Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix is taking a lot of heat for the comments that are made concerning the LGBTQ community. Having seen the special I completely think the vitriol is well placed. However the truth is that without the controversy the special would disappear rather quickly because it is terrible. It’s one of the worst comedy specials I’ve seen in my five plus decades as a comedy fan.
The problem with the special is Chappelle doesn’t seem to have worked on his material at all. Its as if Chappelle decided to book a theater and film a show and do it off the cuff. The “jokes” (I’m trying to be generous here) crash like a wet sack of cement. It feels as though Chappelle either didn’t care and was fulfilling a contractual obligation or more likely Chappelle thinks he’s Dave Chappelle so he can do no wrong.
Yea, he can.
Part of the problem is there really aren’t any jokes. I mean beyond there being almost nothing to laugh at Chappelle is trying to do the Stand Up Philosopher route that was walked by Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Chappelle is telling his stories and trying to get us to think. When Chappelle, like those before him, did this previously he rattled cages and made us think about society while making us laugh at ourselves. This time out there is no laughs, just hate and meanness. Chappelle is just spewing vitriol and hate speak and calling it social commentary. While it makes us think, its not about society but the man who is saying the terrible things.
Chappelle almost instantly goes off the rails when he begins his rant not with humor but with statements that this is art and he is an artist and what he is saying is not how he feels but is saying for effect.
Yea Dave right. You are doing the exactly same thing that bigots and hurtful people do when they say “I don’t mean to offend but…” or some variation before saying the most vile and terrible things imaginable. And Dave, you say some of the most terrible things imaginable.
I’m not going to repeat what Chappelle says about the LGBT community, women, and numerous other subjects. Lets just say he takes a flamethrower and sets them all on fire because, despite his protests, he really seems to hate them. I say this because be talks about getting into fights with members of the LGBT community and seems to enjoy relating the stories (Dave, your arguments that this is art and that the performance isn’t really you falls down when your disinterested stand up is punctuated by lip smacking glee when you are talking about your fights with gays or the hateful things you are saying about people you clearly don’t like).
Chappelle’s show is less about making us laugh and think than laying waste to the people he hates. (For what it’s worth Chappelle does make a couple of points about racism somewhere in his special but its too little too late- and it's buried in so much hatred he loses the argument)
Watching the show I couldn’t help but think of the late George Carlin who got angrier and angrier with society as he got older. Carlin had words for everyone. He was tired of the bullshit and he called it out where he saw it. While I had my issues with Carlin and his comedy and his turn to dark hopelessness in the last years of his life, he never managed to slip into the guise of the mean old man standing on the porch yelling at the kids about his personal hatreds. Or if he was doing that he never let it seem like we were looking into the dark soul of an angry man. Carlin always managed to be funny even when he was bleak. He also never managed to be hateful, just disappointed.
Looking at the current Netflix special Dave Chappelle seems to be an angry man standing on his stoop saying terrible things just because. While I’m not going discount the wonderful things that Chappelle has done for various people and communities, there is still anger that is lurking around him. For someone who has spent a decade or more living in a small community he hasn’t mellowed. Granted he doesn’t have to mellow, but the time from the spotlight hasn’t made him happier, indeed it seems to have made him meaner. I mean he’s still waving the flag of walking away from 50 million dollars as if it’s a badge of honor, now seemingly angry that he did it. (Dave I love that you did it, but do you have to mention it every time you’re in front of a camera? Let it go, we don’t care any more) He has allowed his anger at the world color everything he says and does. While some of what he feels is earned, a lot of what he is saying is just bigoted and the ranting of a man unconnected to the world, there is nothing artistic to it.
While I will defend to the death Chappelle’s right to feel and say what he wants (preferably in his own home) I can not defend the special on Netflix. It’s not a comedy. It’s not really art. It’s not really a “performance”. It’s the words of an angry man saying really terrible things about the things he really hates and calling it pretend so he doesn’t get in trouble. It's just bad on it's own terms never mind that it’s a TED Talk from a bigot and should be avoided.