comScore Dave Chappelle Great at Politics, Bad With Trans Issues | The Mary Sue
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Dave Chappelle Takes It to Trump Voters in New Comedy Special Clip—Still Misses the Mark on Trans Issues

Earlier this summer I had the, mostly, pleasurable experience of seeing Dave Chappelle at his Radio City Music Hall residency, with Solange as his musical guest. Chappelle, even after all this time, remains one of the most unique and powerful voices in comedy, which is why, when he comes out with new material, even if you aren’t a fan of the newer stuff, you’re still are interested in what he has to say. So, my mother and I went together because nothing says mother-daughter outing like a Chappelle-Solange show.

While the show I went to was not the taped one—in the clip above, you see Chappelle vaping, and he was certainly not vaping when I saw him—the jokes were consistent. What was very clear to me about Chappelle is that he is now operating from a different space in his comedy. Chappelle is no longer an up-and-comer whose changing the comedic landscape and highly tapped into the black ghetto. He already did all of that. Now, he’s a rich man who is somewhat stuck in a worldview that has dated ideas of gender and sexuality.

When it comes to politics, he’s still on point, as seen above when he calls out the fact that poor white people may think that Trump is fighting for them, but the reality is that Trump is out to protect the wealthy, including Chappelle—which, as the recently passed tax bill has proven, is 100% correct. Chappelle’s ability to both mock and be empathetic with poor white people is seamless, and in it, you see why he and good comedians can be so powerful. They are able to speak the truth and make you laugh at the same time: Chris Rock, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Ali Wong, etc.

That being said, Chappelle should probably never, ever speak about trans people again. One of the things I’ve noticed about older comedians, both male and female, is that they are very, very hard pressed to learn about anything new, anything that challenges their views about social norms, in a really constructive way.

During his act, I remember Chappelle saying that he wasn’t transphobic, but he just didn’t see how anyone, including trans people, should be above being joked about. Which, lemme just start by saying no one is saying that you can’t make jokes about trans people, the problem is the types of jokes people are making. If your only trans joke is “oh I thought they were a [blank], and they were a [blank], and now I feel disgusted/aroused/confused/angry” then I have to tell you that not only is that joke not funny, but you are way, way, way late.

Not to mention, Chappelle makes a point about how he feels that trans issues focus too much on the feelings of “white men” and says roughly “when have people ever cared how black men feel?” To which I have to say … dude, you do realize that two of the biggest public advocates for trans rights are two women of color who are black: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock. When it comes to these issues, Chappelle is lacking, which isn’t surprising considering he, like many male comedians, are pretty bad when it comes to talking about just women … add trans women into the mix, and it is ripe for fails.

Still Processing, a New York Times pop-culture podcast, also spoke on the episode and how Chappelle does try to use his comedy to work through his own discomfort and people’s reactions to his work, but it’s undermined by the fact that he still frames trans people as “icky” and that the trans people were still the butt of the joke. In addition, they talk about how Chappelle is probably not the comedian for our time, today, as he is now.

I think Dave Chappelle is still one of my favorite male comedians, warts and all, but during the show, I rolled my eyes excessively at the fact that he felt the need to mansplain his feelings about trans people. Just like all of his contemporaries, they just can’t help view any pushback as an attempt to silence them by “PC culture.” I certainly don’t want to silence Dave Chappelle; I just want him to evolve, because his work and voice is important.

If he can’t make mature jokes about trans people without dehumanizing them, then it can be left on the cutting room floor. Because his commentary on blackness and politics is still really important, not to mention he is just an amazing comedian.

Earlier this year, Chris Rock tried to make jokes about sexual harassment at the Comedy Cellar, and it bombed because not only was the joke not great, but audiences are changing and evolving, which is a good thing. The Raw comedy special by Eddie Murphy is iconic, yes—I mean, that damn leather purple suit—but the amount of homophobia in it is horrific, and it would in no way be made today, and that’s okay. Raw can still be funny to people, even if it’s a cringe-laugh from time to time. We don’t have to ban it or even hate it, but it belongs in the past in terms of what comedy is when it comes to gay people.

Times change, and comedians have to, as well.

Chappelle’s Netflix special premieres on New Year’s Eve.

(via The Hill , image: Screengrab)

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