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Dave Chappelle is stuck in an endless feedback loop: "His head is up his a**. He needs new ideas"

  • In The Closer, the finale to Chappelle's six Netflix standup specials, Chappelle goes "for the predictable jabs and rehashing takes that were old hat five years ago," says Craig Jenkins. "How much you enjoy The Closer will depend on whether you’re able or willing to believe the comic and the human are separate entities and to buy that the human loves us all, and the comic is only performing spitefulness for his audience," adds Jenkins. "If you feel like people complain about comedy too much, you’ll love this special for addressing most of the criticism leveled at Chappelle’s recent work, however speciously. If you only wanted to get through one of these without a long, crabby detour on gay people and gender identity, Closer’s designed to work your nerves. The Closer wants you to know that Chappelle does not hate the women and queer folks and other minorities he has poked fun at in six stand-up specials. It also wants you to know that he hates having to say this. What it seems the comic wants is license to be an equal-opportunity offender, to have it known that there’s no malice in his jabs. He wants the old thing back — the freedom to be crass without having it reflect negatively on his character. But he’s come back to a world where faith in the goodness of famous people is understandably diminished in the wake of a thousand scandals of every type, and the audience has avenues to take their displeasure with a gaffe or off-color remark directly to the source. The party line among comics of this era has been that everyone takes themselves too seriously now, and it’s their job to shake us out of it. The Chappelle Netflix specials seem almost tailor-made to this task; the crude jabs about trans folks in the early gigs are revisited here as the comic comes into contact with people who want him to hear how these jokes make them feel. He doesn’t want to make people feel bad but doesn’t accept any grief for it when it happens. If you react poorly, you are proving him right that you can’t take a joke. This is, to a wide swath of types of guy, a brilliant trap. Your ability to stomach these specials hinged on whether or not these points struck you as unshakable tenets of comedy or outdated excuses masking a refusal to update a worldview. (Two things can be true.) Intermittently, the collection is genius. There are too many beats, though, where the comic obsesses over negative feedback, all the while insisting that the opinions of his detractors are functionally immaterial to him because social media is 'not a real place.' It’s confusing posturing....What’s frustrating on the surface about The Closer is the sense that Dave wouldn’t have to say any of this if he expressed an ounce of chill in the five specials before it, the sense that there’s an alternate timeline where the GOAT didn’t spend any of the past five years fishing for outrage and can use this hour in 2021, one of the strangest years of our lives, trying to figure out what the hell is going on out there. Instead, we are preoccupied with cleaning up old messes — and creating new ones. It’s hard for people to trust that you respect the queer community when you announce that you’re 'team TERF,' make a point to mix up the letters in 'LGBTQ,' and pepper your work with the slurs your peers have largely hung up when the reason you offer for easing off of those kinds of jokes in the future is that you don’t want to go out like J.K. Rowling, DaBaby, or Kevin Hart. In Chappelle’s eyes, these are examples of the mountain-moving power of LGBTQ rage. This framing ignores how each one’s stubbornness in the face of backlash for the awful thing they said only led to more awfulness, how these are stories about refusing to budge when asked for a meager concession by fans who want to support, how each one still sits on the same mountain of cash." Jenkins adds: "In a year where Senator Ted Cruz has tweeted about Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s hypothetically swollen testicles, you can almost count on attracting a fishy crowd when you get too edgy. Chappelle knows this intimately, as someone who walked away from $50 million in part because it freaked him out that his show could get a white person to laugh freely at racial stereotypes. Where is that guy? In The Closer, Dave’s too busy defending millionaires, especially himself, to get that it’s quirky to say the LGBTQ community breaks careers during his sixth time devoting a prickly portion of a new special to poking at every corner of the umbrella."


    • Too often in The Closer, it just sounds like Dave Chappelle is using white privilege to excuse his own homophobia and transphobia: "The message Chappelle has for those who have criticized him about transphobic, homophobic or any other phobic jokes seems to be: Race trumps all," says Eric Deggans. "This idea surfaces when he talks about rapper DaBaby, who was pilloried publicly for making homophobic comments during a concert in July. Chappelle jokes that DaBaby 'punched the LGBTQ community right in the AIDS' before recalling a 2018 incident in which the rapper was involved in a fight inside a North Carolina Walmart where another person was shot and killed. 'In our country, you can shoot and kill a n*****,' Chappelle says. 'But you better not hurt a gay person's feelings.' What Chappelle doesn't say is that DaBaby claims he was defending himself against two men who tried to rob him and his family in the store. Eventually, he was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge — carrying a concealed weapon — though the family of the 19-year-old who died insists that DaBaby started the fight. In The Closer, Chappelle eventually says he's jealous of the progress the gay rights movement has made in America. 'If slaves had oil and booty shorts on, we might have been free 100 years sooner,' he cracks. But lines like that assume that the struggle over oppression is a zero-sum game — that because some gay people have access to white privilege in America, all their concerns about stereotyping and marginalization are hollow and subordinate to what Black people face. It ignores the fact that there are plenty of nonwhite gay people who face oppression for both their sexual orientation and their race. And, of course, opposing these public statements of homophobia isn't just about making gay people feel better; it's about keeping the anger and prejudice behind those words from becoming widely acceptable or turning into action. Too often in The Closer, it just sounds like Chappelle is using white privilege to excuse his own homophobia and transphobia. Because Chappelle is brilliant, his words about DaBaby make an important point; it is sad that more people know about DaBaby's homophobic comments than his involvement in this deadly encounter. But there is more to the story outside his simplistic framing, which seems designed to excuse some pretty hurtful words."
    • Chappelle has become the "Netflix" of comedians -- he doesn't tell jokes, he spews content: "America is always on fire or underwater," says Joe Berkowitz. "COVID-19 has killed millions of people around the world. Income inequality is out of control, and fascism is on the rise.  But the most urgent threat society faces right now, at least according to Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special, is that the LGBTQ community can viciously snatch away Kevin Hart’s lifelong dream of hosting the Oscars in 2018, forcing the star to settle for simply being a prolific zillionaire comedian, actor, and mogul. If that sounds like a familiar topic for a Chappelle special, it should. He was mad about Hart’s pitiable fate in 2019’s Sticks and Stones—the grievance exhibition that, according to the New York Post, got him 'canceled,' and, according to reality, earned him two Emmys and millions of dollars. This topic should also sound familiar, though, because Chappelle’s previous, interchangeable Netflix specials have also spent a bizarre amount of time on jokes about the LGBTQ community and its aggressive response to any perceived slight. How dull must Chappelle’s life be if this is what he most wants to talk about onstage? The Closer is positioned as the comic’s Netflix swan song, and the prelude to an extended break from filming specials altogether. With six hour-plus sets under his belt in just four years, it’s hard to remember how exciting it was when Netflix initially coaxed Chappelle into a partnership, putting out his first collection of jokes since the early aughts, with the promise of more to come. Little did we know then that the streaming deal would find him churning out specials at a rate that defies quality control. At this point, Chappelle has become the Netflix of comedians—he doesn’t tell jokes, he spews content. Just about everything he says on stage now seems designed to joylessly fill time in the cadence of a joke. Fittingly enough for a comic who was once famous for how long he could remain on stage, consuming his Netflix output is now a feat of endurance. The content is unpolished, repetitive and vindictive, and it just goes on and on."
    • Chappelle wants comedians to retain the ability to say anything onstage in a dialogue with their audience: "It’s far too easy to get caught up in the words and lose sight of the context, perhaps even more so these days when it comes to comedians," says Sean L. McCarthy. "When Chappelle repeatedly says of himself, 'I’m transphobic,' or at one point declares, 'I’m team TERF!' he’s almost begging you to do so. When he’s imagining Mike Pence trying to pray his gay away, he’s also appealing to an entirely different demographic. Chappelle says his primary objective in this performance, with respect to the LGBTQ+ community, is to let them know he does not hate them, but rather is jealous because they’ve been so much more successful activists than Black Americans have been. 'We are trapped in this predicament for hundreds of years. How the f— are you making that kind of progress?' As a comedian, and particularly one who’s gleeful enough to embrace other’s descriptions of him as 'the GOAT,' Chappelle wants comedians to retain the ability to say anything onstage in a dialogue with their audience. In our streaming social media age, of course, there’s an inherent problem with that, precisely because the comedian’s words go out to potentially billions of people who were not in the room and have their own context for interpreting the jokes."
    • Chappelle has become straight-up vengeful when it comes to the LGBTQ community: "The special is stomach-churning in what it reveals about the 48-year-old comic widely regarded as the greatest alive, who spends most of the hour responding to criticism that his comedy is homophobic, sexist, and transphobic by reveling in homophobic, sexist, and transphobic jokes while desperately arguing that he’s none of these things," says Seth Simons. "And how could he be? When his trans friend died after defending him, he boasts, he set up a trust fund for her daughter. ('I don’t know what the trans community did for her, but I don’t care, because I feel like she wasn’t their tribe, she was mine. She was a comedian in her soul.') He hopes to live long enough to give his beneficiary the money personally and tell her, 'I knew your father, and he was a wonderful woman.' Netflix reportedly paid $20 million apiece for the first three specials it bought from Chappelle. The Closer is their sixth together, but it’s not even the first he uses to address criticism of the others. The man is more than unrepentant; he’s straight-up vengeful, repeatedly using his platform to single out, dismiss, and mock individual LGBTQ people who asked him to be more sensitive. Late in The Closer he complains that 'they' never listen to him. The only evidence I can see that he’s listened to them is that he’s stopped using the slur 'tr***y,' instead deploying 'trans' and 'transgender' as nouns."
    • The Closer wraps up a body of work on streaming that’s mostly a time capsule of one man’s obstinance in a time of great change: "Maybe it’s a function of a level of sudden prolificness that is near impossible for any comic to maintain or perhaps it’s a man in search of a niche, but The Closer is far from a reckoning," says Steve Greene. "Instead, it’s someone cementing himself to a strange strain of martyrdom, quadrupling down on a manufactured panic of his own making. Chappelle clearly prides himself on being a Speaker of Truths, prefacing more than a few mores-skirting doses of harsh reality with something along the lines of 'I really shouldn’t say this, but…' Rarely do those truths extend beyond his own personal experience. Each of his Netflix specials have become a battle between empathy and narcissism. At times, he can make the two coexist. Arguably, he’s at his best when those two are in sync. Most of The Closer however, is given over to his familiar litany of bugbears: journalists who report on his shows, those who want to hold powerful men accountable for their (mis)conduct, trans people who have been hurt and disappointed by how he has represented them in past specials. When presented with six full-length installments of one of the globe’s widest-available platforms, it’s hard not to see the common theme of Chappelle’s Netflix body of work as score-settling. You can see in the response of the crowd that this is appealing. Some of the savviest work that director Stan Lathan — who’s worked in that role for each of these specials — has done is to frequently frame Chappelle so you can see which jokes don’t get the same universal response."

    TOPICS: Dave Chappelle, Netflix, Dave Chappelle: The Closer, LGBTQ, Standup Comedy