Dave Chappelle has been flying under the radar for some time.
Since he left the Chappelle's Show and a $50 million contract behind in 2005, he's only done three stand-up specials for television, avoided the spotlight and mainstream interviews, and he's totally neglected his Twitter account; which is a clear indicator that Dave Chappelle is off the grid.
As a member of the comedy elite, his triumphant return has had everyone buzzing. And Netflix has been chomping at the bit to release these standups. But after a long binge of both specials, I can't say my review of them is as glowing as critics from Vulture or the NY Times. Here's why Dave Chappelle's Netflix specials, The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas, actually weren't as powerful as I expected.
17 He Was Harsh And Offensive, Unapologetically
Comedy often seeks to say what people are afraid to and I'm here for it. I'm not hypersensitive about this genre because I understand that most comics are speaking from their experiences, and that there's always someone who may identify with what they've been through. I'm certainly not about policing every comedian who steps on stage with a hot take. TBH, hot takes even push conversations forward.
I also love hearing commentary that is unashamed and bold–especially if it's funny. So I fired up the Dave Chappelle specials knowing he might say a few things that didn't align with my ideals, but that it hopefully wouldn't be terrible.
What I got, and what I'm not here for, is a man promoting slurs and outdated beliefs regarding gender while using comedy as a cover. Though his brand is rooted in being brash and clever (and perhaps that worked in the early 2000s), we live in a different America right now. We're stepping into more spaces of tolerance and acceptance and perhaps it's time for him to join us.
16 He Humanized O.J. Simpson
I don't even know why you would desire to make O.J. Simpson seem like a stand-up dude. Sure, he was acquitted for the murder of his wife. I get it—the glove didn't fit. But ultimately, we're still convinced that he did it. At least, I am.
More importantly, this man did go to jail for armed robbery and kidnapping. He's currently serving nine years in Nevada. So, regardless, O.J. Simpson is definitely a criminal, and he's definitely not the person you want to be rooting for in your comedy show. But Dave Chappelle goes for it anyway.
He brings up O.J.'s wife with zero tact, and when he hears cries of protest, he advises the audience to man up or they won't make it through the special...Um, okay. Then, he tells us, "With all due respect, that murderer ran for over 11 thousand yards." Which won't be the last time in his Netflix specials that he thinks violence is ultimately forgivable when stacked against talent.
15 He Thinks Childcare Equals Emasculation
Dave Chappelle talks about men in the Philippines who are left behind to raise children while their wives make money elsewhere; specifically the Arabian Peninsula and the United States. While mothers are making money and taking care of their families, he says fathers are left "twiddling their thumbs" which, for anyone who has actually met a child, knows is not even close to what is involved in raising one.
Men who leave the house to make money for their families are never shamed for contributing only financially to childcare. This really speaks to the amount of domestic labor that women are expected to carry out by default. And don't even get me started on the immense lack of credit they receive. Meanwhile, raising a child is a full-time job.
So, when Asian American men do it, does Chappelle consider their manhood revoked? It's dated because some families with switched gender roles are just as valid as families that follow traditional ones. There's no singular way of raising a family. Again, this is something I'd expected in the '90s or early 2000s, but certainly not now.
14 He Turned Rape Into A Punchline (Many Times)
Consistently throughout The Age Of Spin, Chappelle talks about Bill Cosby, who has dozens of rape allegations levied against him right now. He does, however, do a great bit about the fall of someone who was once a hero for the black community. That was appreciated, the rape jokes were not.
He seems to justify both Bill Cosby's actions and the actions of a fictional superhero who needs to rape women to activate his powers. In both cases, Chappelle suggests that there is some kind of moral dilemma here because they do more good than they rape. This kind of thinking is often the case when public figures—especially talented public figures—are accused of violence against women (sexual or otherwise).
If we take a look at Chris Brown, who violently beat Rihanna in 2009 and allegedly threatened to kill his more recent girlfriend, Karrueche Tran, you see that none of that stopped him from topping the charts with his music. In the same vein, Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment, but was still able to snag an Oscar this year. Prominent men are rarely punished for violence, because their talent seems to outweigh their crimes, and it makes it especially hard for victims to come forward. Somehow, for Dave Chappelle, this is understandable and even humorous.
12 He Uses A Slur To Refer To Gay Men
If treating gay couples like they have to fulfill male-female gender roles wasn't enough, Dave Chappelle drops the F-bomb in another joke about gay men that starts badly and ends exactly the same way.
Honestly, this is almost understandable behavior since he claims the "N-word" doesn't phase him at this point in his life. Being personally untouched by people who use slurs against him, perhaps he expects that gay people should be as well. Regardless, this is just another aspect of his offensive-with-no-apologies brand of comedy that misses its mark. It comes across as aggressive and rude.
You don't get to assign your own meaning to words that offend people, especially when it comes to slurs. Just like white people aren't capable of reclaiming the "N-word," cishet men simply can't reclaim slurs levied against the LGBTQ+ community. And if he does consider this a possibility, he can't accuse his audience of being hypersensitive. Chappelle is way too intelligent for us to behave as if he doesn't grasp the context of the word "fag" in today's climate. It isn't just a word. And It's not particularly comedic.
11 He Treats Homosexuality As If It's A Phase
Chappelle's usage the word "fag" is the distinct idea that men who have sexual encounters with other men in prison are simply "experimenting." It's a common way that Queer and Bisexual people are erased or told they need to pick a side. His words are a part of a narrative that sees sexuality as something people choose, rather than the way someone is born. It's honestly painful to listen to because it really undermines sexuality. And as much as he otherwise professes to be in support of gay people, this discounts his supposed allyship.
If Dave Chappelle was the ally to the LGBTQ+ community that he claims, he wouldn't be fostering an environment that finds humor in false stereotypes. But that's what he does all throughout his specials, and has done throughout his career. These were the kind of jokes we found funny in the '80s when Eddie Murphy was doing Delirious and Raw, but it's certainly not funny in a more woke and understanding world.
10 He Refers To Trans People As 'Trannies'
This almost doesn't need to be said. I mean, another comedian, Michael Che, comments on this in his own stand-up special really well. He says that a trans person told him, "Would you like being called Blacky?" and he suddenly understood why "tranny" might not entirely be a positive term to use.
Chappelle, however, finds it easy to fling around a term like "tranny" which is demeaning and rude. It's reductive and it gives his special the shock value I'm sure he was looking for, but it's inaccurate and super unfunny. In general, the terms he uses to refer to oppressed groups give me the impression that he sees speaking respectfully as a huge burden on his soul. It also crystallizes my belief that he doesn't understand gender identity. I mean, in general, he shows an enormous lack of sympathy or patience with trans issues and he hides behind the guise of bold humor.
9 He Thinks Gay Couples Follow Heteronormative Gender Roles
Often with gay couples, there's the idea that one of them (usually the one perceived as more feminine) is "the woman" or "the wife." It's honestly a tired stereotype and perpetuates the idea that gay men aren't real men because of their sexuality. It's harmful because it's inaccurate and demeaning.
So when Dave Chappelle doesn't think it's a big deal that marriage certificates read "husband and wife," and that gay couples should simply decide who has to be the wife, he is showing a lack of sensitivity for the way gay couples want their nuances understood. He declares that whichever person is "gayer" (!) should be the wife—as if homosexuality is a spectrum based on how feminine you perform.
But I guess, it's not surprising that this is Chappelle's take considering he thinks that men responsible for childcare are being emasculated. I merely had higher expectations for him considering he has always challenged and upended racial stereotypes. I thought he would tread with more care and sophistication with regards to other oppressed groups. He discusses how difficult black people have it throughout his specials, but then simultaneously shames gay men and makes them seem effeminate, and it's confusing AF. Perhaps he is only capable of validating the types of oppression that affect him personally.
8 He Acts Like Transgender People Are Operating On A Whim
First of all, Dave Chappelle clearly doesn't understand the difference between gender and sex, which contributes to the tone-deafness of his bit on trans people. Gender refers to the social roles we assign people, usually based on their sexual parts, but we are understanding now that sex doesn't necessarily inform gender in its entirety. So when he talks about trans people and brings up sex reassignment surgery, he operates under the assumption that all trans people elect to go through with this surgery.
And then, to top it off, he talks about sex reassignment surgery the same way one would discuss a teenager getting a spontaneous tattoo. He describes a scenario where trans women simply wake up one day, decide to cut their penises off, and welcome friends to join them - which is so inaccurate that it's painful to hear. The decision to undergo sex assignment surgery is deeply personal, it would never be positioned as a group activity, and it's certainly not a whim.
7 He Acts Like Transgender People Are Interested In Tricking Cishet Men
Frequently when I ask men why they are transphobic, I hear that they are unapologetically so because they don't want to be tricked into sleeping with a trans woman... They subscribe to this idea that trans women are hoping to deceive them when that's literally never the case. Trans women merely want to exist without criticism or shame from others.
Despite this, we see this myth play out frequently in movies like the Hangover 2 or the Crying Game, and in Chappelle's comedy. He isn't describing a lived experience that frequently occurs, or a common goal for trans women, but furthering belief in a myth. In reality, tropes like this turn a trans woman's mere existence into a lie. It perpetuates the idea that trans women aren't real women, and blames them for straight men who are attracted to them. It dissuades them from flirting or being social in public spaces, lest they unintentionally cause someone to think they have different sexual parts. So when Chappelle positions sex reassignment surgery as a means for trans women to trick men, he is describing something ugly and incorrect, but the audience still squeezes out a laugh.
6 He Only Mentions Concern For Women Who Are Wives, Daughters, Aunts—But, Not Every Day Women
Dave Chappelle identifies himself as a feminist. He says this is the case because he, along with many men in the world, have mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts who they care about. Often, this is the male justification for feminism, but it ignores the women who aren't someone's wife or daughter. This way of thinking pretends that women are only as important as their proximity to men, rather than important as human beings.
He also jokes about asking someone's mother to perform oral on him so that he won't press charges against her son. Then, he laughs, declaring he would never do that to someone's mother. It's not even a funny joke, and the reality is that you shouldn't manipulate women. Period. When he says he wouldn't do that to someone's mother, what he's also saying is that he would do that to someone with no proximity to men and that's ugly AF.
A woman doesn't have to be someone's mother, or daughter, or sister to be safe from unwelcome sexual advances. The fact that the only feminism Dave Chappelle sees as important is the kind that protects women who are related to men. And in some way, this tells me that he isn't actually as feminist as he claims.
5 He Treated Feminists Like A Monolith
Furthering my belief that Dave Chappelle has no idea what feminism actually entails, he describes a fan by saying he knew she was a feminist because she was wearing a plaid shirt and had a short haircut. I mean, as a feminist who doesn't fit that description at all, I don't understand that characterization. There are tons of women who ignore gender norms and don't participate in feminism. There are tons of women who follow gender norms and participate in feminism. He treats feminists as a monolith and then pretends to be a feminist himself... And it hurts his comedy show after all of the awful ways he promotes stereotypes.
Dave Chappelle in his prime was a comedian who challenged stereotypes so I'm not understanding why new 2017 Chappelle returns to comedy, does the opposite, and is being praised for it. His warning at the beginning of the special to "man up" suggests that we need to bravely accept the ugly, stereotypical way he sees the world. And that's messed up.
4 He Doesn't Think Men Can Be Gynecologists
Chappelle thinks male gynecologists encounter a conflict of interest when they see patients. Not only does he describe a scenario where he accompanies his wife to the doctor and isn't willing to let a doctor examine her, but he wonders aloud if gynecologists lick their fingers after touching their patients. Which is gross and also, implies that men are not in control of their sexual impulses (even in a work environment).
Perhaps Dave Chappelle is speaking from his own personal experiences here, telling us that he isn't capable of controlling his urges. Or maybe he's attempting to make a joke out of the men who can't. Neither, unfortunately, is very funny. A lot of male gynecologists maintain professionalism as they practice. So I'm not understanding his disbelief in this situation. Plus, not every male gynecologist is necessarily straight, so how does he explain those with no desire for a vagina? Considering he doesn't see gay men as real men, I'm not surprised this didn't occur to him.
3 He Misgenders Trans People
Chappelle looks at the audience and claims he's in support of trans people. As he's done the same thing regarding women and gay people. We already have a blueprint for where this is going.
He immediately follows this admission by saying that he doesn't feel the need to contribute to someone else's self image. (He says that with regards to using the proper pronouns for trans people.) Trans people are forced to perform a gender that isn't their own for their entire lives as is, but refusing to acknowledge the pronouns they prefer to go by makes it seem like their gender isn't real. Laverne Cox has often stated that misgendering is violence, although many people disagree or claim it's NBD.
Basically, misgendering a trans person removes them from their identity and it's dehumanizing. But more importantly, it's a way of exerting power over an oppressed person. It's a way of saying that someone's characterization of a trans person is more important than their actual identity - which is a form of psychological abuse. I'm not sure how Chappelle can make light of a situation like that, or why switching pronouns for someone else is so difficult for him.
2 He Erases Queer As A Sexual Identity
When he points out queerness to people he perceives as only temporarily homosexual, he is also erasing all of the people who claim Queer as their sexual identity. Queer refers to people with non-binary sexualities that aren't specifically heterosexual or homosexual. It's especially important considering gender can be non-binary. When we see gender as a spectrum, we realize sexuality also needs to exist on a spectrum. These are the sexualities that Queer describes, as an umbrella term. It is distinctly different from bisexual and doesn't represent a person who is claiming a sexuality that isn't theirs, as Chappelle suggests.
As a whole, I think Dave Chappelle's comedy is hinged on a desire to poke fun at members of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Throughout his comedy, he makes sure that the struggles of that entire community are joked about, although he can seemingly show respect for the struggles that black men face every day. Which brings me to my next point.
1 He Compares Black Oppression To Trans Oppression, As If They Never Intersect
Lastly, he compares the struggles of black men who face systemic oppression to the struggles of trans people. He claims that he doesn't want to participate in an oppression Olympics, but he does when he claims that black men face more oppression than trans people. This assertion is incorrect because it ignores the fact that black men CAN be trans. It ignores the fact that black trans men and women both face levels of discrimination and encounter police brutality. It acts as if black transgender women aren't being murdered at alarmingly high rates, or as if black trans people aren't statistically more likely to be sexually assaulted.
Chappelle claims that black men are throwing on pairs of heels because they face less oppression by claiming a transgender identity. But being transgender isn't as simple as throwing on a pair of shoes. It's deeper than that but he clearly misses this point.