“The fact of an artist has always attacked, and it attacks now, as far as we can tell. It will always, WILL attack all of our notions of safety and all of our notions of health.”
Dave Chappelle lowkey raised me. He first entered my life in high school when my smoker friends took me to see the cult-classic movie Half Baked, in which they laughed a lot harder than I at the time. Later in college, he (Chappelle) multiple times almost made my kidney explode as my friends and I all laughed at scenes from Chappelle’s Show cramped up in a small Howard dorm room. Then legend has it he went off to Africa for a decade to return with Netflix comedy specials for my current adult years. And with this history, I, like so many others, consider Dave to be a genius when it comes to comedy, whose unique ability to create a joke in a conversational structure where the punchline is unpredictable and subject matter is daring. However, his GOAT status is not solely because of his comedic truth but because Chappelle represents the side of artistry some fail to acknowledge; disruption.
Filmed in my hometown Detroit, Dave Chappelle’s latest (and last for a while, according to Dave) Netflix comedy special The Closer speaks on many subjects, including sex, drugs, and profanity. Still, it is his addressing his past controversial take on the LGBTQ+ community that stands out. For starters, it’s best to understand that Dave’s comedy doesn’t represent complete thought but an interpretation in transition. He (Dave) is not one to comment on the building once its construction is complete; instead, he gives a perspective through each layer of brick with an unapologetic shrug shoulder honesty that’s relatable to those who laugh but alienates those who do not. He openly admits that he’s jealous of the gay community’s movement as a Black man because of how quick they seem to advance in comparison to Black people’s movement. Chappelle firmly states that his comedy criticism has and will always be not towards transgender people but white people who use minority issues as a shield to defend their whiteness. This statement is no secret to Black people who feel that specifically white males use the transgender experience to increase their already societal high privilege credit score. Unfortunately, Dave loses a chance to build allyship by refusing to abide by social media’s ever-changing standard rules of political correctness. He leans more towards the traditional comedian role of catering to laughs with sprinkles of social lessons that can be too difficult to receive for one who is the joke’s victim.
Dave Chappelle’s unwillingness to bend towards the needs of society sensitivities has branded him by critics as someone who refuses to evolve. As a fan, I admit there’s a spark of truth in it. When Chappelle tells the story of his transgender comedian friend named Daphne Dorman, it is a touching tale of humor, friendship, and tragedy. He paints a soulful and emotional visual of Dorman bombing on stage as an opening act only to return in the front row, joining Dave to create laughter with the audience. Dave’s delivery of Daphne’s story is insightful; without losing its humor is an example that he does have the ability to speak an edgy joke with kindness when he chooses. But only by his terms, refusing to pander to any twitter emotion or fear of being canceled.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that all art is a beautiful Garden of Eden that everyone is supposed to hold hands and adore. Art’s expression is supposed to be a reflection of life’s good, bad, and ugly. Art creates a diverse dialogue that sparks thought and displays perspective on subjects that most would find taboo. However, Dave’s art is not gospel or above being challenged. As a heterosexual, cisgender Black male, I understand that I’m not the typical contemporary target of a Chappelle joke. Since I could never fully grasp the experience of an LGBTQ+ individual, I choose to respect those who consider his jokes problematic. Dave Chappelle and all artists alike obligation are to create an expression of what they see in society, and it’s society’s responsibility to challenge that same artistic expression each time.
J Hall is a Detroit bred Howard Bison multimedia culture critic. An abstract thinker who believes “You ain’t wrong when you’re right,” and that his mother’s cupcakes are legendary. Check out his slight worldwide view here: https://linktr.ee/jhall