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John Mulaney Gave Dave Chapelle Another Platform for His Transphobic ‘Jokes’

John Mulaney speaks into a microphone, standing against a blue brackdrop

On Friday, thousands of people gathered at a Columbus, Ohio arena to see John Mulaney perform and found themselves ambushed by a surprise set from Dave Chappelle.

The audience was forced to lock up their phones so there’s no footage of Chappelle’s 15-minute set but some took to Twitter to share their experiences, saying he told the exact sort of anti-trans, anti-gay “jokes” you would expect.

Some people are choosing to defend Mulaney online, saying he couldn’t have known what Chappelle was going to say. But Chappelle’s transphobia has become a cornerstone of his comedy and thanks to the controversy around his recent Netflix special, which was jam-packed with transphobia and otherwise offensive “jokes,” that kind of content is arguably what he’s best known for right now. Inviting or allowing him to perform, along with the big hug audience members said the two exchanged afterward, is nothing short of an endorsement of Chappelle’s comedy from Mulaney.

This also isn’t the first time Mulaney has sprung a surprise Chappelle set on audiences. He did it just last month in Colorado.

Mulaney spent years carefully crafting a stage persona that was an enthralling blend of likable Nice Guy decency and acerbic cynicism. That image has been shifting lately, and that shift has been the source of a lot of debate. The disappointment some fans have expressed, mostly centered around Mulaney’s messy divorce, sparked online conversations about overinvesting in parasocial relationships. But this isn’t that. This is specifically about Mulaney’s work and fans’ reasonable expectations for what they’re paying to see.

It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that Chappelle’s presence at this show is a kind of betrayal for many of Mulaney’s fans, who bought tickets to one very specific kind of show and were forced to watch something very different. Not all of Mulaney’s comedy is exactly “wholesome” but it’s certainly not hateful. You don’t buy a ticket to see the guy who created Sack Lunch Bunch expecting to be surprise-subjected to transphobia.

All in all, if this is the direction Mulaney is choosing to go in the next phase of his career, it’s disappointing. It’s also certainly an … interesting choice for him specifically, given the general makeup of much of his fan base.

(image: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for NRDC)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.