Yesterday, Netflix unexpectedly released a new title by Dave Chappelle. what’s in a name, on the service. It wasn’t a new “special”. It was instead a recording of the speech Chappelle gave at the Duke Ellington School of Arts, where he ultimately – for the time being – declined to have the theater named after him after the students had problems with him Closer special last year.
To his credit, much of the speech revolved around what the Duke Ellington School of Arts meant to him growing up. He spoke about how he got in, spoke enthusiastically about the faculty and how the school had changed his life. It wasn’t particularly funny, but it was vintage Dave: insightful and heartfelt. Until it wasn’t.
Then he gets self-important and calls his Closer especially a “masterpiece” and even a “unique talent”. It wasn’t a joke. It was not unlike him when he told students there last fall that he was “better than any instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you’re doing at this school, I’m better than all of you.” He seems to think so Closer was not only his best special, but better than everyone else’s. “I urge all my colleagues to do the same. You can not. I’m sure.” I saw Closer. Even putting transphobia aside — a big question considering how dominant it is — it’s far from even Chappelle’s best special.
In any case, he spoke about the need for comedy “to be dangerous,” telling the audience, “The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you say, I can’t say it.” That sounds true, at least. I think that’s what Chappelle really thinks. That’s why he’s doubling and tripling on transphobia: Because people tell him he shouldn’t, and so he feels an urgency to move on because he — and Ted Sarandos — believe the value of comedy is the Ability is being able to express yourself freely, no matter how hurtful – or dangerous to others – those words may be.
And there is also a certain irony in the speech. Because he admitted that the students who attacked him last November really hurt him. “On that day, on that day, those kids hurt me… It really, really hurt me… Those kids talked about gender and this and that and that, but they didn’t talk about it art,” he said. But instead of acknowledging her freedom of speech, and instead of realizing that his words were as hurtful to her as her words were to him, he claimed the children had been indoctrinated. That they had been brainwashed.
“These children didn’t understand,” he continued, “that they were instruments of oppression.”
It was patronizing. These children were not “instruments of oppression.” These kids asked Dave Chappelle to do it Listen. But Dave Chappelle is more interested in “saying something” that some people don’t want him to say than in listening to why they don’t want to.
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