!!!!!!! This special was fantastic. I’m never more sure than after watching this that Dave Chappelle is my favorite comedian and my favorite person to watch and hear speak about anything. He’s so brilliant and funny, the way he sees the world and can convey it is so skillful and enchanting.
This special was really interesting. He talks ONLY about things that matter: race, gender rights, OJ Simpson, concepts of masculinity and how they integrate within a global context, intersectionality, the police, his son liking Kevin Hart more than him, (which made me hear “Daddy Nick Cannon is hiLARious” over and over again in my mind!!!) Flint, Planned Parenthood, Carebears, etc. etc. I don’t need to agree with him on each of these things (and I don’t all the time!) but great standup isn’t about people agreeing with you it’s about showing someone a perspective and being funny.
Getting someone to laugh/see something as funny when they DON’T agree with you, I would argue is one of the most difficult social interactions that exists and he does it over and over and over again for an hour. Nobody in that audience agreed with every single thing he said but every single person was laughing and trusted him the whole time.
He has a way of making his truth undeniable and making the joke about something bigger than the part you don’t agree with. And I’m focusing on this because I feel like someone’s gonna write some piece about how he said he doesn’t like his wife’s gay friends or that “man and woman” should remain in the verbiage for marriage licenses but he’s being honest about who he is. No one has perfect opinions all the time. They might try to project that to not offend anyone or more likely, to garner favorable impressions in a contentious social climate but that simply isn’t true. Everyone has bias (to deny that is insane and unrealistic) and he’s exploring his honestly. Chappelle says of trans people, (The ‘T’s’) “They have the toughest road ahead of them because they have the biggest mental gap to bridge.” That’s true!! It’s not something many people intuitively understand. You can chose to believe someone about their own identity or you can fight them on it, but it can be genuinely confusing if someone is raised to strictly believe in the gender binary and/or so many other social constructs that are in direct conflict with the nature of gender fluidity. If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with your 64 year old dad about trans women being real women even (especially!!) if they haven’t had surgery, you get where I’m coming from. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your biases, it’s what you do after that. Chappelle is acknowledging his bias in the best way possible-publicly and honestly.
Now there’s a lot in that: the locus of education shouldn’t fall on the marginalized/oppressed groups, at a point proclaiming your inability to understand something becomes a choice, in no way should action or progress hinge on certain people’s understanding of an issue (although unfortunately often it does and that needs to be addressed) and do celebrities normalizing certain attitudes on a large scale translate to violence for certain groups? I believe it can. But first of all, I don’t think (and everyone’s entitled to their own interpretation) he was saying anything negative or hateful about trans people, just saying he doesn’t understand. Also, let’s say you do think he was being both those things, you have to decide what to do with that. Correlation doesn’t equal causation and I don’t think the answer to transphobia is comedians and their Netflix specials. I don’t think not letting people say any opinions that might be problematic is the key to bring about progressive change. I think it’s more productive to have conversations about them and use people’s public forthcoming to educate (again, not the oppressed groups but the rest of us). I personally wanted my dad to watch this special so we could talk through some of these things through the accessibility of humor but he doesn’t have a Netflix password 😦
And can people can hide behind a lot of these things and wield the concepts I’ve just said exploitively? Of course. There’s judgement involved in discerning that. BUT there’s good people who don’t have it all the way yet and I (maybe optimistically) think that’s most people. And this special is for all of us (I readily include myself in this group).
There’s a lot of layers and I understand how this can sound apologist and ultimately I’m not trans and if trans people are saying something is violence to them that’s valid and real and should be treated as such. But in this instance I think that realization needs to be rooted in a dialogue of what is the role of comedy in society and to who, because that’s the heart of where this all lies. I also think there’s comorbidity here, a trans person can say, “this special is going to make my life harder” and that can be true but I don’t think then it makes his special wrong.
I’ll use an issue I can speak with authority on instead of trans rights because I’m not trans. In this special, Chappelle probably says the word “rape” over thirty times. It’s a punchline, it’s an explanation, it’s a reference, it’s a preposition, it’s everything. It’s basically that scene in The Wire where they solve the crime by only saying fuck but it’s “rape” and nothing is solved at the end. But just as good!!! So, one of his bits is him making up movie pitches to Hollywood producers at the Oscars. There’s two guys, one is gay and one is a big guy from Texas. He’s throwing out ideas he thinks they’ll like. This is key, because in the next breath when he proposes a superhero who rapes people (which is brilliant as a layered concept) there’s a satirical element that it’s not what he, Dave Chappelle, likes and thinks is funny, he’s trying to appeal to/make fun of this misogynist producer. He goes on to explain that this superhero is stronger than Superman and saves people, but he can only use his power if he touches a woman’s vagina. “Doesn’t have to be for long, just a few pats.” But so he paints this scenario of a building burning and people dying, and this man running up to women around the city pleading with them to let him touch their vaginas “just for a few minutes” (which felt like a political parallel to the Brock Turner defense that it was “only 20 minutes of misconduct”) then all the women say no and Chappelle pauses and says, “So he rapes them.” Which ALSO defining any unwanted physical contact, even a few ‘pats on the vagina’ as rape seems political and wonderful to me because there’s so much language surrounding “legitimate rape” (there’s some right there!) and a lot of women don’t feel valid in claiming rape if it wasn’t a violent act from a stranger, even though “gray rape” (a term that has been coined for nonviolent rape) by an acquaintance or friend is overwhelmingly the majority of rapes.
So he’s presenting this situation where the superhero is raping, but it’s ‘for good’ and it ‘saves more people than it hurts.’ (And yes, yes, why is violence against women always the go to and one of the reasons it’s able to be presented in a humorous context so easily is because it’s generally not taken as seriously or believed, I know, but come with me here) Anyway, he ends this anecdote and moves on. Then later at the end of the special (after he’s talked about Bill Cosby a lot) he ties it back in and does a loop de loop with all the things Cosby accomplished for black people (first black actor to win an Emmy, partnered with a clinical psychologist to make sure there wasn’t even a single negative portrayal of black people during the entire 8 seasons it was on) and does an echoed speech thing to tie these two together. The Superhero Who Rapes and Bill Cosby. And again, is it a false dichotomy? Yes of course but he’s speaking on a larger concept of legacy and the complex, nuanced perspective that lies within. Which is totally valuable and honors how so many people feel, especially older people of color by emotionally contextualizes them/their responses to the whole thing .
Also, to leave this topic for a while (and never return!) he tells this story about taking his son to see Kevin Hart and it is truly hilarious and he is a funny genius and I love him more than the sun. At the end, he leaves and everyone stands up and applauds him (he also entered to a full theatre standing ovation) then he runs back out and says, “I forgot!! The fourth time I met OJ Simpson…” because in the beginning he said, “before the night is over I will have told you about all four times I met OJ Simpson” and I can’t decide if he really did forget? Or orchestrated it that way to have a different pace? To look spontaneous? I don’t know, it really does seem like he forgot, but then that would be amazing that he’s structuring an hour not knowing how it’s going to end, just going. But I’ve seen him do an hour where he is just talking and I believe he can do that I guess I just assumed if you’re filming a special you’d plan it out a little more but maybe he didn’t! That’s honestly even more impressive to me. And he does tributes at the end to Garry Shandling and Phife and it reminded me of his show where he would have a musical guest at the end (because he left on a song playing) and ughhh it was so good and I can’t believe there’s another one (and then another!) and I want to buy these on tape so I can go to sleep listening to it every night he really is so fucking incredible. It’s even more incredible when you hold it up to all the other Netflix specials that have come out over the years, they fucking churn them out like butter but unlike butter they’re all bad and this was really really good and we’re lucky to have him and I hope he continues to create.
Oooh! And he rags on Key and Peele a little bit and I heard a radio interview with him where he talks about it a little more and I could listen to him talk about that forever. I don’t really have an opinion on that (nor do I need to) but I just think he got fucked over and rightfully is a little bitter that someone else got to do what he wanted without that.
Love him, love the special, loled. 8 out of 9 Kevin Hart jerseys, would/will DEFINITELY masturbate again.