Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix Special ‘Sticks and Stones’ could offend just about everybody. There are racist stereotypes, homophobic and transphobic punchlines, cracks at Michael Jackson’s accusers… the works. Predictably, he’s come under fire. A few critics of Chappelle’s new special have claimed that their objections aren’t borne of being ‘triggered’ but simply from Chappelle missing the mark.
Interestingly, the Rotten Tomatoes review system demonstrates just how out of touch many media critics are with the demos.
Whilst receiving a score of only 38% from 8 verified critics on the Tomatometer, it received north of 99% from more than 5,000 user ratings. The disparity is certainly alarming; perhaps the critics are due for a touch-up?
Here are some of the highlights
“The set mostly misses the mark. And what is that mark? The Truth?”
“Throughout the program, the comedian delivered a variety of jokes that many have described as misogynstic, homophobic, transphobic and downright exhausting.
“I’m not one who gets offended by comedy. Maybe me being a straight male allows me the privilege to not be offended by Chappelle’s act. So that’s not the reason his jokes about the LGBTQ community don’t work. They’re just not funny.”
“Comedians are supposed to express the things we can’t or won’t say, poke fun at the many biases people have, and highlight — which isn’t the same as upholding — stereotypes as a way of shining a light on gaps in understanding.”
“He’s a grown-ass man. And it feels like he keeps making anti-trans and victim-blaming jokes just because he can, which, sure. But why not strive to be more interesting, more original, more thoughtful?”
Obaro and her kin assume that it’s the Comedian’s job to tell the often unsayable truth’s and reveal the absurdity of social norms. These critics should be reminded that the audience isn’t there to hear poignant observations about our shared human experience, or to embark on a journey of self-discovery and illumination. The audience is there to laugh. The truth although a powerful tool, is a means to an end, it is not the destination itself.
A Chappelle critic’s argument follows a basic 3-step progression:
- I’m not offended by comedy (establishing critical bona fides)
- I was offended by Dave Chappelle (the most logical and morally virtuous reaction)
- Dave wasn’t funny and I’m not the problem (Chappelle needs to change)
So there is a snobbery in much of the Chappelle criticism. Taylor Hosking, who authored the article “You Can definitely skip Dave Chappelle’s New Netflix Special”, tweeted, “Who would have thought that transphobic jokes would be the hill that such a smart talented comedian needs to die on?”
The idea that a comedian can only make jokes about certain groups is not a criticism, but a personal belief. It’s a projection of a relative morality, where those who are perceived as vulnerable must be protected at all costs from any ridicule, even the joking kind. Taylor qualifies her criticism, distancing herself from the animosity beneath her criticisms by praising Chappelle as “smart, talented.” She and other critics want us to believe they are normally ambivalent, a fan of Dave Chappelle and comedy in general, but this time Chappelle just crossed the line.
What is deliberately missed is that until we treat all groups as equal, we practise the discrimination which she so vehemently rejects. Creating a sacred cow out of selected communities, despite Chappelle routinely demolishing almost all ethnicities and orientations, is to assume that somehow these communities are so devoid of comedic understanding and appreciation that Chappelle’s jokes become beyond the pale.
Panning shots show that the incredibly diverse audience was in hysterics for almost the entirety of the special. And Whilst Taylor is more than entitled to say she finds the jokes unfunny, she cannot claim to rise above the perils of discrimination whilst shielding particular communities from social cohesion. Because that’s what comedy does. Laughter brings people together.
Thus, unilaterally and objectively declaring Chappelle’s jokes to be unfunny denies the lived experience of so many who laughed and doubtless this includes many of those she is trying to protect. Employing the plight of vulnerable communities to censor comedians demonstrates nothing more than ideology masking itself as objective criticism.
What’s so great about comedy? Besides distracting us for a fleeting moment from the horrors and demons we encounter, there is a precision involved that’s absent in other forms of artistic expression. Whilst paintings and sculptures are open to interpretation, the comic tries to induce the exact same reaction from his audience at the same time. The comedian has to make them laugh. It’s thus a binary proposition and a noble pursuit.
So, perhaps ironically, both Chappelle’s performance and subsequent criticism reinforces something universal. The world is much more bearable when people like Chappelle can say whatever they think will make us laugh.
We need free speech and we need more jokes. Legislating compelled speech, or generating social pressure for a similar result, would not only deprive us of comedians like Dave Chappelle’s best work, it would also infringe on our ability to criticise him where we deem appropriate. If the world is dangling on the precipice of disaster like so many of the media would make us believe, then even the slightest reprieve from our imminent doom should be deified, not vilified.