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 “Comedy”

The two comedy shows that were assigned for this week, The Bird Revelation and Equanimity were very interesting and not like anything I have really watched before. I know that many comedy shows are typically insulting people and that is how they get their laughs but I feel like this one was really offensive. They did not do a great job at still respecting the issues that are current, they just insulted them with no backup. These shows were performed by Dave Chappelle, as his language was very controversial in both shows. He talked about women and how the actors were assaulting them and just how simple it was to walk away when in reality it is more complicated than that.

Unfortunately, it seems like comedy is no longer aiming to be funny rather it is just insulting. While Dave Chappelle is very successful and he is always making many laughs, his material should be changed. I did not think that his shows were funny. When all people can talk about is politics or the drama going on in the media, I feel like it is insulting. There are so many youtube skits under comedy that are just talking about everyday things or making fun of themselves that are actually funny. Drawing back to the sexual abuse victims that he told ‘jokes’ about. I can only imagine some of the people watching that who simply have to turn it off because they have experienced something similar to that. I just think that he needs to rethink his ‘jokes’ before making them public. In many cases, viewers will repeat what the comedian says to their friends or on social media, this creates a ripple effect. Then they turn into the bad guy by making fun of a sensitive subject to most. In a lot of cases, I think that he makes these types of jokes because it is something that everyone is able to relate to. Dave Chappelle tells America that we are too fragile and that being so sensitive will get us nowhere. As I personally agree with that and know that comedy is there to be laughed at, I think that he goes too far sometimes. But when you think about if sexual assault is a sensitive topic, then isn’t abortion, race, sexuality the list can go on and on. So when does the line stop? This blog post really made me think about these things and I came to the conclusion that, most of those topics are things you can choose. You can choose to have an abortion, can choose your sexuality so on… and I think that sexual assault is very controversial because it is not something you are able to choose. Although this is a bold statement to be made by myself, I think that it is something that is true and that I believe.

Netflix involving the #MeToo movement is something that was a great step forward for them. After the sexual assault involving Kevin Spacey, who made it very public was when the movement started. When house of cards stopped airing and a huge uproar began, it showed that Netflix was standing behind something greater. They were standing behind the public eye and not just their income. By respecting this movement, it did not help the company financially at first, but after a while, it was the best thing that they did. Having support from many viewers in these times of crisis will keep the loyalty. Personally, I was very upset when this happened as I loved that show. But after all of the media came out it was hard to make the distinction between the actor and the person. I know that I stood behind their decision as it was one that promoted Netflix for the better.

 

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.

Controversy in Netflix Comedy

After watching two of the comedy shows performed by Dave Chappelle, The Bird Revelation and Equanimity, I felt pretty offended. I think what made it worse too, was that Chappelle stated how easily people get offended these days, as if current issues featured in the media weren’t already difficult to talk about, he had to disrespect everyone who doesn’t take controversial issues lightly. From the shows, I got the feeling that Chappelle was advocating using language and upholding ideas that are just wrong. For example, in his show, The Bird Revelation, he talks about how the women who were assaulted by famous actors could have just walked away, said no, or hung up the phone, when in reality, assault, and all the things leading up to assault are much more complicated that what Chappelle makes them out to be.

Chappelle’s show was not funny. He didn’t make many jokes that were relatable to people; instead, he simply put down and made fun of individuals who may have experienced horrific acts of violence. He also shames members of the LGBTQ community and doesn’t care how this reflects on himself.  He even goes so far as to acknowledge that the LGBTQ community actually really dislikes him.  I don’t blame them for it either, I think Chappelle is undermining the progress the LGBTQ community has made for themselves.  In Jamie Loftus’ article, Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement, he references a quote of Chappelle’s: “Everything is funny until it happens to you” as his opener to the show on Netflix.  I felt that he was using this as a way to justify his “jokes” and soften the blow of offending people. This is not appropriate for any topic revolving around assault.  Even if Chappelle was trying to start a conversation about the issues at hand surrounding the alleged assaults by famous actors in Hollywood, he was not doing so with class or in a way that was affective at all.  I got the sense that he was endorsing the archaic view that it is the woman’s fault she was assaulted, like when he said “you could have just waked away.” In Jason Zinoman’s article, Dave Chappelle Stumbles into the #MeToo Movement, he agrees that the assaults by men in Hollywood are belittled be Chappelle. I believe this could be potentially dangerous to women and victims because Chappelle does not use his influence to support better treatment of women, instead, he just makes a joke.

In her article, Kevin Spacey Deserves to be Scorned, But Can I Still Watch House of Cards?, Hanna Parkinsons talks about how it is easy to separate art from the artist.  I think this is true in many mediums, like paintings, but in standup comedy, I think it is more difficult.  In art works like paintings, I think that their meanings are often ambiguous, which allows the viewer to come to their own interpretations and emotional responses to the piece, whereas in comedy, I would assume that the comedian is being very representative of how he or she sees the world around him or her and it’s not up for interpretation.  In Dave Chappelle’s Netflix Special, he talks about other famous actor’s behavior and doesn’t condemn it, which I feel is very inappropriate.  I am surprised that even though Netflix fired two actors from successful shows, they still put Dave Chappelle’s show up for viewers to watch.  Is there any hint of hypocrisy in this?

 

Was That Supposed To Be Funny…

Comedy is hard. I know for a fact, if someone asked me to write an hour long standup sketch to present to thousands of people in an audience, I would have one hell of a time doing it. There are so many small quirks you must keep in mind before you can go out there.  If you want to be a successful comedian, you must present material that is unique and that has not been used before. This must be extremely difficult in the era we live in where everything someone says is being recorded and posted on the internet. You must present your sketch in a manner that is attractive to the audience. What I mean by that, you simply cannot go out there and read some jokes off a note card. You should be an entertainer and that takes a respectable amount of talent. There are many more traits needed to be a good comedian, but the last one I will talk about is sensitivity. Of course, I do not expect a comedian to be sensitive to material because let’s be honest, we find comedians so hilarious because they are able to say the brutal things we are not. I have seen comedians make humor out of everything from telling their fans to kill themselves, to making fun of rape victims. We are constantly exposed to the gruesome truth behind crime in America and Dave Chappelle makes humor out of it in his special.

Dave Chappelle claims that America is “too brittle” and I couldn’t agree more with him. What he means by this, is we are constantly walking on eggshells because we are always offending someone for something being said or done. A majority of our nation is so sensitive and caught up in their old ways, they cannot be told something that goes against their personal points of views. Rewind back to the Presidential Election 8 months ago and look throughout our college campus, seeing grown up adults crying because the candidate they voted for didn’t win the election. We are “too brittle” but that doesn’t mean some of the things Chappelle says do not cross lines. As talked about in the article Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment by the New York Times, I found it hard to find humor when he was talking about the rape victims and how they would not have declared it rape if it would have been from a handsome man like Brad Pitt. Many of people’s lives were ruined because of these sexual harassment situations and there shouldn’t be room to joke about it.

I understand that Dave Chappelle is a comedian, and he is a very successful comedian who is going to fill every seat of just about any venue out there today, so he needs to make sure he has material to make those fans who showed up happy. I just simply did not find much of the humor funny. He went complained about politics just about the whole time and the joke he planted early in the episode and closed with at the end seemed so forced; it was cornier than the jokes in a 1990s Sit Com. The truth behind it is, he should not have made jokes about the sexual abuse victims. I can only imagine how many victims watched his special looking forward to a hilarious comedy, and were blind sighted by the horrible experiences that had happened to them in the past. This is something they have to live with every day and I could only imagine how upsetting it must be to have jokes made of their situation.

As far as Netflix trying to conform to the #MeToo movement, I find that they are doing a good job. It all started with them firing Kevin Spacey after his alleged sexual assault was brought into the eye of the public. Even though House of Cards was one of their top shows that had millions of users in love with it, they simply could not continue the show and it provided a great message that Netflix was not going to around and not do anything about it. Even though they lost a lot of money by not continuing the show, they did the honorable choice of cancelling it and I respect them for the bold move.

Jake

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