In his 72-minute Netflix special, “The Closer,” the 48-year-old spent roughly half his routine ranting about all things LGBTQ. I’ve seen queer comedians spend less time on the LGBTQ community than Chappelle does.
For years, Dave Chappelle has used his platform to comment on a community he is not a part of.
Back in 2017, he “joked” about reassignment surgery and played into the trope that trans women trick straight men into sex. That same year, he mocked gay men in the dated “gay voice.” In his 2019 Netflix special “Stick & Stones,” Chappelle rants continuously about the trans community and complained about anyone who criticized him. Even outside of his work, Chappelle inexplicably called R&B singer Daniel Caesar “very gay” on Instagram Live in 2019.
In his new special, Chappelle treads many of the same paths — while laughing all the way to the bank.
I am not saying Chappelle isn’t a comedy legend. Nor am I commenting on whether people might find his latest special funny. But Chappelle seems, for several years now, more fixated on LGBTQ folks than in my experience, many of us are on ourselves.
In “The Closer,” which ostensibly takes on cancel culture, Chappelle appears convinced the LGBTQ community is as focused on him as he is on them. I can assure you, queer people wouldn’t be speaking out against Chappelle if he didn’t incessantly rant about them.
Chappelle implies “that community” is too sensitive and quickly shouts “cancel culture” at his critics. Let’s be clear, he’s not canceled: Chappelle’s shows sell out, he lands major deals with streaming services and was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2019. Just because Chappelle is criticized on social media and the subject of think pieces doesn’t mean he’s been canceled.
Furthermore, as much as Chappelle foams at the microphone in “The Closer” over the trans community and complains about being labeled transphobic, he is not even close to being one of the main problems transwomen, specifically Black transwomen, are losing sleep over. At least 38 transgender or gender nonconforming people — the vast majority of whom are Black or brown — have been killed in the US so far this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Sadly, the transgender community endures disproportionate violence, often at the hands of heterosexual men — many of whom would probably relish Chappelle’s “comedy” about the bodies of trans women. Chappelle even compared the way some radical feminists view transwomen to the way Black people view blackface, which is arguably the dumbest comparison since Ben Carson compared Obamacare to slavery.
Another Chappelle rebuttal is that there is racism in the LGBTQ community. That’s no shocker. I’ve been calling out racism in queer communities for years.
Chappelle tries to dispute critics who have called him transphobic by offering a feeble alternative argument: “Any of you who have ever watched me know that I have never had a problem with transgender people. If you listen to what I’m saying, clearly, my problem has always been with White people,” Chappelle said.
But that’s clearly untrue, his digs are what Black queer folks hear from homophobes in the Black community, as well. As activist Raquel Willis wrote of Chappelle, “It’s convenient for Black cishet male comedians to talk about LGBTQ+ folks as if our group is only or even predominantly white. With that frame, they don’t have to contend with how Black cishet folks often enact (physical and psychological) violence on Black LGBTQ+ folks.”
In “The Closer,” Chappelle appears to pit Black folks against queer folks with jokes like, “If slaves had baby oil and booty shorts, we might have been free 100 years sooner.” He also said, “In our country, you can shoot and kill a n***** but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”
The assumption here seems to be that the LGBTQ community has made huge strides (with seemingly little more to fight for after the legalization of same-sex marriage), while Black folks haven’t. Again, Chappelle conveniently downplays the reality that there are people, like two of the three founders of Black Lives Matter, who are both Black and queer.
And that’s the point here. What seems most absent from Chappelle’s comedy is the reality I live every day: being Black and gay are not mutually exclusive. He appears to push the dated argument, which I grew up hearing all of my life, that being LGBTQ is predominately a White issue, even though there is documentation of queer people dating back to ancient Africa. Gay is not a proxy for White.
As a Black gay man, I exist between two communities. There is the White queer community, many corners of which are steeped in racism, and the Black community, which sometimes reeks of homophobia. The Black gay community falls in between. Both communities can be equally delusional in their bigotry and often exalt public figures who veil their dogmatism as “art.”
Chappelle’s defenders argue, “It’s comedy!” Even Chappelle said in January 2020, “I will fight anybody that gets in a true practitioner of this art form’s way.”
Compare Chappelle’s defense to that of a famous White drag queen named Sharon Needles. The RuPaul’s Drag Race winner has used racist slurs like the N-word. Needles has said, “My act is meant to take dark issues and bring them into the spotlight.” Needles also claimed an intention to “poke fun at things and laugh at social anxieties.” (Needles said in 2012 that such offensive material had been removed from the show but stopped short of apologizing for using the n-word).
Just like Chappelle’s defenders, I’ve heard White queer folks excuse Needles with justifications like, “It’s art!” But instead of saying “it’s just comedy,” they declare, “it’s drag.”
Chappelle is much more famous than Needles, but they are both considered greats in their work. They have never been “canceled” — and never will.
In “The Closer,” Chappelle also complains that queer folks tried to cancel him, along with Kevin Hart, J.K. Rowling and DaBaby. This seems to be a new marketing scheme — whine about being canceled, turn yourself into a victim and re-brand yourself as a champion for freedom.
DaBaby was supposedly “canceled” by the LGBTQ community, according to Chappelle, for making vile comments, including about people living with AIDS. He was dropped by several festivals, but weeks later was photographed with Kanye West and Marilyn Manson. Several hip-hop artists have come out in support of the rapper and his latest song with Lil Wayne received 10 million views on YouTube in six days.
Despite Kevin Hart’s tweets about gays and J.K. Rowling’s comments about trans folks, both continue to have booming and lucrative careers; the “Harry Potter” author literally wakes up, blinks her eyes and makes thousands of dollars an hour.
Yes, there are people who have been canceled, like Pablo Vergara and Kyle Quinn. These are people without the benefits of being rich and famous who suffered real-life consequences due to online mobs. Chappelle, on the other hand, has reportedly made millions from his Netflix specials alone. I am not saying Chappelle should be canceled. I am only saying he has never been canceled, he is too wealthy to be canceled and yet he continues to frame himself as a target.
Chappelle closed his latest special with a story of his friend, a white, trans comedian named Daphne Dorman, who defended his last special “Sticks and Stones.” While Chappelle may have found one trans person to defend him, the National Black Justice Coalition and countless people in the Black LGBTQ community have spoken out against his work. Chappelle, who said Dorman took her own life in 2019, ultimately promised to retire his LGBTQ jokes, pleading, “All I ask of your community, with all humility: Will you please stop punching down on my people?”
How Trumpian of him. Who are his people? Are they some imaginary silent majority? Does he mean comedians? Because comedians like Bill Maher gripe about cancel culture and still have a hit show on HBO. Does he mean rich people? Because they, like himself, are protected from cancellation with their millions.
Some organizations have called for Netflix to pull the special. That’s highly unlikely, given this repetitive controversy is a goldmine for Netflix and Chappelle. (CNN contacted Netflix for comment on the criticism of Chappelle’s special and is waiting to hear back.) What’s clear is that it’s still acceptable and profitable to make jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ community. If the restrictions on speech and expression Chappelle rails against truly existed, “The Closer” would never have been released.
That’s not to say Chappelle doesn’t have a right to run his mouth. On the other hand, viewers also have the right to react. It cuts both ways, but it’s critical to remember that unlike the communities who bear the brunt of his jokes, Chappelle is in no way powerless.
The sad reality is trans people are still too often seen as freaks. Too many people still consider gay men as thin-skinned sissies, lesbians as man-hating and overly aggressive. Even on my own Instagram page, one person justified Chappelle with “gay jokes are funny.” God forbid they speak out; in Chappelle’s twisted universe, they are somehow the villain for being “too sensitive.”
I don’t know if Mr. Chappelle is anti-LGBTQ himself, but I do know his words will become weapons for transphobes and homophobes. He should ask himself why he is speaking their language.