On Tuesday, Dave Chappelle released his sixth Netflix special, The Closer, and that could only mean one thing: my social media feeds were intolerable for most of the week. You think it’ s bad hearing about your Aunt Janice’s nonstop bout with carpal tunnel? Just become a comedian and, I promise you, after twelve hours, you’ll be begging to hear more about wrist guards.
I want to open this essay by making something very clear up front: this is not a review of The Closer, a special which I am not qualified to talk about because I have not seen it. I may, at some point in time, but I just haven’t at the time of this writing for a pile of reasons: my sons, my wife, my comedy show, a wedding I went to, and the fact that I wanted to see the new Paul Schrader movie and the Ted Lasso season finale, both of which have impacted me deeply. Besides, that’s not what I want to talk about.
If you’re even a little bit interested by comedy (and why have you gotten this far if you aren’t), you’ll know that The Closer includes some statements which have gotten Chappelle some flack. Chappelle claims that, “Gender is a fact,” adding, “Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth,” before making comments about “trans women” genitalia, as well as coming to the defense of J.K. Rowling and referring to himself as “Team TERF”. And I haven’t even gotten to the term, “Space Jews” yet.
So it only made sense that some people were upset and took to social media to express that.
Much as I’m not going to review the special, I don’t feel qualified in discussing people who have found offense in Chappelle’s material. I, personally, do not believe it is my place to tell someone what they should, or should not, be upset by. If someone has said or done something which upsets you, why would I want to tell you that your feelings are wrong? That seems like a poor way to start a conversation. It also should be pointed out that this is a conversation Chappelle does not seem interested in having. Unlike Shane Gillis, who chose to make a non-apology apology (as I discussed in an earlier essay), Dave made his thoughts on his detractors during a Hollywood Bowl performance: “Fuck Twitter. Fuck NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid ass networks. I’m not talking to them.” He would also say, “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” as a way of hammering his point home.
If only the internet agreed with me, because so many posts and tweets that I (and maybe you) have seen are from people defending Chappelle, but doing so by choosing to deride his critics. Which, and I want to make this clear, they absolutely have a right to do. I just wish they wouldn’t be so dumb about it.
And THIS is what I want to talk about. It only took me 530 words to get to my premise, and that is because I am not a good writer.
There is no need to make this a lengthy essay about being offended or choosing to offend people. I kind of already did that when I wrote about Gillis, and have no interest dipping my digital quill in that hate-filled inkwell again. So, we’re just going to make this easy. I’m going to list every one of the horrible critiques of critics I have seen and then do my very best to explain why I think they’re bad faith arguments. Ready? Let’s go!
“Chappelle should be allowed to talk about whatever he wants! He has a first amendment right, just like Bruce and Carlin! Why would you want to take that away from him?”
This is the most common criticism that I, personally, have seen. It’s also the dumbest.
First of all, no one is trying to silence Chappelle. We all believe in the first amendment. But what people forget is that freedom of speech is a two-way street and if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be free fucking speech. Dave has a right to say whatever he wants. He has clearly demonstrated that. It’s not like someone is stopping him from saying worse things. But, if someone is saying something you are offended by or dislike or believe is tasteless, you also have the right to say that. Chappelle gets a Netflix special for which he is richly compensated for. You get a twitter feed where you spend every Christmas Eve trying to get #WithMyDick trending… wait, that’s my twitter feed.
I’ve also seen people say things like, “Hey, you know, if you don’t like something, no one is forcing you to post about it. Just be quiet and go about your day,” which is wildly hypocritical as you are lifting up Chappelle for being an edgy risk-taker who is willing to say anything while attacking people who just want the same freedom to say whatever they want. And I would tell those people to shut up, but then that would make me a hypocrite, as well. It would become a cruel and unending circle, so I’m not going to tell these people to shut up. Instead, I will just say: You’re being an idiot. And you have to deal with that.
Because we are talking about comedy and comedians, I want to make very clear that, in my discussion of people being critical of Chappelle, I am- IN NO WAY- condoning heckling. Had someone decided to stand up in the middle of the special and tell Dave, “You suck and your jokes are horrible!”, I would never approve of that behavior and would be in favor of that person being removed with extreme prejudice. If you don’t like an artist, you are more than able to express that in many forms at many times. But interrupting a performance is not one of them.
Dave Chappelle can say whatever he wants to. But so can everyone else.
“Dave Chappelle is the GOAT and has been doing comedy so long that he should be able to say whatever he wants!”
Ummm… no. How long you’ve been around should not allow you some kind of carte blanche status. Do we want the first people who helped make the internet to be the gatekeepers of what is allowed on Tik Tok? Of course not. If those dudes are still alive, they’re most definitely old and gross. There is only one person who should be allowed to have the world shape to their views and opinions and that is my mom, who is awesome.
“If you haven’t seen in, you shouldn’t be able to talk about it!”
This is a common response to a lot of the critics of The Closer: Have you seen it? No? Then your opinion should not mean anything. The problem with that is that these people critical of Chappelle are telling you why they don’t want to see it; because they don’t want to be upset by content they know is in the material. Of course that is a reasonable thing to say. Who wants to watch comedy to get upset?
Let’s say you don’t like polka music. It’s just not for you and you don’t mind saying so. And then someone comes up and says, “Hey, have you heard Polka! Polka! Polka!, the new album from Polka Joe & The Polka-tacular Polka Machines?” When you responded that you didn’t because you don’t like polka, you wouldn’t expect those people to respond, “You haven’t heard it?!?!? Then how do you know you wouldn’t like it? If you’re not going to give it a chance, then what are you doing even liking music?” That person would be dumb, right? Like, real dumb?
It’s ok to be upset by the things The Closer is saying. It’s also ok not to be. And we live in a world where we have these amazing platforms to express our feelings. Maybe we should be using them not to learn about the feelings of other people, especially those who disagree with us.