Oh, Get Off Your Soapbox

What the Hell is Wrong with Dave Chappelle?

I've avoided really touching upon this topic in detail largely because I didn't feel like I had much to add to the discussion that was ongoing. As I'm sure you are aware, Dave Chappelle is in the news regularly for his views on transgender people. He makes "jokes" about them, people get upset, and over time he has gained a reputation as a "TERF" (even if that acronym was originally meant to be applied only to women who hate trans women). This comes up regularly, and the cycle of him saying something in one of his "comedy" shows, and then people getting upset, continues.

When I last discussed this matter, it was in relation to J.K. Rowling and her own TERF-y ways over on the podcast. The same arguments that were made there could be made here, so I won't delve into all of that a second time. Instead, I want to look at the matter solely from perspective of Chappelle, his comedy shows, and a very basic question I just have to ask: maybe Chappelle is just a giant asshole?

Look, I'm not "going after" the man for his comedy. I've never been a particular fan of his comedy, per se. I tend to feel that, whether on stage or in his past shows, like the Chappelle Show, he would "punch down" with his comedy. There's a lot of easy jokes are targets people love to hate, and that's his style. It's not a style I particularly go in for, and it frankly seems like easy and mean comedy. People do like his patter and his style, though, and while his content isn't my speed, I won't argue that he has a following.

That following, though, does cut out one of the legs of his own arguments: "angry trans people are trying to cancel me!" Since the point that he became famous, no one has ever tried to cancel Dave Chappelle. He rants and raves about people coming for his career, trying to silence him, to take away his platform, even as he continues to get comedy show dates while being paid a reported $80 Mil from Netflix to continue doing comedy shows. Dave has a platform and, despite what some people might wish for his comedy performances, he has not been canceled. In fact, I'd argue that in the entire span of his career, the only person to truly cancel Chappelle was Chappelle (when he wandered away from his own show, and all the money that was being thrown at him at the time).

Considering his comedy style (and that aforementioned tendency to "punch down"), I can see why Chappelle has taken the angle he has when it comes to the trans community. He can make whatever jokes he likes, he feels, because they are an under-represented group, an "other", and make light of them without the majority of people getting on his case. At least, that's my assumption on his reasoning. Plenty of comedians have done the same kinds of material about one minority or another over centuries. Just look at all the "Gay Panic" humor of the 1980s and 1990s, for example.

The point people try to make for Chappelle is that, "he's a minority, too!" as if that somehow excuses what he says. Like, somehow, "just because he's a minority, an African American, that means he can't be mean to other minorities." That's not, of course, how that actually works; any one group can be a shithead to another just because. If you find someone you feel is "other", you can play on fears (your own and others) to throw barbs and insults at them. Just being part of a minority group doesn't somehow give you protection for attacking others.

In fact, one would think that because of whatever oppression Chappelle experienced over the years (and, as an African American male, one can assume he's seems some shit in his life) he'd be able to self-reflect and say, "damn, these people have it rough, too." That doesn't seem to be the case, at least not when it comes to his comedy nor his public statements. He really seems to think that his comedy about trans people is fine, for him, and he can say whatever he wants.

Now, let's be clear: he can say whatever he wants. It's impossible to stop people from saying whatever dumb shit that leaks out of their mouths. Yes, there is a protected right to free speech in the U.S., but that doesn't necessarily cover every hateful thing people can say. When it's just you, on your own, you can say what you like. When your audience is small, you can get away with a lot. When you have a platform, though, like Chappelle does, it's best to be careful about what you say, though, because your words can influence other people. If you're hateful, people will pick up on that and think, "hey, I can be hateful, too." And that colors entire swaths of people, changes how they think. People with platforms are powerful, and when they spread hate about other groups, that becomes "hate speech", and that isn't protected.

Chappelle rides a line and, so far, no one has made a legal case that he has gone over that line, but he does certainly toe it. It's clear he knows what people think of his comedy, and by and large he seems content to play to his base. He's not the bad guy, he'd say, he's the victim in all this. All those evil people, that trans activists, want to take his mic. They want to silence him, he says on his Netflix special, because he's just telling it like it is. He's not, and he's certainly not de-platformed. That's just shit he's saying because he's being attacked for attacking others.

End of the day, though, he seems to enjoy this attention. He likes "owning" other people and getting his fans all riled up. He's making big headlines, and even bigger bundles of cash, doing his awful shit at every show he keeps getting. This is his bread and butter now, and it gets him way more attention, apparently, than anything else he was doing (and bear in mind he was considered a comedy legend who could sell out his shows even before this). This is the career he wants to have.

So instead of trying to dissect everything he says, instead of trying to teach him a lesson he doesn't want to learn, we just need to realize that Dave Chappelle is just an asshole. It's not "being owned" to point out that he's a shithead that spouts hate. End of the day it's better to acknowledge that what he says is awful because, now, he's an awful person. If we keep saying it, people will listen, and maybe the very words coming out of his mouth can do what nothing else will: shut him up.