Updated: Oct 29, 2021
I don’t normally write reaction pieces like this, especially to standup. But Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special The Closer needed one, in part because of the strong criticism it garnered following its release. Now I can go in a middle different directions talking about, dissecting, and analyzing the entire show. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to focus on two main themes: the humor and the reaction. Now the purpose of humor is to make someone laugh. So on that front, to me, the special was incredible. I laughed a lot. Sometimes so hard I cried. Not at everything he said. But a good portion of it. And I think I can break the jokes down into roughly four categories. The first are those I just didn’t find funny. There were a few that didn’t pull at my funny bone. Not because they were offensive or anything. I just didn’t find them funny, which is par for the course. Nobody does standup for an hour and nails 100% of their jokes with every single person watching. It just doesn’t happen. Then there were jokes I found funny, but just not funny enough to laugh. I simply smiled and thought, “haha” in my head without any actual laughter. Again, not out of the ordinary. Then there were things I cried my eyes out with laughter because they were so hilarious. Once more, not strange. It happens during comedy shows. That’s kind of the point. The last category is a little bit trickier to pin down. These were also jokes I laughed at…but not because I thought they were funny. At least, not from a subject matter standpoint. These were probably the most offensive jokes and the ones in which drew the strongest negative reactions. I hear people often say, “you can’t say mean things and then write them off as ‘I was just joking’ .” But that’s not exactly what Chappelle was doing. He wasn’t being mean for the sake of being mean. As a comedy writer myself, I laughed because I understood just how carefully crafted these jokes were. They didn’t pop up out of nowhere. They were meticulously set up and executed to shock and subvert expectations while at the same time fulfilling them. It was a very strange thing to watch and proves just how excellent Chappelle is at his craft. To put it into perspective, I recently wrote a short comic strip in which I based the joke on a marginalized community. I ended up editing the joke because I understood it was inappropriate and crossing a line. So I get it. There comes a point when jokes do more harm than good. When they build upon stereotypes rather than use them for satire. That’s not what Dave Chappelle was doing. And the fact that so many people couldn’t see that brings me to the second part of this piece: the reaction. The fact that Netflix employees staged a walkout in protest of the special is ironic, meta, and kind of tone deaf. Towards the end of the special Chappelle pleads to those watching, “listen to me! Listen to what I’m saying.” And those that found the special inappropriate obviously weren’t. Especially since the objections largely came from the LGBTQ community when Chappelle literally made fun of everyone. I found his jokes and message well crafted and poignant. He was crass when the humor called for it and heartfelt when the monologue demanded it. I believe there is a line in comedy, one in which I’m not skilled enough to dance around. But Chappelle is. He went up to the line, spoke his truth, and backed away. Those that think otherwise missed the point, which is what Chappelle himself was unabashedly saying from the start. At least…that’s just my opinion.