Last month I’d never heard of Dave Chappelle. Now I hear only of him. So, I watched his Netflix show, “The Closer.”
What I saw was a clever, crude and funny entertainer. But George Carlin, he’s not. He’s not even Steve Martin or Jerry Seinfeld. He might not even be Don Rickles.
Like most standup comedians, Chappelle is at his best when he lampoons the accepted wisdom – when he illustrates with a humorous reductio ad absurdum that such wisdom can only be laughable foolishness.
He does this particularly well in the topic that has gotten him into lucrative hot water – transsexuals. He wittily observes that you don’t get to choose your sex. Your sex is chosen by the luck or unluck of the draw and is irrevocably reflected in your genes.
If you want to “identify” as the opposite sex, you’re free to do so, says Chappelle, and he’ll play along, but that doesn’t mean you actually are. It just means he won’t call the cops if he finds you in the wrong bathroom so long as you don’t, well, you know.
Chappelle’s unspoken but implied reductio ad absurdum is, if you can become the sex you say you are merely by saying so, then couldn’t you also be the species or inanimate object you say you are? What would prevent you from identifying as, and therefore being, a cocker spaniel? Or a lampshade?
Chappelle has been threatened with cancelation by the wokesters, which suggests that he’s effectively pierced their artifice. The reason the wokesters object so strongly to Chappelle is that he’s so persuasive. Humor does have a way of persuading. I laughed at his trans routine, and I agreed with it.
But most of the rest of Chappelle’s act is not actually funny. Although I found myself laughing, it wasn’t because it was funny. It was because it made me uncomfortable.
That’s because most of the rest of his show is crude, shock-jock, so-called humor. It rests on lines like “n*gga-n*gga” and “b*tch *ss” and “black mother f*cker.” His basic schtick is to make a mockery of his race.
Jerry Seinfeld occasionally mentions that he’s Jewish when it’s relevant to his gag, but there’s no “Hebe” or “Kike” or “Jew Boy” jokes. Steve Martin doesn’t call himself a WASP. Those professionals are better than that. They create material that makes you laugh because it’s funny, not just because it makes you uncomfortable.
Chappelle’s vulgar words aren’t funny. We laugh at them only because they embarrass us. Laughter is a mechanism to protect ourselves from discomfort. People of all colors laughed at black minstrel shows. Sometimes such shows were funny, at least to the audiences of the time, but more often they were just uncomfortable.
Chappelle’s vulgarity is different in a fundamental way from George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” schtick where he pretended to puzzle over the words the FCC had banned from television. Carlin was mocking the arbitrariness of authority, and there was a serious underlying intellectual issue at hand — how much power should the state have over what we say?
In contrast, Chappelle is just mocking his race. Chappelle does no favors for his race with his minstrel show, just as vulgar black rappers do no favors for their race. What they do is attention-getting, click-generating and money-making, but it’s not helpful or even funny. It’s a cheap sellout. It’s comedy porn. Not because it’s filthy, though it is, but because it’s cheap and superficial.
I don’t think Chappelle should be censored, for the same reason I think Carlin should not have been censored. That’s not the proper role of the state or, in today’s world, the authoritarian wokesters.
I simply wish Chappelle would find his humor more in speaking truth to power, as he does with the trans routine, and not in vulgarizing black America.
That said, I’ll watch Chappelle again. He’s got real potential. I hope he realizes it.
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