If I asked Dave Chappelle why it seems like the majority of his online audience doesn’t have anything nice to say about him, he’d probably respond with something like this:
“A guy your age wouldn’t know the pain because in your generation, it’s like the space shuttle blows up every fucking day. How can you care about anything when you know every goddamn thing? I’m getting over one cop shooting, and then another one happens, and then another happens, and another one happens. I’m crying about Paris, and then Brussels happens. I can’t keep track of all this shit. So you just give the fuck up. That’s the hallmark of your generation. And that’s fucked up because your generation lives in the most difficult time in human history. This is an age of spin.”
It’s not exactly a response to me, but it’s an appropriate piece of dialogue from the first episode of Chappelle’s Netflix Collection titled The Age of Spin. Welcome back Dave, I am here to defend you.
Coming back and speaking with the same voice must have been challenging after a 10-year hiatus. Dave Chappelle is a man who remained consistent. He knows himself. He is a master of storytelling and his hilarious narratives in The Age of Spin were undeniably him.
What else did you expect? The confident, funny, offensive, and explosive material he delivered is content any fan should not have been surprised to see. But there are many people out there looking down on Dave Chappelle for his rape jokes, gay jokes, and claiming his once profound comedic voice is no longer present.
Pop culture’s problem with marginalized groups of people isn’t that people of power—YouTube celebrities, actors/actresses, or comedians like Dave Chappelle—are talking about these existing issues, regardless if opinions are positive or negative. It’s the refusal to acknowledge them being there. Often, social influencers withhold commenting on sensitive topics because they fear how their followers will view them afterwards.
I think there are less people addressing social issues than we think. But when we do hear a celebrity address a social issue, it brings a sudden disturbance because this person hasn’t said anything about it before. As a comedian, jokes about particular groups can come into fruition in a negative tone as a punch line. Because of that, critics aren’t really hearing Chappelle’s story when he’s directly or indirectly defending the very people he puts in his narrative. I feel like some people are just sitting and waiting to criticize the next punch line that comes out of this man’s mouth. The following are a couple of examples.
Chappelle creates dilemmas for the audience. He specifically says this at the end of his rapist superhero story. “The superhero rapes but he saves. He rapes in order to save but he is saving more than he is raping.” It sounds like the fictional character in this narrative lives in a world of pure Utilitarianism. What is the greatest good for the greatest amount of people?
Towards the end of the Netflix special, this joke spun its way back around to Bill Cosby. Dave mentions Cosby’s got a valuable legacy he can’t just throw away. He goes into his past admiring Cosby as the first black man to win an Emmy on television, and that he had a show which had ratings equivalent to the Super Bowl every Thursday night. In Chappelle’s words, “Cosby was one to improve the image of African-Americans on the TV screen and he is directly responsible for thousands of black kids going to college.” He is a superhero cast in a positive light by Chappelle due to saving more people (i.e. Black youth) than he has hurt (i.e. rape victims) which explains Dave’s hesitance to tear down someone like Bill Cosby.
In the background of that performance and perspective, Chappelle is running the momentum on his OJ Simpson story that was split into 4 parts—the four times he’s encountered OJ Simpson, from before OJ stepped into court and well after the entire situation. Now in this story, Dave mentions a time when he shook OJ Simpson’s hand after the infamous trial and others around him were bewildered. “He was a murderer, how can Dave shake hands with him?” He simply replied, “That murderer ran for over 11,000 yards, get over yourself.” This was a punch line. It brought offense and it brought laughs, but it was still the truth. When someone is your hero for so long, there is a part of their valuable legacy you can’t throw away just because their image is no longer perfect.
I think people do truly need to get over themselves when it comes to what you choose to let offend you. I can sit here all day and say that you shouldn’t let a comedian’s jokes offend you, but I’m actually here to say you have to consider every part of a joke before you draw any conclusions.
I appreciate the fact Chappelle put in a Non-African American example as well.
Before The Kardashians, I remember Bruce Jenner. He was beating African Americans in track and field. He was a White American Superhero.
Chappelle follows that with an inspirational line that restores faith in humanity. He didn’t have a problem with Cosby, with OJ, or with Caitlyn Jenner. It reveals his character and internal struggle when he worries about other people who are becoming exposed. “I was scared [for Bruce]. I didn’t think the public was ready. I didn’t think the media was ready. [But] I was wrong. Not only did the public embrace him but the media was nice.”
We grow up and we don’t know which of our heroes are going to change, for better or for worse. That’s what Dave Chappelle noticed. That’s what I’m trying to notice as well. Yet like Dave said, “How can you care about anything when you know every goddamn thing?” People come back from hiatus and it’s no longer just appreciating art or critiquing it with different perspectives, it’s “I have to tell somebody how much I hated this. Clearly he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” To each their own form of art I guess; if your form is to tear down artists because you believe they could’ve done better by your specific expectations, then so be it.
Likewise, if you can dump on how one comedian’s art can alter your mindset and change your emotions, can you find another you can commend? Why don’t you watch another Netflix special? Try Bo Burnham: Make Happy. Bo has a creative way of arranging fast-paced skits and songs that transition into each other so well and/or abruptly on purpose but seeing him on stage is a show that never tires. He has a skit that addresses his role as a straight White male—how boring it is, how difficult it is—but it’s his art. Where are the negative reviews on that?
Stephen King once said, “Write for yourself and then the audience. Don’t waste time pleasing people.” King is a well-known author who has commented on people accusing him as bigoted or homophobic. It simply doesn’t matter. If you’re an artist and you’re there to create, you put your creations out there regardless if others will strip it down or build it up.
After all that’s said, my point again is Dave Chapelle is a man who knows himself. His performing voice is still relevant. He is the type of guy to say the things many others refuse to say because they don’t know how to say it without offending anyone. The same goes for me and any future social commentators. We write our thoughts down and we release it. But when you have nothing but negative things to say about someone because what they’re saying doesn’t sound positive to you, then I say it takes one to know one, and that results in all of us traveling in circles.
What a vicious cycle in this age of spin we live in.