How Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special played out in the CaribbeanGlobal Voices
American comedian Dave Chappelle, who won the nickname the “The best ever”(GOAT) for his ability to skillfully bring to light uncomfortable truths through his unique brand of flawless humor that leaves audiences speechless, is in the hot water – as he predicted – thanks to some of the things he said about the LGBTQ + community in his latest Netflix special, ” The Closer “, including how he referred to the genitals of transgender people and his claim that” gender is a fact “.
The show, which began airing on October 5, angered the global LGBTQ + community. Activists lobbied Netflix to drop the program; So far, the company has remained steadfast in its support for the comedian, with CEO Ted Sarandos noting in an email from the company:
Chappelle is one of the most popular comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him. […] Like our other talents, we work hard to support their creative freedom – even if that means there will always be content on Netflix that some people think is harmful. […]
We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hatred or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line. I do recognize, however, that it’s hard to distinguish between commentary and prejudice, especially with the stand-up comedy that exists to push the boundaries. […] These are difficult and uncomfortable problems.
After a subsequent protest from the employees and others, however, Sarandos admitted that he had “screwed up” the way he spoke to the staff on the Chapel special.
In the Caribbean, long considered a homophobic region, thanks to everything from anti-gay sentiments in dancehall lyrics and political rhetoric, to violence – some fatal – against homosexuals and transgendered people, the reception of the performance of Chappelle was mixed, with some social media users taking offense and others not understanding how his post could be interpreted the way he did.
If you find Dave Chappelle’s stand-up, or DaBaby’s comments, offensive … you’re going to have a hard time in Jamaica #that’s all
– The Council – Trilogy RELEASE NOW! (@FiveSteez) October 9, 2021
Trinidad-based Facebook user Timothy Christopher P Nokio was exuberant with his praise. Brenda Cozier agreed, saying Chappelle “speaks the truth with comedy” while Roger Anthony DeCaires admired “the way he deals with social issues”. Gigi Fanale, meanwhile, has covered both extremes:
I laughed so hard … and I gnashed my teeth so hard.
This is the essence of Chappelle’s profession. He wants to get people thinking about uncomfortable issues, some of which will make them move in their seats – but was the show high-profile comedy or did it cross a line? On Facebook, Rhoda Bharath explained:
When you properly examine The Closer, you realize that what Chapelle did last night was the final chapter of the book in his Netflix series.
Each routine was linked by themes and even recurring characters.
Dave Chapelle, a comedian, used leitmotifs and major and minor characters in his satire.
Over the course of each episode, he’s built his deconstruction of the importance of comedy to the human condition using the various gender and LGBTQ movements of this century as prisms.
Life is not a zero sum game.
We must give and receive.
GOAT is not starting to capture this man’s talent.
In a conversation on Facebook Messenger with Global Voices, Bharath continued:
Dave wanted us to understand that HE IS READY to have the uncomfortable conversation. The one that most of us avoid. And this conversation is that oppressed groups can do oppressive things as well and that needs to be discussed and called out just as much as their right to exist and to have a space in which to exist needs to be respected.
Aside from Chappelle’s discomfort with transgender people, a central problem of his special focused on the fact that black people, who have endured centuries of injustice and continue to face active and institutionalized discrimination, have gone much less in the fight for equal rights than LGBTQ + community.
He mentioned it several times on the show through various mechanisms, including his reference to Da Baby, a rapper who made offensive remarks against the LGBTQ + community – about which there was a public outcry. – but whose career did not seem threatened with cancellation after he killed a black man at Walmart. (The rapper was ultimately charged only with carrying a concealed weapon.) Chappelle said:
The child made a very glaring mistake […] He once shot a **** and killed him at Walmart […] and nothing bad happened to his career. You see what I mean ? In our country, you can shoot and kill a ****, but you had better not hurt the feelings of a gay man – and this is precisely the disparity I want to discuss.
However, many international LGBTQ + activists felt that Chappelle’s position on black rights versus trans rights amounted to erasure of black trans people.
Except he didn’t say “white homosexuals”. He said “homosexuals” as if there were no black homosexuals. This is an extremely reductive thing to say.
– Nida Kirmani (@NidaKirmani) 12 October 2021
A Trinidadian internet user, Brigette R. Joseph, was unable to reconcile Chappelle’s approach with the daily realities facing the LGBTQ + community in the Caribbean. In a private Facebook update that she allowed to quote, she said:
I am finally up to date with Mr.Chappelle’s BS.
Do people just not understand how irresponsible and damaging it is to ANY medium to allow even the smallest transphobic commentary? Even just a little bit?
We must do better. It’s never funny.
And you can argue with yourself, when you have very close friends who are trans and that you worry about on a daily basis, you [could] come back to me.
Writer Amanda Choo Quan (also in a private message with permission to repost) had a similar point of view:
Supporting trans people would be really pissed off because Chappelle has her fame and they have nothing. (If you think the internet is ‘something’, consider how many trans people are still dying even though you feel the culture of cancellation threatens YOU).
On Joseph’s thread, again cited with permission, Zico Cozier suggested:
[…] we have to be honest in our response to what he is doing. You can emphasize that the jokes are transphobic in nature while also emphasizing the truth about its message and its possible impact on its target audience.
Via WhatsApp, Global Voices spoke to Xoe Sazzle, a trans activist from the Caribbean, who said she had not watched ‘The Closer’ and had no intention of doing so, adding :
Yes [we] put half the attention they give Dave Chappelle and cut out his comedy special, and demand and boycott Netflix […] in real systems of oppression and real points of change – which are not in the entertainment industry and not in capitalist organizations like Netflix – then we would be able to experience real change, and we would be able to really enjoy these conversations.
[…] I think a lot of the anger, angst, roaring, etc. is pretty badly run, but that’s how popular culture works. […] Pop culture, capitalism… designed to sell… and it sells! Netflix is making so much money. I think from that point of view Dave Chappelle and Netflix have been successful and effective.
Meanwhile, comedian Simmy the Trini said she was “offended”:
I am offended that people did not listen to him to try to understand his arguments. […]
Dave Chappelle is a black man, African American, Muslim, and a global comic icon known for taking strong stands for his beliefs, even if that means stepping away from millions of dollars or rubbing people the wrong way.
In this context, he weighed the LGBTQ community and feminism and found a glaring truth. The culture of cancellation is often presented as a narrative by people who do not support their own species.
As a society, and arguably to defend a better society, we are quick to silence people with “offensive” opinions. We should not, theoretically speaking, encourage racism, sexism, sizeism or homophobia. The idea is to work towards harmony and a respectful level of acceptance of the wide range of people who live life differently.
Dave points it out brilliantly. A person can empathize with another group without sharing their beliefs or participating in their ideologies. Respect can be shown and tolerance extended without forcing people to subscribe to beliefs that conflict with theirs.
She was also careful to listen to dissenting voices:
I saw the arguments from the other side and listened with a listening ear to establish if Dave Chappelle said anything irresponsible […] scrutinizing his words for reasons to be outraged or offended. I couldn’t find anything he said to justify the backlash or the calls for his special to be deleted.
As a comedian, I found his set to be well composed and brilliantly delivered. […]
You don’t have to agree with him or reflect his point of view. These are his opinions and you are free and entitled to have your own. There is no right or wrong here – just a wonderful opportunity to understand a different perspective.
As is often the case with Dave Chappelle’s comedy, people may just have to agree to disagree.