Back By Popular Demand: Chappelle's Showvinism
He's the voice of a generation!
If Chappelle is the voice of a generation, that generation is Boomers. If he’s the voice of a particular class, it’s Wealthy Comedians. It didn’t always seem to be this way, and we know he still has the capacity to make excellent work. But, really, dude?
As a 48-year-old long-time political commentator, you’d assume he’d understand that criticising comedians for making jokes that “punch down” is not itself “punching down”. The centrality of this punchline to his latest special The Closer doesn’t make it any clearer whether or not he actually gets the joke.
The final of six Netflix specials, for which he was paid $60 million, yet again centred around his ‘being baffled and just asking questions’ routine on trans people and a heavy-handed defence of his past sexist comments, etc.
A problem with being a ‘truth-to-power’ comedian is that people are inclined to think you’re speaking your truth, even if you insist you’re “not indifferent to the suffering of someone else”. For what it’s worth, I think he genuinely believes this is true.
What others are seeing is another skilled comedian deciding that rather than work smarter they simply must work harder at saying “but I’m not ACTUALLY a rapist”, and then sit back and bask in the Now Clarified Truth that anything they say about rape is totes fine because they explained how they haven’t done any raping.
(To be fair, though, that does fit with my personal belief that I can say literally anything about Black people because I’ve never personally gone out of my way to oppress the Blacks.)
In a review of The Closer for Vulture Craig Jenkins notes that, while Chappelle isn’t devoid of self-awareness, the second half descends into “confusing posturing” which ends in the punchline demanding people stop punching down… on comedians.
I can see, if I was very rich and making this joke, why I would find its absurdity funny. But it’s so little, so late; whether or not we ‘get it’ is irrelevant. It’s worth sharing Jenkins nailing of the point in its entirety:
A slideshow of photos of Dave with his famous friends that plays over the closing credits lingers an extra beat on a shot of him and DaBaby, reinforcing his idea that “Empathy is bisexual: It goes both ways.” (The slideshow implies that entertainers are his “tribe” in question. It’s too on the nose that in this analogy a person only joins one group at a time. These intersections are blind spots for Dave. He speaks about Black and queer struggles as if they are strictly in competition, not always entangled. He has the textbook edgelord ally’s arrogance. He swears he knows how to fix things for you, but he’s just asking for you to take up less space, to usher in progress by giving other people time to come around to you. At the same time, he brings up Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, where the escaped slave and activist visited a 19th-century women’s convention and laid out in sobering detail why the plight of Black women in America is a point of concern for all American women. This is also on the nose. Chappelle doesn’t enjoy this boldness when it’s pointed in his direction.)
The lingering question is whether or not Netflix will continue to work with Chappelle to the tune of millions and keep his work live on the platform if he continues to put out this material. (I’m not going to get into what ‘cancelled’ would even mean in this situation; yet another in which the “cancell-ee” would continue to sit on a pile of money, able to fund and distribute any future work however he’d like.)
It seems so, given that Netflix execs have defended the special and responded dismissively to trans staffers attempt at dialogue. Since The Closer’s release, said trans staffers have vocalised their anger and attempted to attend an executive meeting at the company. In response, they were temporarily suspended.
Staff are now planning a walkout for October 20th in response to both the special and the suspensions.
Ultimately, sadly, this is now a fairly banal issue: someone powerful does something shitty, and is incapable of seeing past their own pride and prejudices to admit that maybe it’s them that doesn’t get the joke.
If I could end every article by quoting Contrapoints I would, but here it’s genuinely ideal. Here’s a take I love (from someone who actually has been cancelled for lame cancel-culturey-pile-on reasons, no less.)
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