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Dave Chappelle Slams Critics of His Transphobic Comedy in Surprise Netflix Special

The comedian called students at his alma mater "instruments of oppression" for protesting his material.
  • Dave Chappelle in What's in a Name? (Photo: Netflix)
    Dave Chappelle in What's in a Name? (Photo: Netflix)

    On Thursday, Netflix released a new special titled What's in a Name?, featuring a 40-minute speech in which Dave Chappelle addresses the controversy surrounding the transphobic stand-up material.

    The speech, which Netflix released without prior announcement, occurred at Chappelle's alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., during a ceremony at which the school planned to rename the theater after him.

    During the ceremony, Chappelle declined have the theater named after him because of the controversy over The Closer, his most recent Netflix special. The auditorium was instead named Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.

    Most of What's in a Name? features Chappelle describing his years at Ellington, but about 30 minutes in, he discusses the contentious Q&A he previously held with students, during which many criticized his transphobic remarks and accused him of not listening to the LGBTQ+ community.

    "All the kids were screaming and yelling," Chappelle says in the Netflix special. "I remember, I said to the kids, I go, 'Well, okay, well what do you guys think I did wrong?' And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn't say anything about art."

    "And this is my biggest gripe with this whole controversy with The Closer — that you cannot report on an artist's work and remove artistic nuance from his words. It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, 'Man Shot in the Face by a Six-Foot Rabbit Expected to Survive.' You'd be like, 'Oh my god,' and they never tell you it's a Bugs Bunny cartoon."

    Chappelle goes on to accuse the students of attacking his "freedom of artistic expression" and says that their comments hurt him.

    "When I heard those talking points coming out of these children's faces, that really, sincerely, hurt me," he says. "Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words. I've heard those words before. The more you say I can't say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it."

    "And it has nothing to do with what you're saying I can't say. It has everything to do with my right, my freedom, of artistic expression. That is valuable to me. That is not severed from me. It's worth protecting for me, and it's worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble, noble professions."

    Chappelle also criticizes the students for speaking out. "These kids didn't understand that they were instruments of oppression," he says. "And I didn't get mad at them. They're kids. They're freshmen. They're not ready yet. They don't know."

    What's in a Name? is now streaming on Netflix.

    Deena ElGenaidi's writing has been featured in Nylon, MTV News, Insider, The AV Club, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @deenaelg.

    TOPICS: Dave Chappelle, Netflix, What's in a Name?, LGBTQ