Make no bones about it: I love Dave Chappelle. From Half Baked to his eponymous Comedy Central show to his various stand-up specials, he has always made me laugh. Whether calmly confident, scathing, or anything in-between, Chappelle comes off as real. For better or worse, what you see is what you get.
The comic drew heat in years past from "inappropriate" skits on his show, such as a blind white supremacist (who happens to be black) and a 50's sitcom parody featuring a white family with a particularly offensive last name. Controversy is nothing new to Dave Chappelle and, given his profession, that should be understood. Stand-up comedians have long been revered for their willingness to dive headfirst into taboo topics in order to make us laugh and make us think.
My how times have changed.
Chappelle opened his new Netflix special "Sticks and Stones" with a mocking impression, parroting a voice who swears to dig through a person's past and expose any transgressions, feigned or substantial. After inviting the audience to guess who he was impersonating, he tells them: "It's you."
I'm not going to go deep into the Kevin Hart Oscar Fiasco (which Chappelle directly references in the special) because I don't need to. Instead, I'll point out what's painfully obvious to so many of us, which is that you don't have to agree with everything a person says. This is especially true of comedians, who often choose topics that will strike a chord with their audience. They tell jokes, and a joke doesn't equate a representation of what their real opinion is. They're comedians, not pundits, and I would prefer we keep it that way.
It boggles my mind (though I suppose it shouldn't, not anymore) how puritanical people act online. No, they've never said anything questionable because god forbid they ever present themselves as anything less than infallible. Well, as a regular citizen, let me offer some insight: people fuck up. Amazing, isn't it? We grow, we learn, and we fuck up in new ways so that we can continue learning. Yet here we are, and the internet "cancel culture" mob has set its sights on Chappelle.
There seem to be those among us who fail to realize this basic tenet. I look back at legends, comics like George Carlin and, my all-time favorite, Richard Pryor. Specifically, I think about a joke that Pryor told in which he described a verbal altercation with his wife. He specifically says that when the police showed up, he went inside. Why? Because they, like him, had guns, but where Pryor shot a car, he acknowledged that their guns were often used to shoot something else (skip to 2:09).
In that joke, Pryor called out something that he saw happening in his community and was still able to play it for laughs. I can only imagine that in today's climate, he would be labeled as harboring internalized racism and possibly encouraging police shootings. Sounds ridiculous, right? I agree, but I don't know how unlikely it is anymore and that scares me.
Then again, I have always looked at what comedians do as pointing fun at how absolutely nonsensical humans can be. They invite us to laugh at ourselves and realize that we have more in common than we often realize. They don't gloss over the negative but they also refrain from beating us over the head with it. The best example I can think of is Richard Pryor talking about his trip to Africa: it's funny, it's poignant, and it's beautiful, but it's never preachy. He was too talented to conduct a sermon and trusted the audience enough to pick up what he was laying down.
Today, we have people that want to police speech for everyone else, not trusting that people can handle criticism or opinions that differ from their own. It's a black hole of creative freedom. There is no trust, only fear of the worst. The problem is that Chappelle, like Carlin and Pryor before him, isn't setting out to offend. He isn't speaking out of malice. Context matters. Everyone doesn't have to like what's being said, but this mentality of trying to beat "dissenters" into submission is terrifying.
Thankfully, Dave Chappelle is too big for this onslaught of cancel culture. He's made his bones. He's set financially and he's done it on his terms. He's not about to change now because some of us have forgotten what his job entails. It doesn't matter your race, gender, political leanings, or any other descriptor, he will come after you. More than that: it will be funny. Maybe I'm in the minority, but if a joke is expertly crafted and well-delivered, I'll laugh.
It can be dark, it can tackle serious issues, yet I will laugh if the comic earns it. Why? Because I realize that they're doing their job and I appreciate it. It doesn't mean, despite what so many seem to think, that I don't care. It doesn't mean that I'm apathetic or antagonistic, it means that I don't enjoy being serious 24/7 and I like to be entertained. Letting your guard down doesn't mean that you don't care, I promise.