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Don't expect Netflix to quit Dave Chappelle after The Closer controversy

  • "It was not as if (Netflix co-CEO Ted) Sarandos could not have anticipated the backlash to The Closer; several of Chappelle’s previous comedy specials tread similar territory and drew condemnation," reports The Hollywood Reporter's Seth Abramovitch. "Cindy Holland, Netflix’s former vp original content and unofficial liaison to LGBTQ staff groups who exited the streamer in 2020 amid a Sarandos-ordered shake-up, had warned the CEO multiple times that Chappelle’s repeated zeroing in on the trans community upset LGBTQ+ staffers and could lead to trouble. 'She was the liaison with that community internally, and both she and Ted met with staff employee resource groups after the last go-round,' recalls a former Netflix insider. 'Those groups have distrusted Ted on their issues.' None of that is likely to erode Chappelle’s standing at Netflix, at least not so long as Sarandos is in charge: The comedian — who throughout the controversy has denied being transphobic — is said to be his favorite working stand-up, and Chappelle has performed at Netflix Emmy parties. A spokesperson has confirmed that the streamer plans to produce more Chappelle specials. As Sarandos himself told THR in an Oct. 19 interview, The Closer 'is consistent with our comedy offering, consistent with Dave Chappelle’s comedy brand, and this is one of those times when there’s something on Netflix that you’re not going to like.' (Chappelle in turn has expressed appreciation for the support, saying in a video released Oct. 25, 'Thank God for Ted Sarandos and Netflix. He’s the only one that didn’t cancel me yet,' while also agreeing to meet with the transgender community but saying he won’t be 'bending to anybody’s demands.') But outside the insular walls of Netflix corporate culture, there exists a faction of Hollywood creatives who are quietly impressed that Sarandos was willing to 'eat sh*t' for free speech, as the Netflix insider puts it."


    • Dave Chappelle's The Closer controversy is the latest example of a powerful person playing the victim: "No one is seemingly more aware of the power of his comedy," says Jelani Cobb. "In 2005, Chappelle walked away from a reported fifty-million-dollar contract with Comedy Central for two additional seasons of Chappelle’s Show, his sketch-comedy series. Years later, he explained that he’d been conflicted about the effect of his brand of racial humor, which relied heavily on enacting stereotypes in order to ridicule them. He had begun to wonder whether his audience got the second, more subtle layer of his work, or whether it was entertained purely by the stereotypes. Some critics said that the pressure and the expectations that came with the contract and the success of the show’s previous seasons had been so intense that the comedian just decided that he wanted out. But Chappelle, as he told David Letterman, was attuned to nuances in his work that it would have been more convenient (and more lucrative) to ignore. There was always the risk, in riffing on the racial absurdities of American culture, of reinforcing rather than undermining them. The absence of concern of this kind about The Closer is striking, and suggests that Chappelle’s line about being rich and famous is more significant to the controversy than has been noted. Onstage, he refers to himself as the man who walked away from fifty million dollars, but the credibility he derived from that act sixteen years ago is now being deployed defensively and cynically, as if to place above suspicion any possible motive for telling denigrating jokes about trans people. He is also the man who walked into a reported sixty-million-dollar Netflix deal...The Closer marks a new iteration of the ongoing debate about cancel culture, but not necessarily for the reasons that Chappelle intended. In 2005, it meant something for a Black man to reject an enormous pile of money in the name of integrity. The past two weeks reiterated a contrasting point: that Black men, too, can be invested in the prerogatives that wealth purchases. Earlier this year, Netflix removed old episodes of Chappelle’s Show from the platform at the comedian’s request, forgoing the revenue it would have reaped, after he called the contract that allowed Comedy Central to profit from the show more than a decade and a half after its release exploitative. Sarandos has dismissed requests from trans employees that The Closer be removed. The most reactionary and dangerous parts of our current politics and culture are driven by powerful people who claim to be the victims of groups that are far more vulnerable than they are. The irony is that these dynamics are increasingly present in matters of racism. Days after The Closer aired, Chappelle performed at a sold-out event at the Hollywood Bowl, before an audience that included Nas, Lizzo, Stevie Wonder, Brad Pitt, and Tiffany Haddish. He remains powerful and influential, despite the protests from a comparatively small community of activists and their supporters. The turbulence around The Closer will, in all likelihood, amount to just another speed bump in Chappelle’s path. In gliding through this situation, he has emphasized a fact about power that was never particularly noteworthy. Because the one thing that has not been cancelled is the check."
    • Jon Stewart's defense of Chappelle -- “I know his intention is never hurtful. He’s not that kinda person" -- was misguided: "Now, that’s a nice, bland answer from a friend, about a friend — very 'he wouldn’t harm a fly,'" says Libby Hill of Stewart's comments to TMZ last week. "It would be stupid to try to dissect the statement because ultimately it doesn’t matter. Of course, it doesn’t matter because Stewart’s opinion about the Netflix transphobia issue objectively does not matter, but more importantly, it doesn’t matter because intent has nothing to do with it. See, if intent mattered, then every car accident would be no-fault. If intent mattered, it wouldn’t hurt when you thoughtlessly grabbed a hot pan. If intent mattered, no one would ever drown. In intent mattered, then involuntary manslaughter wouldn’t be a crime punishable by law. This misbegotten idea about the importance of intent belies another, more pervasive schism within a much larger conversation: cancel culture. Celebrities, particularly those previously or currently being held accountable for their actions, love to rage against the idea of living in a cancel culture, in which you cannot disagree with popular opinion online or otherwise, without being cruelly attacked and run out of the business on a rail. Comedians blame wokeness and internet mobs for defiling the sanctity of the comedy arena, where anything and everything should be a punchline. The thing is, no one is stopping comedians from being edgy or offensive. Certainly not Chappelle, whose Netflix special reportedly cost the streaming giant $24 million dollars. Kevin Hart, Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle, they can all say whatever they want, whenever they want. Free speech, and all that jazz. But they don’t get to control the narrative that results from their words, and they also don’t get to remove themselves from that narrative."
    • Chappelle is wrong to say Hannah Gadsby is "not funny": "In the middle of this battle of wanting attention versus requesting human decency, I must offer a bit of clarifying information that I’m sure will be of great importance to those following this situation: I was at the Netflix taping of Gadsby’s Douglas, and I not only saw people laughing, but I also laughed myself," says Emily Alford. "As far as I know, no audience members paid to do so; in fact, I actually exchanged American currency for the opportunity. As for the rest of the audience, I cannot say whether they were laughing because they found Gadsby humorous, but I can say with absolutely certainty that I, many times, was compelled to mirth for no reason beyond the hilarious ways in which Gadsby framed her observations."
    • Chappelle and Gadsby have a lot in common as "former comedians": "In fact, the two have lots of similarities in addition to no longer being able to tell a proper joke," says Olivia Craighead. "They both like to tell stories, they have both 'quit' comedy, and both of them seem like they’d really suck the air out of a dinner party. Looking into my crystal ball, I see the worst possible outcome: a Chappelle vs. Gadsby tour where the two comics go head-to-head to confront their differences through some simulacrum of comedy. It would be like a traveling version of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley if both men had been given lobotomies. I’m not saying I want it, I’m just saying that it would sell tickets like crazy."
    • Caitlyn Jenner defends Chappelle, says he's "100% right": “Dave Chappelle is 100% right,” Jenner tweeted. “This isn’t about the LGBTQ movement. It’s about woke cancel culture run amok, trying to silence free speech. We must never yield or bow to those who wish to stop us from speaking our minds.”

    TOPICS: Dave Chappelle, Netflix, Dave Chappelle: The Closer, Caitlyn Jenner, Ted Sarandos, LGBTQ, Standup Comedy