So, in case you haven’t heard, an underground comedian debuted his first stand up special in 12 years on a streaming website, reintroducing himself after a self-imposed exile from the entertainment industry. His return was met with cheers of joy from fans and casual viewers alike. I mean, here’s a comedian who’s been hailed as a crusader for authenticity in black entertainment – king of the “woke”, master of the rhetoric the Black Lives Matter generation has sought to shepherd them through the tough times a Trump presidency brought. Millions hyped his return as the exodus of a performer who married the quirkiness of an alternative comedian, the bravado of a urban Def Comedy lite MC, and the knowledge of a conscious homeboy raised on ‘90s hip-hop. Then the jokes came.
BY ZIM EZUMAH
Dave Chappelle’s send up of numerous topics sent Twitter into a frenzy. A joke examining the charges incurred from his former idol Bill Cosby. A jab at the feminization of Asian men. A diatribe on the “oppression Olympics” experienced by LBGTQ folk and the Black community, and the spell spent on transgendered women and his reaction to them. 12 years ago, without notable social media platforms (I mean, hey, you could’ve worded a spirited Myspace bulletin thread voicing your opinion) the reactions to his special stoked a fire that is very 2017. His fans were satisfied by his performance – I mean, how would you feel if your idol returned to the stage over a decade after swearing off performing publicly?
Others were shocked – he’s had 12 years to give us a thoughtful critique of the world and he returns with hateful jokes punching down at the marginalized? Then there was everyone else – people who loved he special and recognized it’s issues, people who were ehhh on the humor but thought folks were being dramatic over it’s jokes. Let’s tackle the two regions of reactions:
The Stans – Ok, I get it. Dave Chappelle is slander proof. What other entertainers can produce lines like “Chocolate? This is doo-doo, baby!” and play the piano for Maya Angelou? He’s the GOAT, his deadpan delivery and off-the-wall imagination is why he’s earned millions of fans with less than 40 episodes of his own TV show, fans that he’s managed to keep satisfied with nothing but fond memories of Negrodamus and random performances here and there. So you can imagine the annoyance they’re experiencing logging into Twitter to see their problematic fave “canceled” by folks who “expected better” of a comedian that came up with the idea for a Racial Draft, a Blind White Supremacist, and Friday Night Sissy Fights. Incensed, they claimed those who were angered by the special were too sensitive, and accused them of being losers who willingly watched a legendary comedian known for controversial statements. What these folks fail to mention is that Dave Chapelle probably doesn’t care what any of his detractors think, and as true fans you should do the same. Why are you so bothered that folks find those jokes unfunny and hurtful? Comedy is one of the most subjective art forms in the world, and while we do live in a more PC culture, the internet allows for the marginalized to voice their takes on a platform the majority of us have access to. Chappelle made those jokes knowing someone was going to get offended – it wasn’t a TMZ quote or a phone call leak. This is the effect he intended it to have. Your getting upset and policing someone’s reaction is overly sensitive and takes the joy out of your experience. Just mute, watch, and revel in the return of your favorite comedian (and maybe ask him to stop being pressed about Key & Peele).
The Woke Folk – Problematic. Canceled. Y’all, stand up comedy is not supposed to be a TED talk. The anger you’re expressing is valid, but it’s gonna fall on deaf ears. The public is way too thirsty for Chappelle’s return to allow the anger of those outside his core audience to affect it. If you’re genuinely bothered and disappointed in this stand-up because you felt Chappelle disrespected your identify, then that’s completely valid. But the spiteful dedication to “canceling” someone is ineffective in comedy, and here’s why: Comedy isn’t meant to be appeasing. There’s a butt of a joke everywhere, and often times picking on a previously untouchable demographic (transgendered folk, sexually assaulted women) provide the shock-laughs comedians go after. Heralding Chappelle as some kind of joke slanging MLK is bizarre. In his performing history Chappelle’s never vowed to be a role model or Jessie Williams-type – again, revisionist history is funnier denna bitch -he just sought out to be funny. Not you funny, but funny funny. Comedians live for that iconic bit that’s seared into people’s cerebellum, so that every time they’re thought of, a “Niggas vs. Black People” or “Steem of your muthafuckin self” comes to mind. Chappelle was trying to create a punchline. There is a responsibility for public figures to be politically correct, but there’s also a decision for performers not to adhere to that, and to create art that appeases them. You don’t like it, that’s perfectly fine. But there’s a core audience that’s laughing too loud to be bothered by the preferences of a world that’s confined to your comfort level, and that’s the way it is.All in all, it’s remarkable that in 2017 a stand-up routine can cause conversation on both sides of the spectrum. Folks can clamor about the right to say what you want for entertainment and others can use speech deemed hateful as an point of awareness for their goals. What’s certain is that Chappelle impacted pop culture this year, and that’s something the world thought they’d never see again.
BY ZIM EZUMAH