Bad Taste v. Free Speech: Does Dave Chappelle Cross the Line in his Netflix Specials?

Dave Chappelle has long been known for his crass humor, incendiary remarks, and wanton political incorrectness. He uses frequent profanity and smokes on stage. He ridicules transgender people, Asian audience members, and celebrities in equal member. He opens his Netflix special trying to prove he can land a joke with a punchline about kicking a woman in her genitalia. There is no universe in which you could argue he is a comic for the soft-hearted. So is his comedy going too far in the wake of the #MeToo Movement? This argument I believe comes down to one of political correctness, something that Chappelle regularly scoffs at, saying early on in the special “as a rule, I don’t feel bad about anything I say up here.” That’s all fine and good; if we start limiting what people can say for fear of offending other people, we enter into a dangerous and slippery slope of censorship. However, what is a problem is trying to diminish or defend the gross misdeeds of powerful men in Hollywood like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK.

The latter man is a frequent subject of Dave Chappelle’s recent comedy special The Bird Revelation. A longtime friend of Chappelle’s, Louis CK is a stand-up comedian also caught up in the #MeToo Movement who was accused of masturbating in front of a number of unwilling women, many of them fellow comedians. This is disgusting behavior but in a New York Times article titled “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment”, they point out that Chappelle doesn’t seem to be as upset about it as many others, saying that the woman who reported CK’s behavior had a “brittle spirit”. The article muses that his bit about the misconduct “often have the feel of someone digging a hole to prove he can escape.” But they also note that it seems “like tired shtick.” People seem to be less amenable to his brand of hyper-offensive, “shock-jock” style of comedy. One must therefore ask the question of whether he goes too far with his apparent minimization of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, or whether people are being too thin-skinned in the face of

While I agree with him that there is definitely a more conscious sentiment with most Americans nowadays, I don’t believe they are necessarily “brittle”; they are more concerned with helping fight discrimination now than they were in the past, more willing to speak up about injustice (and they now have a much stronger voice because of social media). I would never want to prevent Chappelle from saying whatever he wants to say, but I do think he and other comedians with his style of humor will have to accept that what audiences found funny 10+ years ago they will no longer find funny today in the wake of these widespread scandals. What is important though is that people be allowed to say what they want in a comedic setting, even if we don’t find it funny; it’s a right of all Americans to be crass and potentially insensitive, and a comedic setting provides a more cathartic environment to discuss otherwise depressing and even painful subjects. Comedians can be very blunt and direct with criticisms and analyses of current events under the umbrella of comedy and a lot of good can come of their discussion, bringing to light issues and various perspectives that other mediums would be afraid to broach.

But does Chappelle’s special offer this kind of frank discussion of the issues? Or is he minimizing the experiences of the victims in order to defend his friends and heroes who have been caught up in scandal. Paste Magazine argues that it most certainly does not in an article titled “Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement”. Writer Jamie Loftus says that Chappelle did the piece as “his way of exercising his right to ‘fuck around.’” But to Loftus, that means he didn’t “come prepared to talk about one of the most significant national conversations of the decade but still inexplicably devote your entire set to it.” That he “assumes he will be able to riff out a comedic symphony, and does not.” His material doesn’t spark the kind of new perspectives and icebreaking commentary on the issue, meaning he comes off as an ignorant dick who cares more about his hero Bill Cosby and his friend Louis CK than he does about the victims who started the #MeToo Movement.

But despite all this, Loftus argues that there is some merit to this; she says “The Bird Revelation isn’t interesting to me for its comedic value, because it’s not insightful, memorable or particularly funny given Chappelle’s bar of excellence. Instead, think of it as a time capsule, a way to capture a very particular system of thinking just as that system of thinking is becoming a massive liability.” And this is true. American audiences in the past have been far too willing to overlook the transgressions of artists and entertainers because we are seriously entrenched in a celebrity culture; we worship the funny people we see on TV and the great auteurs that create masterpieces on the big screen. One need only look at Roman Polanski and Woody Allen’s continuing body of work that “great men” get almost unlimited leeway in our culture.

Is this way of thinking changing however? I’d like to end with a look at an article from The Guardian titled “Kevin Spacey deserves to be scorned. But can I still watch House of Cards?” Author Hannah Jane Parkinson asks whether or not it is wrong to appreciate works of art by deeply flawed artists. She wonders whether we “should regard artists as products of their times” but then says that “nothing ever changed when good people did nothing.” If we continue to allow artists to do work after committing heinous acts like rape or assault, we continue to give passes to them because of their talent. So she says “good, may they never work again,” a sentiment I fully agree with. But the hard question is whether or not “we also stop appreciating their oeuvre”. This is a challenging question and one that Parkinson notes could have many factors. Does the artist’s transgression make a difference? Can we appreciate the art of someone who masturbated in front of a woman but not someone who raped a drugged 13-year old? Do we regard them as a product of their time, giving leeway to old artists for whom racism was commonplace? The problem I see is that these rules are subjective; what some people would find unforgivable others would be willing to overlook if they liked the artwork enough. And while I personally think we should be able to separate art from artist and appreciate it outside of the transgressions of the creator, in most cases doing so provides financial support and name recognition to the artist, so it is certainly a wicked problem and one that I honestly don’t have a good answer for. I see the draw to both sides and would not be willing to put forth an absolute position either way.

Controversy in all Directions

Sensitive subjects are not only appropriate for stand up comedy, but often perfect for it. Sensitive subjects usually only have a single narrative surrounding them in the news so when a comic can get up on stage and say something different it can be very refreshing. Dave Chappelle covers the #MeToo movement and naturally things got a little controversial. The listed news articles mentioned a couple of the jokes from his special out of context and the writers sounded too sensitive to be listening to comedy in the first place. When he talks about the female comic who had her dream of comedy “ruined” from Louie CK jerking off in front of her and calls her brittle spirited, I completely agree. She’s a comic, other female comics could have even made a joke off of it and continued with their careers. Comic moments like this balance out sensational events and act as devil’s advocate to help you create an opinion on a matter 90% the same as your original opinion, but now slightly slightly more realistic.

With Kevin Spacey, I think it was right for Netflix to cancel House of Cards, but to consider not watching the show anymore or not watching his movies anymore is a little overboard in my opinion. I care more about the media than the drama in the background much like with music. I was watching House of Cards a month ago when my roommates started making some actually hilarious Spacey jokes. I kept watching the show with the added giggles but it didn’t bother me. The key I think is to be lighthearted sometimes. One person who is undeniably disgusting is Harvey Weinstein and though Dave Chapelle makes a controversial joke about it, he mentions how terrifying it all must have been for female actors to be in their positions. He mentions how if he was in a meeting and the guy whipped his dick out he would be terrified too. Dave isn’t defending anyone in these specials but he is playing around and finding funny angles on the stories. This is a dangerous strategy and it fails occasionally, but I think that overall he is pretty funny and that his ideas are relatively grounded.

Louie C.K.’s career has undeniably ended because he pulled his penis out multiple times to female colleagues and it all happened in recent history. It appears that Kevin Spacey’s career is over as well but I don’t know if that is totally fair. The accusations happened something like 30 years ago and I believe it is entirely possible that he’s a different man now so maybe this controversy shouldn’t be his end in the entertainment industry. I could be wrong but I just know from personal experience that I evolve as a person every so often.

In general however I don’t tend to spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of news because it doesn’t benefit me in anyway to do so. I dwelled on Louie C.K.’s controversy for a few days because it was so shocking to me, but then I moved passed it. It just makes me feel uncomfortable to focus on such an ugly topic for so long. Does that mean that Dave Chappelle’s bits on the #MeToo movement and all of this controversy were unpleasant to me? In part, yes. Though Dave did had plenty of funny moments and was mostly on point, I just don’t want to hear of the subject matter to begin with. So to read articles written by very sensitive and passionate people who are essentially yelling at Chappelle for being insensitive and wrong about how he covered these topics was like nails on a chalkboard. It just feels like a waste of time and slightly like tabloid news. Also I do love Dave Chappelle, but I just hope he moves on to a different subject matter for his next special.

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Netflix handled these controversies by just firing the actor involved. When people did not like 13 Reasons Why, Netflix told them they did not have to watch the show.  I read the articles that were by, Jason Zinoman, Jamie Loftus, and Ben Travers.  The one about Danny Masterson was useless to me because I did not watch the show and it only spoiled it and then talked about how hard it would be to watch the last season because they do not like Danny Masterson.  The other two that I read just kind of shit on Dave Chappelle and after watching the special we were assigned I am not sure why they did this because I thought his special was great.
Dave Chappelle in his special Equanimity and The Bird Revelation was a great special with hilarious jokes and he also made a lot of great points when talking about Weinstein, Spacey, and Louis C.K.  The articles about him said all of his jokes were bad and made in poor taste, but in my opinion that is just wrong.  After watching these specials I thought his jokes were really funny, and he said a lot of things that some people needed to hear, but did not want to hear.  When he talks about Spacey, I will admit some of those jokes were bad, However when he talked about Weinstein and C.K. he made a lot of great points.  When he spoke about the woman who said that Louis was masturbating while he was talking to her on the phone, Chappelle asked why she couldn’t just hang up the phone.  When he was talking about the woman who said he comedy career was ruined when Louis masturbated in front of her, and that if MLK Jr. had done the same thing, then nothing would have gotten done.  Chappelle was saying that yes it was horrible that it happened to her, but that she could have walked away and even though she didn’t that should not have said her comedy career was ruined.  Also one of the articles mentioned that during his special The Bird Revelation there were a lot of awkward silences and this was bad.  I did not think they silences were awkward but I also think they were intended and important because in those moments he was not making a joke but instead he was saying something that was actually important.  He incorporates all of this into his routine very well, and in my opinion by making jokes and saying things that needed to be said even though it was not to get laughs.  I also do agree with him when he says things that the audiences do have “brittle ears” and “brittle spirits,” because I think many people do.  I think a lot of people are very sensitive to hearing certain things, and that people also have trigger words. Once they hear these trigger words, they may not listen to what is said and they just get upset.  I also believe that these sensitive subjects are appropriate because comedy and jokes can be a different platform to talk on about these subjects.  This is because a joke can make it seem just a little lighter and this can get people to open up more and listen a little easier to what needs to be said.  I think incorporating them is definitely positive as long as it is done right, and I believe that Chappelle does do it right.  I also think it can be cathartic for some because comedy and jokes can make the subject seem a little lighter, not to take away from how serious the situations can be, but to instead just make it easier to talk about.  I also can see how to the victims of these situations it can seem hurtful and rude because it actually happened to them.  However, I believe that Chappelle’s platform has always been comedy but he wanted to say something meaningful and therefore he did still have to make jokes so that people would listen to it.

Seriously?

In her article “Kevin Spacey deserves to be scorned.  But can I still watch House of Cards?”, Hannah Jane Parkinson delves into the uncomfortable question, how do we treat the art created by men in the entertainment industry who we know to have (sometimes allegedly) sexually assaulted people?  It’s a big question.  Some of my own favorite actors have been accused of sexual misconduct.  Really, Morgan Freeman?  For television streaming giant Netflix the answer seemed obvious.  Fire them.  Now.  Cut all ties, condemn their behavior, and move on.  To some, this may have seemed extreme, but it made it clear whose side Netflix is on…or did it?  I would love to believe that this move by Netflix is an altruistic one however, few things are that simple.  Following a series of missteps which included breaches of customer privacy, pay disputes, the use of ASD stereotypes in Atypical, and the questionable handling of sensitive issues like sexual assault and substance abuse, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Netflix didn’t want to leave themselves vulnerable by keeping actors like Kevin Spacey and Danny Masterson on their shows.  But is this enough?  For more on that, I encourage you to read Hannah Jane Parkinson’s article linked above.  Afterall, firing these two actors isn’t the only link Netflix has to the #MeToo movement.

“Everything is funny until it happens to you.”  -Dave Chappelle, The Bird Revelation, 2017

It’s no secret that the #MeToo movement has empowered women all over the world to speak their truth and hold accountable the men who have harmed them.  No one with a halfway decent moral compass thinks this is wrong.  The women of the #MeToo movement work hard to own their stories, standing with one another in solidarity.  But where does that leave men, especially men who in the entertainment industry?  Dave Chappelle has learned first hand that it can leave men like him between a rock and a hard place.  In her article “Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement”, writer/comedian Jamie Loftus slams Chappelle’s’ latest comedy special on Netflix, The Bird Revolution.  But is she being fair?  Is she even being realistic?  In his article, “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment”, writer Jason Zinoman shares a quote from iconic comedian Steve Martin, “Comedy is not pretty.”  This is something I think we all need to remember when we choose to attend or watch a comedy show.  If you don’t like it or find it offensive then don’t watch it.  It would be no different if someone were to go to the Women’s March and then complain that they were bombarded with pro-feminist speeches, what do people think they are signing up for?  A vast majority of comedy today uses offensive material and there is very little in this world that is off limits to comedians.  So let’s look a little closer at Dave’s last two comedy specials on Netflix, The Bird Revolution and Equanimity.

While Chappelle may appear to be an equal opportunity offender to some, he does seem to think about the issues he incorporates in his shows.  In Equanimity Chappelle addresses his comedy about transgender people, taking the time to relay an experience he had reading a letter from a transgender fan who had been hurt by his set.  Anyone with eyes could see that, while he doesn’t generally worry about peoples responses, he felt bad that this fan had left his show feeling the way they had.  In fact, throughout both of his last two specials, Chappelle took time to try and seriously address important social issues.  And that is where people like Jamie Loftus took the opportunity to pounce and try to make him look bad.  The #MeToo movement and the experience that led to the movement hasn’t just affected women.  For the vast majority of women directly affected there are men in their lives who also feel the effects of these horrendous experiences.  So it only seems natural that men who have women in their lives would want to stand up and address the movement and experiences that led to it.  Chappelle is even more closely affected because he both has women he loves and will protect at all costs, and one of his friends Louis C.K. is one of the offenders.  Of course, he wants or feels like he needs to make his voice heard.  When we evaluate his words I think it’s important to remember that he is only human, imperfect and complicated just like everyone else.  Did he make light of Louis C.K.’s offense against a female comedian?  Yes.  Was it appropriate? I don’t know, after all, it is comedy.  And he did follow it up by questioning what MLK would’ve done had he been in the female comedian’s place.  Was it harsh for him to criticize the female comedians “brittle spirit”? Possibly, but again it’s comedy.  For me when these are the criticisms that people like Loftus choose to focus on they end up throwing away an ally.  It is clear in The Bird Revolution that Chappelle is still processing the whole situation, and he makes some very wise observations.  He was absolutely correct when he said that “Fear does not make lasting peace.  Ask Black people.”  He was correct when he tied the type of change and healing we need in this country to end of Apartheid in South Africa and the efforts of Desmond Tutu and Mandela.  But when we let ourselves get got up in overcriticizing the art of comedy for being what it is, we lose sight of the important messages we can find in it.

 

Did Chappelle cross the line, or does society need to consider where the line is drawn?

David Chappelle is hilarious. I really enjoyed both of his comedy specials because they were so refreshing! I personally believe that America is way too sensitive and just liked Chappelle said “how did we get so sensitive?” The topics he discussed are considered to be very sensitive ones like the rape allegations of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. He also talks about transgenders and politics which are two more really sensitive topics right now. He brings comedy to these topics and lightens them up which is what America needs. I didn’t find any of his jokes offensive, just honest. He was telling his truth and his point of view on particular topics which is his first amendment right. If you don’t agree with him and find what he says repulsing then don’t watch it. I think people get confused sometimes. Comedians aren’t politicians. They make a living being politically incorrect because it’s funny. They are up on that stage to make jokes, not raise awareness about issues going on the country.

In the article “Kevin Spacey Deserves to be Scorned. But Can I Still Watch House of Cards?” written by Hannah Parkinson dives into a very complex question: Can we still enjoy art, music, movies, tv shows, etc. if the creator or star is morally a bad person. I find myself saying yes. Yes we can still enjoy things even if the creator of that thing is a bad person. I never liked House of Cards, but there are so many people out there in the world that really enjoy the show and I don’t think they should feel guilty for still liking it, or wanting to continue to watch it when it does come back, if it does come back. Chappelle makes a joke saying that if only the allegations about Kevin Spacey had waited another six months then everyone would know how House of Cards ended. I thought this joke was funny because it sucks being so involved with a show and then it just abruptly ending without any closure. Don’t get me wrong, the allegations are awful, but people can’t just turn their emotions and likes and dislikes on and off like a switch.

The one thing I did find to be cringe worthy was him trying to say he knows what these women have been through and what they’re going through because of slavery. There is a lot wrong with this. He’s not a slave and never was a slave. He’s an intelligent, wealthy, funny black man living a free life in America. He knows what slavery was like because of stories that have been told, but we all know these stories. Being a slave was awful! They were beaten, raped, separated from their families, sold off like donkeys, killed, etc. Being a slave is way worse in comparison of being rapped, not saying being raped is not a horrible act, it’s just incomparable to the idea of slavery. He says he understands the fear these women have been through because he’s a black man living in America. I disagree with this completely. It’s unfortunate that there is still racism in this country, but being a woman and having to be on guard all of the time because some men don’t know how to keep it in their pants is very different. I agree with Jamie Loftus when she says that it was a very weak comparison.

The Zinoman article is interesting because he says that Chappelles jokes are risky, but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. For example, Zinoman talks about the joke Chappelle made about if Brad Pitt had done the same thing as Weinstein then the girls wouldn’t have had a problem with it, but it’s not that different than what Chris Rock said in one of his shows in the 90’s. He also recognized that not everything Chappelle says is a joke. Sometime he would get serious and say serious statements to get people to think. He warns women that fear is not the answer because once fear is gone then those actions take a turn for the worse. He is stating an opinion. If people decide to listen to it then great and if not then cool. He’s a comedian and says what is on his mind even if people don’t agree with him.

 

Dave Chappelle was Right; Everyone is too Damn Sensitive

With the movement of the #MeToo Movement, we are seeing the true light of men in Hollywood as well as men in general on how they treat their women counterparts. And I should start off by saying that yes, I am a supported of the MeToo Movement, I am a supporter of transgender people and I consider myself to be a very liberal person, however I do agree that people are too sensitive when they can’t handle a joke about things going on in our current world. When watching Dave Chappelle it was like a sigh of relief for someone to finally be saying jokes and not being afraid to say them, because someone has to say them.

When it comes to Chappelle talking about the sexual abuse scandals that is happening around the country, I think that it’s good he’s talking about it. He is pointing a finger at these people saying yeah that is fucked up, but we should be able to still laugh about it as it lets people reflect on the absurdity of it all. A good example of this is when he is talking about Louis C.K. and starts making a mockery of him “busting a nut” on his stomach. It’s ridiculous to think that someone could actually do this in front of someone he barely knows, but he did it, so we should laugh at him. Chappelle is not defending these abusers in any way from my watching of his specials. He incorporates these topics by using his own experiences as a way to connect to what these women have gone through, and this is where I draw my only line. You cannot compare the struggle black people have gone through in this country with the abuse that these women are going through in their home and workplaces. Yes, they are problems that need to be addressed, but they are so different in their complexities with society that they cannot be compared as being the same. Sarah Solemani quotes Amy Schumer, ““All women have been a little bit raped” and this is much more serious and urgent matter in the eyes of some. It also diminished the importance of the MeToo Movement because he’s saying that he can understand what they’re going through. No he can’t though. He is a successful man who has never been sexually harassed by a higher up in his life. He has no idea what’s it like to have your dream hang on the balance of giving a handjob or not.

This brings me to the topic of “being brittle” and having “brittle ears” to which I agree with him 100%. As said before, people now are too sensitive. They hear a joke that’s related to them, and they get offended. These jokes are not means to hurt you individually, if anything they are just playing on the stereotypes that everyone already knows. Chappelle also talks about being brittle and the woman who gave up her comedy dream because Louis C.K. took advantage of her, and I agree with Chappelle that she did have a “brittle dream.” To just give up on your passion like that because of one asshole trying to take advantage of you, that’s called giving up. It doesn’t make it right what Louis C.K. did to her in the slightest, but to lose all sense of your goal is brittle. There is also the question on whether or not these men can continue their work, or if we should appreciate their past work now that we know the true side of them, and Hannah Jane Parkinson poses the question, “if artists we enjoy claim no moral content or purpose to their work: ‘Why can we not enjoy it without worrying whether they were good or bad people?'” I don’t think I have a solid answer for this.

I will say however that there are other instances of sexual abuse that go far beyond masturbation in front of someone, such as Harvey Weinstein pressuring women for sex to get a role, and this is a very serious matter, and I don’t think that Chappelle is defending that in any way.  He jokes about the inappropriateness of these men’s actions saying, “Sounds like a fucking nightmare, can you imagine that shit, can you imagine if you was in a business meeting and a motherfucker PULLED THEIR DICK OUT?!” He’s demonstrating the absolute horror that these women have gone through, and that women will still go through as long as these men are still in charge.

I think that comedy can make fun of everything, that’s why we listen. Jason Zinoman agrees with this on a certain extend saying  that “quoting Steve Martin, is not pretty. But when Mr. Chappelle says some of the sexual assault victims speaking out are now experiencing “buyer’s remorse,” a particularly cruel turn of phrase, this is surely not the funniest thing he can think of.” It’s probably not the funniest thing he could think of, but everyone could understand what he’s trying to say. The point of comedy is to push peoples buttons and make them see the lighter side of life. Chappelle does this very well. Even more so, he doesn’t just go into a bunch of cheap jokes, he gets much more serious in his act, especially when talking about Emmett Till in Equanimity. He doesn’t sugarcoat what happened to that boy, and he says the truth about that woman. If it wasn’t for her lie, who knows what the country would look like now in terms of reaching for racial equality. Yes it is a horrible, unforgivable thing that her lie murdered an innocent boy, but who knows how many lives were changed because of that lie. Then Chappelle follows up his joke with the punchline “then I would kick her in the pussy” and it’s funny. He made us think and take a step back to the realities that are in our history and in our country today, but he still makes us laugh.

Dave Chappelle and the Tightrope of Provocative Comedy

Comedy, despite popular opinion, is not an easy skill to master. As comedy depends on surprising an audience, no comedian can rely on the same tricks over and over expecting any kind of success. The audience will eventually get bored and cease laughing. Because of this, there can be no standard of comedy that comedians can follow. While there are some characteristics that remain for the most part true over time, comedy must constantly be reinvented in order to maintain its edge. This becomes especially true for comedians that attempt to make compelling statements about society or societal issues in their comedy, as what is considered provocative and what is considered over the line is constantly changing, and in reality is completely different for each individual. In this way, a comedian’s job of pleasing an entire crowd is literally impossible; there is simply no way of ensuring that your comedy will reach every member of an audience the way that you intend. I, personally, am of the opinion that there is no such thing as ‘over the line’ when it comes to comedy. Comedians should be given free reign to make any kind of statement they want because that is their job. In other words, comedians’ job is to be unrestricted and comment about whatever they please. However, while I do believe comedians should be allowed to make fun of whatever they want, I also believe that they have an obligation to do it in a way that is tactful, and more importantly, funny.

Dave Chappelle has always been a comedian that toes the line of what can be considered appropriate. His old hit show, The Chappelle Show, made a lot of striking commentary surrounding many issues, mostly race, and did it in a way that was extremely humorous and memorable. However I have to say, his new comedy specials The Bird Revelation and Equanimity lack the same kind of comedic edge that allowed viewers of The Chappelle Show to laugh along with his more offensive humor. Again, Dave Chappelle has never been one to shy away from controversial topics, and that has not changed. In these two specials, Chappelle tackles issues such as rape, sexual abuse among popular celebrities, and the #MeToo movement. And as expected, he does so very unapologetically, saying whatever he feels is pertinent without holding back any of his more controversial opinions. This is, too a degree, refreshing, and a reminder of what comedians are supposed to be: challengers of the social norm. However, they way Chappelle talks about these issues is often very hit or miss. On one hand, his sardonic wit hasn’t dulled, and his comedic timing is often impeccable. On the other hand however, his lack of tact and propensity to victim-blame often makes his jokes come across as offensive only for the sake of being offensive. In other words, a lot of his humor seems to be trying to to provoke a reaction out of the audience more so than actually attempting to have them question their ways of thinking. I know that, to a degree, this is sort of the point. Chappelle states numerous times that peoples’ ears are “Too brittle” these days, and he is attempting to challenge that notion by pushing people to their breaking point. However, by focusing on the controversy instead of the message, Chappelle risks making his stand-up come across as childish instead of provocative. But beyond all of that, Chappelle’s biggest mistake in these specials is that his jokes often simply aren’t that funny. I feel as though the audience would be much more willing to forgive the nature of these jokes if they found themselves laughing at them more often than they do. As it stands, the awkward silences that often separate his weaker material screams louder than any of the jokes that actually land, and that is a major problem. Perhaps the best example of this would be his joke about the Weinstein scandal where he states that if the criminal had been Brad Pitt, the situation would have been taken much less seriously. This joke is not only outdated and offensive, but also tired. As Jason Zinoman notes in his article about these specials, the joke has been done before by Chris Rock, and it wasn’t especially funny then either.

I believe that people should stop criticizing Dave Chappelle for his controversial statements and begin criticizing him for the real problem: his sudden inability to make us laugh. Because a comedian can’t be faulted for speaking his mind, but he can be for not being funny.

Netflix and Controversy: Blurred Lines Between Artists and Their Work

How Netflix treats shows which are wrapped in controversy varies, as do my feelings towards it. The fact that House of Cards took a major hit due to the actions of one man evokes some sympathy from me (for the show and everyone else working on it, not for Spacey). Compare that to Netflix’s backlash from 13 Reason’s Why’s treatment of suicide, and I feel a lot less sympathetic because that controversy is due to the actions and decisions of many people. The line between art and artists is a blurry one, but I do not think one should simply cast out a person as well as their work for their misdeeds. Casting out the person is, of course, debatable depending on what they have done.

Personally, I feel like the Paste article pulled many of Chappelle’s jokes out of context, which makes them sound much worse than they are, when explaining why Loftus did not like many of his comments. Are Chappelle’s jokes raunchy and was a cringing through my laughter of his jokes? Very much so. Were the jokes still relevant and got me thinking? Yes, which I think is the point. It started a conversation about a modern topic in a casual setting, which I think is one of the biggest  purposes of comedians, right next to making people laugh.

I agree with Parkinson’s comment about how remorse needs to be taken into account when considering artist’s work who have done something awful in the past. While they said they are glad Weinstein had been “tossed in the trash” and I agree with that, I also feel like we need to be careful with this “cancel culture” which is developing. Now, Weinstein and others are exceptions after numerous accounts of wrongdoings again and again to the point where they are undeniable. However, I do not think it is a good idea to automatically dismiss an artist and all of their works the moment anyone hears that they did something immoral ten or more years ago. Primarily, so much culture would be lost in this case; culture which took many, many people to create should not be dismissed on account of one person. Sure, in the case of Spacey, he was the lead actor in House of Cards, but why does that mean we must stop watching the show where hundreds of other people poured their hearts and souls into this work?

In comparison, the New York Times article by Zinoman took on more of a professional and respectful tone when it came to writing about Chappelle’s comedy skits which brings up how he talks about what everyone, including himself, is afraid to say. That, I think, is the purpose of comedy. Comedians need to wade into a gray area, and this is often where they find most of their material, because otherwise they might be hard pressed for jokes that are culturally relevant and start a conversation. Otherwise it would be difficult to draw the line in regards to what comedians can and cannot speak about, not to mention who gets to draw the line to begin with.

As someone who has never been sexually abused, it is difficult for me to say what is and is not respectful towards victims of sexual abuse. However, I can see how some of Chapelle’s jokes could be seen as disrespectful and harmful due to the crass nature of them, yet I have a hard time saying when a comedian should stop. I could say the same about Chappelle’s jokes about the transgender community, but again, I am not transgender so it is difficult for me to say what is and is not alright. In a way, I think Chappelle is right about the audience’s “brittle ears” and yet that is not a bad thing. Yes, people are offended often now, but I do not think it is because people are more easily offended. Rather, I think this is because people now feel as if they have the rights and the ability so speak out when they are being offended. So I do not think anything has changed, merely the climate has, which has brought about change in terms of how people deal with controversy and offense.

Comedy and #MeToo: What’s funny about victim blaming?

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Dave Chappelle. In middle school, I would stay up late tuning into The Chappelle Show and re-watched his stand up specials he recorded at the height of that era well into my senior year of high school. I knew he had stepped away from the show, but like all of us, I didn’t exactly know why. All I knew was that I desperately wanted him back on Television. I heard rumors that he was living in South Africa for a stint or he was actually out on some soul-searching journey in the middle of the Sahara. In “Equanimity,” Chappelle’s second to last Netflix special, he tells the audience that people thought he was smoking crack while he was out of the spotlight for 12 years. Living in a small town, watching Chappelle was my first introduction to a lot of racial issues. The way Chappelle lampooned and made fun of white people made me more self-aware of my upbringing and, in the long run, more cognizant of my own actions. But when Dave came back and talked about why he walked away from doing another season of The Chappelle Show and $50 million dollars, it was because the comedian felt that white audiences were using his comedy as a way to further perpetuate racism. And to be honest, I see that. I think Chappelle’s skits allowed me to safely laugh at black stereotypes without any further reflection on just what exactly I thought was so funny. Chappelle’s “Tyrone Biggum” sketches gave me a chance to laugh at a crack addict, which just so happens to be a prevalent stereotype facing the black community. Watching the show felt like an “in” for me with black culture without any of the real work of self-reflection. While Chappelle was being subversive and unapologetic, this wasn’t how the material was landing for a majority of his audience. So he left and had his “Paul Revere” moment as he puts it in “The Bird Revelation,” in a moment of biting self-awareness according to Jason Zinoman of the New York Times.

 

So Dave has been back for a little while and the world has changed in the 12 years he hasn’t been in show business. When it came time to watch his new stand up special, I didn’t know what to expect but I felt more uncomfortable than I expected to. As far as comedy specials go and how hilarious Chappelle has been the majority of his career, both “Equanimity” and “Bird Revelation” just aren’t that funny. Instead, what they offer is an examination or perhaps a confession of a mentality of a man who’s just beginning to question things in the wake of #MeToo. Of course, I knew that Dave was approaching middle-age and had been unplugged for a bit but what I wasn’t expecting was the comic to wax poetics about history and the sexual abuse allegations facing Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK. But how Chappelle does this is all the more confusing. During “Bird Revelation,” Chappelle tells women in the audience countless times that they are “right,” and offers anecdotes which are supposed to support the idea he understands what it’s like. In one moment Chappelle delivers painful honesty, admitting his own shortcomings before going on tangents, which make him sound like someone’s out-of-touch but well-intentioned uncle. And that’s pretty much how I felt while I watched his two specials, especially as a fan. This wasn’t the guy that made me laugh anymore, but like someone I had respected falling short of his responsibilities to be a better person.

 

But even crazier, perhaps that’s what Chappelle is going for here. Maybe he’s going for complete honesty through the guise of comedy even when it’s not funny and it’s certainly not pretty to touch on Zinoman’s quotation of Steve Martin. But it is honest and that might count for something. Good comedy ought to toe the line and make us revaluate societal standards. I would lie if Chappelle didn’t make me think about “trying the system” and “imperfect allies” but he deserves to be wrong too. This isn’t an excuse for men with platforms to say whatever they want and not face criticism. I would agree that Jamie Loftus’ proposal that these two specials can serve as a type of litmus test when it comes to men confronting problematic attitudes in other men. It’s my hope that this conversation can continue and it surely must if things are to change.

Are You Sure That Joke Is Funny?

When you go to see a comedian perform you have an expectation that the comedian will talk about every topic we are not supposed to talk about in public such as politics, religion, abortion, sexually violence and race. It is one thing to make jokes about these unstable topics, but when a comedian takes these topics and then places the blames on the victims, odds are most people wont handle this the jokes lightly. Recently Netflix has placed on their viewing list a standup comedy special The Bird revelation and Equanimity performed by comedian Dave Chappelle. Both shows are about an hour long, in which Chappelle tires to desperately make his audience laugh at the misfortunes of other people.

Dave Chappelle tries to take certain material that everyone in his audience is informed about, some how tries to relate to the subject being made fun of, but then completely back hands the subject by either blaming victims or telling people it is their fault. While Chappelle tries to make his audience laugh, he also continues to tell the audience that America is “too brittle.” He claims that America has become too sensitive and the Untied State use to be a country where no one talked about their feelings or were considered about hurting other peoples feelings. In an article published by The New York Times titled Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment states “he again leans on the gravitas of King to pivot from the pain caused by sexual misconduct. Mr. Chappelle criticizes the “brittle spirit” of the female comic who said Louis C.K. masturbated in front of the civil rights leader, prompting him to give up his movement.” In the second show Equanimity, Chappell continues to take jokes about celebrities who have been caught up in a serious sexual misconduct but plays them out like they are no big deal and rolls off the jokes as to brushing dirt under a rug. The New York Times article also speaks about the victims of the harassment wouldn’t complain if the harassment came from a handsome guy, “When suggesting a handsome man wouldn’t be accuses of assault and rape, he says that if Brad Pitt did what Mr. Weinstein did, the response would be different.” I understand Chappelle is trying to be funny and create jokes that are from recent media outlets, but talking about sexual misconduct is one aspect, but when you speak about the victims in these situations negatively, it comes off as selfless and classless.

When looking at sensitive and serious topics such as politics, religion, abortion, sexually violence and race, for the most part when speaking about these topics, they can lead to arguments among people, which will result in a negative connotation. However, with that being said, taking serious topics and placing them with humor can open up room for discussion that can leave a positive aftermath. With that being said though, in order for audience members to not get offended, there needs to be some kind a line Chappelle cant cross, just because he is a comedian, that does give him permission to rip sexual misconduct victims apart. In another article called Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement by Jamie Loftus, she writes, “As he puts it, this is his way of exercising his right to “fuck around.” Subtext of “fuck around”: not come prepared to talk about one of the most significant national conversations of the decade but still inexplicably devote your entire set to it. Subtext to “fuck around”: assumes he will be able to riff out a comedic symphony, and does not. Subtext to “fuck around”: fuck around, but it’s not funny or effective enough to deserve a major platform release.” If Chappelle keeps up the personalized aimed joke at innocent victims, eventually he will loose a lot of his fan base. Hannah Jane Parkinson author of Kevin Spacey deserves to be scorned. But can I still watch House of Cards?, writes in her article about if we should still continue watching certain films or show who have some kind of ties to people who have caught in a negative scandal. Parkinson states, “Clearly there is a difference between continuing to support an individual’s livelihood and appreciating their past work (especially if they’re dead). If the work is historic we can view it critically without actively supporting or enabling a dubious character. There’s also the consideration that if we cease to appreciate all historic art by badly behaved creators – well, would we be left with any art at all? I have to agree with Parkinson on the fact that the majority of badly behaved creators create the most interesting and awarding winning productions, however as the world continues to evolve, people will no longer allow great productions if certain creators are behaving badly. In Chappelle’s case, even though he hasn’t personally been involved with a case of the #MeToo movement, cracking crude joke about the hot topic wont make his career last much longer.

Jason Zinoman, “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment,” New York Times (January 2, 2018): https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/arts/television/dave-chappelle-netflix-special.html

Jamie Loftus, “Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement,” Paste (January 8, 2018): https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/01/dave-chappelle-cant-shock-jock- his-way-out-of-the.html

Hannah Jane Parkinson, “Kevin Spacey Deserves To Be Scorned. But Can I Still Watch House of Cards?” The Guardian (November 2, 2017): https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/02/kevin-spacey-deserves-scorned-watch- house-of-cards