and then brought it home by pointing out how ridiculous it is to hold these stigmas against these marginalized people. In short: he could have given their struggle the same level of respect he gives the struggle for black men, but he didn’t. He was lazy. And I ain’t for it.

I think comedy can be used as an amazing weapon. I do agree that maybe we shouldn’t hold comedians to the same standards of everyday conversations. That maybe we shouldn’t have such soft skin, as well, and be able to take a laugh. But this new Chappelle feels different, and it has dangerous implications. You watch Chappelle’s Show, and when Dave tackles race, no matter how you see it, there is nuance to it. At face value, it can make you cringe. But the more you dig, the more you see how profound the message is that he is getting to.

But in his new special, there is nothing deep about how he tackles homosexuality,  trans folk, or rape culture. It’s all surface level. What’s worse is he never actually challenges these phobias, but rather just reinforces it.  

Some people say comedy should be exempt from the rules, but I see comedy as art, and art as protest. It ain’t just laughs when people are dying for the same shit Dave is saying in these specials. We can choose to fall back into the patterns of a dangerous culture that says its okay to spit out whatever hate we want to so long as it makes people laugh in the name of comedy, and reinforce centuries old hate; or we can challenge ourselves to think differently, to do better, and be better human-beings.  

Whatever helps y’all sleep at night, I guess….

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