Netflix is a myriad contradiction at times. It has created some of the most well-known woman-centric shows (Orange is the New Black, The Crown) but also keeps giving a platform to people like Aziz Ansari, who has been accused of sexual harassment. The contradiction clears up when one understands that like any other streaming company, Netflix also follows the money no matter how tone-deaf it might seem. In its latest line of being tone-deaf, Netflix decided to stream another stand up show by Dave Chappelle.
Dave Chappelle has had a history of making problematic and offensive statements under the guise of “jokes” since he first started, quite like many other male stand-up comedians like him. In a much more aware and sensitized atmosphere like today, when he is finally called out on his statements, Dave Chapelle does not take the high road, in fact, he refuses to do so like many other entitled men we know. Far from apologizing, his latest Netflix special can be basically summed up as him pettily proclaiming, “I will continue to do what I have done all these years”.
Dave Chappelle has had a history of making problematic and offensive statements under the guise of “jokes” since he first started, quite like many other male stand-up comedians like him.
Stand-up Comedy took a new dimension for me after watching Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’. ‘Nanette’ was a learning experience as Gadsby showed how jokes are often made at the expense of communities, mostly the minorities. Tension relief at the expense of people forced to exist in the margins isn’t funny; it’s cruelty. I learned that from Hannah Gadsby.
For the longest time, Dave Chappelle was known for his forthrightness, for his frankness and more importantly, owning his identity as an African-American. His satirical work was a fresh breath of air but he does not evolve with time, rather he complains at its evolution. Comedians like Chappelle continue to make jokes at the expense of people, of communities. Problematizing this however, would earn me the tag of a “liberal snowflake” (far from context) and of a spoilsport. While I am not bothered by the tags, what does bother me is that how we continue to judge art forms in an utter vacuum and remain blind to the context and the period of when this art is being produced.
In a particularly bad “joke” (one which Dave’s own Asian wife hates), Chappelle calls the LGBTQIA+ community as the “Alphabet people”. Going a step up (or down?) from his previous “T-people” joke (“A transwoman is a man in a dress”), Dave Chappelle talks about how he does not believe in Trans-dysphoria but feels it is a “hilarious predicament to be in”. He then compares it to feeling like a Chinese person from the inside but having the body of an African American man, followed by a distasteful impersonation.
He tries to get ahead of the “cancel culture” by cancelling it for himself at first – the question of accountability for past misdeeds (whether they are homophobic tweets as in the case of Kevin Hart) does not occur to him. He proclaims himself to be a “victim blamer”, saying he does not believe in the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them while they were underage. He says that when he heard Chris Brown beat up Rihanna, his first question was, “Well, what did she do?” He uses the R. Kelly incident followed by some more paedophilic comments that are nowhere near funny.
Till now in 2019, 18 Transpeople have been gruesomely killed in USA. In times like these, Chappelle making Transphobic jokes is not the main problem. The main problem is that he addresses these jokes to an audience of hundreds and thousands. Hundreds and thousands of his followers and fans, who pay money to see him live. This audience laughs at his jokes. They laugh at every punchline he delivers regardless of how sexist and misogynist it is. At one point, in solution to the #MeToo movement, Chappelle says outright that women can just “Shut the f— up” and I see a woman from the audience bending from laughter.
People from minority communities know and are aware that they are cornered in a society like ours. When famous and venerated celebrities make jokes against them causing a roar of laughter, that’s when these minorities actively experience the feeling of being cornered. This laughter is not a harmless reaction to a clever statement, it is validation and recognition to whatever the comedian is saying. It is a symbiotic relationship of passing validation as everybody in the room agrees on one thing at that point – the comedian knows he can make more such jokes later on; the audience feels they are not alone in their thoughts.
People from minority communities know and are aware that they are cornered in a society like ours. When famous and venerated celebrities make jokes against them causing a roar of laughter, that’s when these minorities actively experience the feeling of being cornered.
Putting that in the context of larger society, I feel scared. So does everybody, who can feel themselves being pushed into the corner each time jokes are being made at their expense. Jokes start becoming offensive the moment they become degrading and instill fear and pain in the person who is being made fun of, directly and indirectly.
At a time in USA when children are in cages, concentration camps are being built at the border, Indigenous land and lives are under assault, Dave could have used his gifts to insightfully impugn what’s really offensive. Instead of going after the powerful, he attacks the most vulnerable It’s not just lazy, it’s also not entertaining anymore.
Chappelle, in his own frank arrogance, says in the middle of his stand-up, “If you’re at home watching this on Netflix, remember b—-: you clicked on my face.”
Never again. While I shudder to believe what the definition of “fun“ is to the people who laugh at his jokes- never again.
Featured Image Source: IndieWire