Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A Time For Reckoning/Dave Chappelle Always Told Us Who He Was

At the end of the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, Dave Chappelle suddenly appeared during the good night segment. He joined the cast on the stage to seemingly everyone's surprise. He had not appeared in the episode at all but must have randomly been in the audience and got permission from someone--assumably Lorne Michaels--to jump on stage as the credits rolled. One of the cast members, Bowen Yang, was as far as one could possibly be from Chapelle while still remaining on the stage and looked visibly displeased. Yang is openly gay. At one point viewers could see Sarah Sherman go to talk to Yang as if to ask if he was okay. He gestured at Chappelle and it looked like she mouthed the word, “Oh.” This got me thinking about how Chappelle has become such a polarizing personality.

Dave Chappelle always told us who he was, there were just certain elements that were easier to ignore or overlook. I would say Chapelle has had some of the most insightful and concise commentaries on race I have ever seen delivered in a comedic manner. I would also say he is unquestionably transphobic and by no means an ally to lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals. The thing is, as early as, "Chapelle's show," first season there was one segment that I always think of when people talk about Chapelle and his regressive views on LGBTQ matters. That show launched him to superstardom and very early on he had a bit about how people don’t listen to him as a Black man but if he had a pretty White woman sing what he was thinking people would listen. Hence classically trained singer proceeds to come out on the stage. Here is a link. Chappelle hands her pieces of paper to read various statements. The audience is amused by it and then you can hear people get visibly uncomfortable when she reads a statement that he finds gay sex gross, and he’s sorry but he just finds it gross.

Chappelle's old segment.

The tension is quickly cut by having her read a piece of paper about how he does like lesbians followed by another piece of paper where he has her emphasize the word lesbians for a laugh. Still, as far back as those early episodes Chapelle made it clear that he was not necessarily aligned with LGBTQ individuals. Perhaps that was easier to overlook in the early 2000s when the idea of treating gay people with equal rights was somehow controversial and trans folks weren't even in the conversation. Now, of course, trans people have been around forever but it just was not getting much of any public coverage compared to lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. It was an awkward moment on his show that goes mostly forgotten compared to the amazing skits, but it still happened.

Chapelle captured lightning in a bottle with, "Chapelle's Show," on Comedy Central. He had astounding segments that cut to the core of our society and how it handles race and status among other elements. Then he basically quit the show due to a fear that instead of mocking stereotypes it was in fact perpetuating them. Many people were on Chappelle's side and when he did return to public life to do more standup specials everyone welcomed it! However, something hateful started to creep into every special more and more. It became clear that Chapelle was vehemently opposed to trans people.

Yang is as far from Chappelle as one can get.

I personally do not mind If comedy is offensive as long as it is funny. You can say almost anything and if you can make it funny or have it make us think then you’ve done some impressive. Some comedy is definitely a product of its time as well. Eddie Murphy himself has admitted some of his older stuff has not aged well because he made it when he was young and “...kind of an asshole. “That said, even viewing old comedy you can see a lot of people exercising their genius along with the stuff that fails to be funny nowadays. Chapelle‘s new material is not a product of its time. It just comes across as hackwork when I have viewed his jokes about transgender individuals. Sometimes he will still show that amazing flair for storytelling and insightful humor in his comedy but so much of it seems to be overshadowed by a focus on being anti-trans. Chappelle has morphed into an anti-trans activist who sometimes tells jokes. Plus, it is a shame how hacky it is. This man gave us some amazing segments on on his show and delivered what I would consider one of the best Saturday Night Live monologues back when Trump was elected president and Chapelle broke down all kinds of subjects relating to racism, classing, and more in our society. Those days are past.

People talk about Chapelle as if he has morphed into someone who is vehemently anti-trans. I would say he always was that way and many other people probably were too in the past but grew as individuals. He has not grown, unfortunately. He’s still that man who handed someone else a piece of paper so that they would say something anti-LGBTQ for him--but he's just outright saying it himself now. It’s a shame because there is so much genius in some of what Chapelle had done before and the new stuff would rather make an anti-trans statement than offer us good jokes.

Dave Chappelle always told us who he was--it just took a while for us to listen to everything he was saying. I and others have realized we need to reckon with the entirety of his joke catalog.  Whether we want to continue engaging with his work if he’s going to deliver mediocre material full of hateful opinions is what now must be pondered. We fully know who Dave Chappelle is. The question becomes what we’re going to do about that.

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