Monday, October 18, 2021

Dave Chappelle and the current state of comedy

A lot of readers have asked what I thought of the new controversial Dave Chappelle Netflix Special.  This, of course, is a trick question that can only get a person in trouble.  Like “How often do you beat your wife?”  God forbid anyone says something positive about Chappelle’s material they’re instantly branded as a racist, homophobe, or worse.  (Remember the days when some people thought something was funny while others didn’t and it was just chalked up to differing senses of humor?)  

So I’m not going to speak at all about the trans material in his special or any of the subject matter.  All I will say is this:  I’m glad there is a Dave Chappelle.  I’m glad there’s one comic out there who is truly fearless.   In the tradition of Lenny Bruce, we need someone willing to be provocative, willing to ruffle some feathers in the cause of getting society to think.  

There’s a terrific article I want to point you towards.  It’s by David Zucker, one of the writers of AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN.  He’s a very funny guy.  I worked with him on a project once a thousand years ago. In his piece, bemoaning the current sad state of comedy, he brings out a great point.  Through social media a tiny minority now has a huge amplified voice and can dictate policies and norms for the majority — even though the majority doesn’t agree with them.  

The night ALL IN THE FAMILY premiered on CBS, they installed extra phone banks and operators to field the inevitable throng of complaints.  They got 12 calls.  12.  Now today those 12 could cause such a stink that they might be able to pressure ALL IN THE FAMILY off the air.  How horrifying is that?

So when you sit home, by yourself, and watch AIRPLANE, or the DAVE CHAPPELLE SPECIAL, or BLAZING SADDLES, are you really offended?  And if you are, does it really rock you to your very core and affect how you see the world?   Or, do you simply say, “Fuck you, Dave Chappelle or David Zucker,” turn off their show, and go on about your life?   It’s a comedy special not a snuff film.

I’m personally not a fan of mean-spirited comedy.  And if it’s designed to demean anyone, regardless of color, gender, age — then it’s not for me.  And it’s not the type of thing I write.  But I don’t think there should censorship when it comes to comedy.   I don’t think writers or comics should be blasted for things they wrote or said that may not be acceptable now but were when they wrote or said them.  

Anyway, here’s the article.  I encourage you to read it.



Kendall said...

Friday Question: There's a meme going around that shows a still of Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from The Avengers with a comment like, "Why did the writers not add the line 'No shit, Sherlock'" (since they both played Sherlock Holmes). What is your view on referencing an actor's other work in dialogue? Lazy? Clever? Too clever?

Darwin's Ghost said...

It's 2021 and people are getting death threats for saying woman means adult human female. Society is fucked.

Re. Chappelle, it speaks volumes that the twitter outrage mob had nothing to say about his "Space Jews" jokes, which came off as antisemitic. Of course, the twitter outrage mob tend to be antisemitic themselves, so it's not really surprising.

While I do think his Space Jews jokes were a crass distortion and inversion of the Holocaust and Jewish history, and have predictably been lauded by antisemites and BDS types who received his dog whistle sentiments loud and clear, unlike the trans brigade I don't want him removed from Netflix.

In fact, I applaud Ted Sarandos for issuing two memos in which he refused to bow to pressure to remove the special from Netflix. He is the first entertainment figure to stand his ground. Others have immediately given in and issued grovelling apologies with banal, PR agency written shit like "Thank you for educating me and keeping me accountable." Sarandos has had the guts to say no to these online bullies.

One other thing about Chappelle. He often gets applause for his jokes and observations about social injustice, corporate power, capitalism, greed, etc. Hearing him, you'd believe Dave is a man of the people who stands up for the little guy. And then I read about his current stand up tour where he's charging in the region of $200 for seats. And he's been performing, from the reviews I've read, for 45 minutes.

I do love the irony of people who view Jews as greedy and all-powerful paying 200 bucks for a 45-minute gig by a multimillionaire. Now THAT'S funny!

Chuck said...

It seems that quite often, it's not that those in twitterdom (or is that twitterdumb?) are themselves offended. It's that they are offended on behalf of others. Except they don't bother to ask if those others are in fact, offended. I myself don't seek out Dave Chappelle for comedy. I did watch him recently on SNL and got a kick out of him.

AJ's Blog said...

You make an good point near the end, if offended turn it off. As the courts stated about pornograpy, if you don't like it, don't look. If you don't like Chappelle, don't listen.

Paul Gottlieb said...

Dave Chappelle is free to mock and demean gays, women, transsexuals', and anyone else he chooses to target. And I am free to use Twitter or Facebook to loudly express my opinion that Dave Chappelle is an asshole. That's how freedom works. There something pathetic when a guy who has made a lot of money being "edgy" and "pushing the envelope" starts crying like a little girl when he runs into a storm of criticism. They put Lenny Bruce in jail! If Chappelle wants to be a fearless comic, let him show at least as much spine as the average transsexual

Fred C said...

“I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.” ~ Patrick Henry / Voltaire

Markus said...

That's a pretty good bit of commentary by David Zucker, and I can mostly agree with it. However, there's a slight problem with one of the central points he makes, namely that one (if not the) primary reason for today's state of hyped negative public reaction and backlash would be amplified by the fact that people can post their commentary anonymously, without having to face any consequences, and that things would be better if they had to sign their names next to it and personally stand for it. I'm sorry, but as much as this seems to be an obvious "truth" on its face, and thus is a point made easily and quickly and often, it's been proven wrong repeatedly over the past couple of years. A number of outlets and social media sites have tried to implement a policy of allowing comments only by verified "true name" accounts (among them Youtube, famously). The result time and time again seems to be that things only get worse under such circumstances. Comments get harsher and more outrageous, more vile, more bile, albeit slightly more elaborate. Youtube's toxic cesspool of comments section turned into a burning radioactive toxic cesspool of comments section, because apparently, people whose personality traits have them posting that kind of shit are actually proud of it when they're forced to sign their actual names to it. Unfortunately, by and large it does NOT make them think twice about posting it in the first place, they only put more work into it.

Kirk said...

Instead of demanding Dave Chappelle be silenced, suppose a bunch of people had tweeted "I don't like Dave Chappelle" or "Dave Chappelle offends me", would that have been all right? The reason I'm asking is that people DO have the right to be offended, and they have a right to publicly state that they're offended. Demanding people be silenced crosses the line, in my opinion, but not every single person is demanding that. Many are just saying THEY DON'T LIKE IT. The LGBTQ groups are saying they don't like. It would be a dereliction of duty for them NOT to say that. Transgender producer Jaclyn Moore has resigned from Netflix over this. She's not cancelling Dave Chappelle, she's cancelling herself as a means of protest. 12 calls today would take All in the Family off the air? Were all 12 of those calls demanding that, or were they just expressing their dislike for the show? Either way, it's ultimately the network's decision whether to cancel or not. The callers can only complain. Who knows what goes into the media giants (most probably commercial) considerations?

For all the criticism leveled at social media, it's still a bit more democratic than something like Netflix, which, despite its relative newness, has more in common with old media like CBS, NBC, and ABC. Very few people get their own Netflix special, but just about everyone except for Donald Trump can tweet on Twitter (if you want to argue that's unfair to Trump, this Biden voter won't disagree.) I'm not trying to defend cancel culture here, but I don't see why we in the LGBTQ minority (which now seems like a much bigger minority than when I was growing up--wish I'd known how big the numbers were then) should have to bite our tongues when someone else picks a fight, even if that picked fight is in the form of a "joke".

Sorry for the rant. I'll be more polite next time.

gottacook said...

Ken, I wonder how you found this article, or how it found you, given that you don't seem to be someone who would look at Commentary. It would be of interest to know whether other magazines or newspapers had declined to publish it. In any case, thanks for the link; I don't read Commentary myself (one of the leading "leftists: bad!" journals/websites of the past half-century) and I wouldn't have seen the essay otherwise.

DG said...

After I read David Zucker's article about comedy, I read some of the other articles on And by the time I'd finished, I wasn't laughing any more.

MrCarlson said...

The problem is you're not even allowed to be indifferent to it anymore, let alone dare like it. If you're indifferent to it you're "not doing enough for X cause" or "you're showing lack of empathy". If you like it, as you said, you're immediately branded a homophobe, racist, whatever. I loved Dave's Special. I love Airplane, I love blazing saddles. And you can't take them away from me.

Kendall Rivers said...

And the ironic thing is that Dave pointed out exactly the type of reactions that certain lunkheads would have. He knew exactly what he was doing and had no Fs to give! Also I find it convenient how the "offended" clearly missed the end when Dave gave such a touching speech regarding his late trans friend Daphne who had committed suicide and btw supported Dave's comedy and a lot of people from her community were the ones bullying, harassing and demeaning her. I agree that we need the fearless type of comedy that the greats like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Dave Chappelle provide or else we as a society won't deal with our foibles and flaws and everything is swept under the rug. How else is there supposed to be real progress and change if we don't address everything? And with humor making it much easier to take? But, those vocal and idiotic minority of the "not a real place" Twitter doesn't seem to get that concept, rather they must like the way the world is... Thou art protest too much?

Glenn said...

The whole things reeks of the "oppression olympics". I've never seen so many different groups fighting over who has suffered more. I'll never forget last year when the George Floyd killing happened, and riots and protests were all over the country. It was June, which is technically Gay Pride Month. A gay friend actually said to me, with a straight face, "what are they doing, this is OUR month!"

Stephen Kelsey said...

I was very happy to see that he got through this entire performance without smoking a cigarette.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Kirk. I agree, Kirk, there are quite a few people who are smart enough to just say they don't like it and not watch it, and there are also plenty who happen to be Gay or Trans who loved it like the Trans comedian who said it had her dying laughing. However all the people trying to walk out on Netflix until they cancel Chappelle's special including the Trans producer Jaclyn Moore aren't saying they just don't like it and move on, they're deliberately trying to silence Chappelle by trying to get his special taken off. That's definitely silencing and cancel culture to me.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

"I’m personally not a fan of mean-spirited comedy. And if it’s designed to demean anyone, regardless of color, gender, age — then it’s not for me."

That pretty much sums it up. I can tell the difference between Dave Chappelle and Mel Brooks on the one hand, and oh, let's say, the entire Republican party and media apparatus on the other.

julian said...

thanks, Ken!

you summed up my feelings for me

Brian Phillips said...

A take on censorship from Denis Norden, co-writer of "Take It From Here", a radio show that ran for 11 series.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@ Kirk:

You don't have to bite your tongue. No one is stopping you from venting your spleen about Chapelle, or anyone else that offends you. But the Twitter/Facebook/Instagram woke patrol doesn't stop at "hey, I didn't like that comedian, he's a jerk". Being unhappy or unsatisfied isn't enough; there are far too many people who want to go "scorched earth" when these events happen. It's not enough to say you don't like it, or that you'll cancel your Netflix subscription because of it; for too many Twitter warriors, that has to be accompanied by demands for Netflix to remove the show, and for executives to be fired, and for the obligatory airing of the insincere public apology. Then of course there are the follow up waves of outrage, as the mob attacks anyone who is even simply ambivalent about Chapelle and his viewpoint. A huge portion of the Twittersphere sound exactly like a bible thumping Texan with an anti-gay marriage position: it's not enough to be against something and not engage in it, you have to demand that other people aren't able to engage in it either.

The internet outrage experience is still relatively new to corporate America. I think they're still unsure about what effect all this outrage has on their bottom line. Maybe in the future they'll realize that a very loud, very small portion of the population doesn't compare at all to the huge part of the population that actually don't care in the least what Dave Chapelle said in a comedy special. And with the unfortunate conservative lean this country is taking, I sincerely think you're going to see a lot more corporate responses like the one Netflix has given. They're going to realize that all this impotent rage on line doesn't affect their bottom line, and they're going to be even more resistant to change than they were before.

I'm 100 percent anti-Trump, I'm not a conservative, and I'm really starting to hate the screeching of progressives accusing people of being transphobes because they like Chapelle, or racists because they think open borders is a ridiculous concept, as much as I hate the sound of conservatives bleating on line about the War on Christmas and that mask mandates are equivalent to the Holocaust.

Don Kemp said...

In the same but different category, there was Don Rickles. For the life of me I just did not know why people found him funny. So, as part of a multi-day extravaganza that was my 50th birthday party over 13 years ago, a group of us went to see him at the Grove in Anaheim because well, he was a legend and we wanted to say we'd seen him and two, to see if maybe, somehow, he was funny in person. He wasn't. Hardly any of his schtick was new, it was all insult comedy based upon gender and race with a small part of it based on someone's alleged stupidity. People laughed, but they were so conditioned to laugh at all the "right" places it was as if that was scripted, too. I doubt there was any spontaneous laughter his entire set.

But somehow, he got away with some pretty personal stuff saying things like "but I kid the ------ or it's all in good fun. I don't think he would have had any kind of a career starting out today. And yet, Bob Newhart loved the guy personally. Go figure.

Stuart G. said...

I'm sorry. I just don't get this idea that comedy is not being allowed because it is politically incorrect. Isn't Family Guy and South Park politically incorrect? Both are funny and very popular. I don't find Dave Chappelle funny at all. Totally lame comedy.

Brian Phillips said...

Harlan Ellison said and wrote, "Everybody is not entitled to their opinion. Everybody is entitled to their INFORMED opinion."

One, of course, has to take into account the source of the information. One of (many) issues we have is that, unlike the kids in "Lord of the Flies", EVERYONE with a modem and social media has access to the conch shell and while the old system meant a lot of voices that should have been heard were not(and also allowed for a lot of schmoes), it also meant fair or otherwise, you had several hurdles to clear to be heard. Now, the unheard are being heard and while that does bring some valued perspectives, the schmoe factor has increased and access is fast, fast, fast.

One can get power mad with this. I eat a cereal that I can only get at one supermarket, which is about 30 miles away. I call first, see if they have it, and buy several boxes. I called this place and they put me on hold...for the entirety of my drive up. It is not inconceivable that I could go on YouTube, name names, addresses and BAM! it could go viral, lose jobs, etc.

Or, I could just let the manager know that it would be best to have his employees pick up the phone when they page people, which is what I did.

I can't say that we are in a throughly lovely time creatively, but I can say that instant access to the world can really, really suck or...

When we had an ice storm/Snow storm that crippled transit here. Outside of the inside of a transit bus, I saw posts of people saying, "If you are at ____ exit, we have food for you" or "If you are near Home Depot, you can sleep in the store".

Where we are is in the infancy of mass access. Sadly, infants, cute as they are, make a great deal of noise and mess. Here is to hoping that puberty and maturity are on their way.

Michael said...

Whatever I think of Chappelle, or his comedy, etc., I do wonder this: If a comedian did a stand-up special and changed his references to "transgender" to "Black," how would he react? I don't know the answer for sure.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Thanks for the notice on this recent Chappelle special - which followed fast on the heels of one NPR news bit last week. This aired a somewhat incoherent "grievance" by a "black trans woman" (who "represents" the most fragile subset of her one-in-one-thousand "group"). As such it was a nice ad for the special.

If we accept Chappelle's "testimony", the trans "opposition" has been libelling/slandering him with the same talking points since 2006.

A follow up with two black men (to cite their "identities"), writing for NPR and The Atlantic, showed both of them looking over his shoulder, clearly conscious of "backlash" as they tread carefully through the minefield. Would either of them DARE to admit that they laughed at the same jokes that were so unacceptable?

Tyler Pounds said...

David Zucker (Scary Movie V) complaining about the state of comedy has a different ring to it.

Good comedies came out this year.

Stand Ups a lot braver than Dave Chappelle released hours this year.

How brave and counterculture can you be if you were paid 20 million dollars for your special? Face it, Chappelle is the establishment he wishes he could still rail against.

Steve in Toronto said...

Bill Burr on Conan:

Very funny, and occasionally divisive, and he calls out the audience on their shocked reactions to certain lines.

Darwin's Ghost said...

By the way, I'm glad you got to work with David Zucker back in the day before he turned into an ultra right winger, making crap like An American Carol in which he gave Bill O'Reilly a cameo. I don't have to guess who Zucker voted for in the last election.

Elf said...

It's OK for Chapelle to make fun of himself or the groups he's a member of, like men, Black people, comedians, rich people, etc. But the problem with this special, and apparently his personal worldview, is that the "jokes" he makes about the gay and trans communities are demeaning and dangerous. Here's a quick read from a gay Black man that explains his perspective quite well. IF you don't want to read the whole thing, just consider this paragraph:

"I don’t want Chappelle to be canceled. I want him to pull out the threads of homophobia and transphobia that run through the quilt of his otherwise brilliant work. His once bracing wit has become calcified like a wasp in resin unable to move and sting with the times. As such, he’s giving narrow-minded people a safe space to deny the existence of trans people and make gays the focus of their taunts. There’s a difference between being the subject of a joke and being the butt of it."

Anthony Strand said...

The problem with Zucker's article is that he absolutely could release Airplane! now, people would just complain about it.

Dave Chappelle hasn't been silenced. He made a Netflix special where he got to say whatever he wanted, and Netflix is standing by him. So what's the problem?

Fred said...

As has been often said, it’s easier to fool folks than convince them they’ve been fooled, so I’ll make no attempts at persuasion here— after all, I may be the fool. I’ll just post what others may be thinking

Is Dave Chappelle truly fearless, in the tradition of Lenny Bruce? Bruce up-punched mild jokes about the Catholic Church, which—taking time out from centuries of pedophilia—made sure he was harassed, tried, and jailed into penury.

Dave Chappelle brave? His worth is conservatively estimated at $50M and among his cheering fans at a recent event were Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Nas, Lizzo, Jon Hamm, Jeff Ross, Brad Pitt, Tiffany Haddish, Chuck Lorre, and Sterling K. Brown. The only thing missing was a skybox with George Bush and Ellen DeGeneres (formerly demonized as “Degenerate” by the GOP until their wallets brokered a peace deal)

Netflix management and Mr Sarandos are wrong, and they are not so much defending Mr Chapelle and free speech as they are excusing their own decisions and protecting their jobs.

This does not involve differing senses of humor— it’s differing senses of appropriate targets. If Ted Sarandos “joked” — as did Chappelle — “I don’t hate gay people, I respect the shit out of you — not all of you, I’m not that fond of these newer gays — too sensitive, too brittle. I miss the old-school gays … the Stonewall gays. They didn’t take shit from anybody” —he’d‘ve been golden parachuted. Some have suggested Chappelle said these and other such lines “in character” — but they seem to be a recurring theme in his material

Fred said...

Sarandos stated “We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” That is, of course, a hilariously mistaken belief, and the refutations are overwhelming, from The Birth of a Nation and Father Charles Coughlin to the film treatment of innumerable oppressed groups .... Blacks, Native Americans, LGBQT, Women, Asians, Muslims, Jews

TV series, and film, characters—even when their bigotry, hatred, and down-punching is shown disparagingly—as with Archie Bunker or Ralph Kramden—can normalize the bigotry and hatred. The All in the Family debut got so few phone calls because 50% saw it as an attack on bigotry, and the bigots saw it as a first-time celebration of their beliefs on network TV

And when bigotry and hatred of the oppressed are promoted as acceptable, and are “factually” justified by films, stand-up comics “as themselves” — or news—e.g. Birth of a Nation Dave Chappelle, Fox and Sinclair News —the consequences are much worse. Sarandos’ idea of real-world harmless screen content has half the country supporting coups, treason, vote suppression, and suicide by Covid

For Netflix to yank Chappelle’s special would not be censorship any more than it was when Hachette dropped Woody Allen’s memoir — which Arcade picked up. Liebling wrote
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” So, Netflix can do as it pleases with Chappelle’s work and Chapelle can find other distributors or self-market his own output, as Louis C K was doing before big media showed him the door .

Mr Zucker comes off like a thin-skinned Jack Carter, glued to his familiar mother-in-law gags, or a Seinfeld beefing about college crowds .... just as, in the piece, Zucker relies on the pedophile jokes he’s used for the 4 decades since Airplane. They all like to think comedy’s been cancelled — when, in reality, sometimes it just bypasses the old creators for something fresher or less down-punchy.
Laurel and Hardy— few greater — wound
up in French films and British music halls and Jerry in telethons.

Mr Zucker laments — as might Chappelle — the fact that —in Zucker’s estimation — 9% of those on social media, aided by anonymity, have over-amplified their voices and thereby driven writers and performers out of comedy.
But of course, anonymity has been used by writers since Tom Paine to avoid threats, the voices of the offended seem magnified now only because they previously had few platforms, the creation of comedy has never been greater, and dramatic entertainment
gets the same social media attention as does comedy

A closing note for Mr Chappelle .
Jack Benny had his best years when Eddie Anderson’s character put aside his razors and dice, and Eddie Murphy continued to prosper when he let up on the gay bashing
Perhaps a stand-up should — like Mr Dooley’s ideal newspaper — Comfort the afflicted, and Afflict the comfortable. (THE END)

Kevin In Choconut Center said...

Yes to this. I don't care for Dave Chappelle's humor. But that doesn't change the facts, not one bit. He has every right to say whatever he wants to, on or off camera. Netflix has every right to air his specials, pay him well to do so, and profit from it. His fans have every right to enjoy watching him work.

And, that, people, is that.

Grant said...

It would be nice if Netflix had any comedy specials featuring trans folks.

VincentS said...

Read David Zucker's article and I agree 100%. Thanks for sharing, Ken.

Johnny Walker said...

I'd be willing to take a bet that almost nobody here has actually watched the entire Dave Chapelle Special. And yet there are SO many opinions here about it.

Netflix is still going. Dave Chapelle is doing fine. Nobody has had their lives ruined. There's the initial outrage, and then there's outrage about the outrage. Everyone's outraged... even though they haven't seen the thing that started it all.

I happened to catch Chapelle here in London several years ago. He did a lot on trans people, and it sounds like he's now doing that material in his special. Watching him it's clear that he's a man who likes to say the things you're not allowed to say, even though it was clear that he actually didn't really believe what he was saying. He just enjoyed being offensive. (I'm sure in the special he ends his jokes with the true story about the trans woman (who was a fan of his) that he befriended, just like he did in London.)

I just wonder how many of his fans get the message: He's saying naughty things, and he finds it funny to break those taboos. But he doesn't really believe them.

Given that hate crimes against minorities are rising steeply, especially towards gay and trans people, I can see why some don't appreciate the humour.

Darwin's Ghost said...

Just when it looked like comedy was dead, the king himself is coming back to save the day.

Mel Brooks to write and executive produce History of the World Part II.

Hell yeah!!!

Jahn Ghalt said...

Darwin's Ghost said.

I do think his Space Jews jokes were a crass distortion and inversion of the Holocaust and Jewish history, and have predictably been lauded by antisemites and BDS types who received his dog whistle sentiments loud and clear,

One of those columnists that I mentioned earlier (writing for NPR and The Atlantic) referred to the first of two "Jew jokes" (that I recall) and called them "anti-semitic" as if those jokes are well over-the-line.


On second thought, perhaps I should become more sensitive (not joking about this), or at least more aware of subtext, "code", and the like??

When I heard the punch line:

"Space Jews"

I took it as a reference to the "disporportionate" power that Jews in enertainment have been said to wield since at least the forties.

I am grateful for the reference - I intend to watch again to see what I missed

(and I invite Darwin to do and same and parse the joke )

Brandon in Virginia said...

@Johnny Walker That's exactly what happened. He spoke very openly about his trans friend and how hurt he was to be accused of "punching down".

I also agree that most outrage is coming from people who never watched his special, and just read cherry-picked quotes taken out of context. And that's the primary thing missing in most people's online rants: context. It's easier to react before understanding and go with the grain. If you dare offer a different perspective, or simply keep it simple, someone else will accuse of being part of the problem.

The very first special he makes a joke about Caitlyn Jenner that basically lit the gasoline fire. The joke: Caitlyn plans to pose nude in Playboy. I think I speak for everyone when I say "Eww." Dave left it up to you to decide what he meant (I took it as nobody wants to see a 70-year-old naked, regardless of their anatomy), but the Internet took it and ran with it.

Call Me Mike said...

I think one tactic the critics of comedians should maybe consider: more comedy. In the special, Chappelle notes that he became friends with a trans comedian because her response to his cutting remarks about her were thoughtful, genuine, and above all FUNNY. It changed his perspective about her.

Don't kid a kidder? Maybe you should.

Kirk said...

OK, here's the line in Ken's post that set me off:

"Through social media a tiny minority now has a huge amplified voice and can dictate policies and norms for the majority — even though the majority doesn’t agree with them."

The more I think about it, the more I believe Ken meant a minority-within-a-minority, i.e., the people who want Dave Chappelle banned, but I originally took it to mean LGBTQ people as a whole--God knows, I don't need any reminders that I'm in the minority--and that's what made me see red (I've calmed down since.)

As for Dave Chappelle, I only know what was quoted in a news report (which, as Johnny Walker points out, may have been taken out of context.) It wasn't so much Chappelle's claim to be a TERF, which I found nonsensical, but another comment (or joke) where he compares present-day LGBTQ activists to those from the Stonewall era. It had overtones of you-gays-got-what-you-want-so-why-are-you-still-complaining? Well, eternal vigilance is why. All those things we got could disappear overnight (think I'm being paranoid? This past January 6, REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY almost disappeared overnight, or rather, in broad daylight, so ANYTHING is up for grabs.)

Speaking only for myself, I wish neither Dave Chappelle to be censored or the movie AIRPLANE to be taken out of circulation. But if I see something in either one that strikes me as homophobic, I reserve the right to say so, even at the risk of coming across as paranoid or oversensitive or not having a sense of humor or whatever.

Necco said...

On another note...I made it through the ten episodes of "Only Murders in the Building," discussed in a previous post. No spoilers. But ultimately, I hated it. I totally "get" the tone and "intent." I'm just not sure that I'll commit to a second season (which is happening).

Apparently, "La Brea" is the hit of the network season, and I find it to be a ridiculous, convoluted mess. It's just another gimmick show, with stupid people doing stupid things. And why do these characters, dropped millions of years in the past, look constantly bathed and coiffed? If ANY of us go without bathing for 24 hours, it starts to get rank, much less in a prehistoric age. This is all some kind of "Land of the Lost" redux bullshit. HELL, THAT Saturday-morning show made more sense...

Unknown said...

Beyond the outrage, why is no one angry that this comedy special pretty much lacked any comedy? That was disappointing.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

FWIW, the Netflix employee whose tweet set off at least part of this particular storm explains that the point was not to "cancel" Chappelle, but to get the company where they work to understand the impact on society of the content deccisions it makes:


Stephen Cudmore said...

I've never yet seen anyone advocating silencing or censoring Chappelle. I think that the idea that he is being oppressed is a perscution fantasy.

The people who don't like his special (I haven't seen it) are suggesting that they find it unfunny and hurtful, that it makes him come off like a jerk and that it is and not worth paying money for, all of which are valid critisms to lay on a comedian, a public figure opining about the way other people live their lives, and the producer of content that Netflix has commissioned with our subscription money.

Everyone has the right to free speech. There's no right not to get called an asshole, and there's certainly no right to make a living doing comedy.

Jim UK said...

People cite South Park, Family Guy, Chappelle as examples of comedy that is allowed to make jokes that offend. But all 3 are established powerhouses that have been popular with this kind of humour since the 90s. They've achieved a certain status that is harder to tear down overnight. But for any newer show there are more restrictive limits on what can be said.

If a new show came out with edgy content, once it was broadcast there would be a wave of twitter outrage from people who didn't see the show but heard it was offensive, the network/app would give in and cancel the show and apologise, and because it's a new show there would be no fanbase to argue in support of it.

George Toledo said...

Complaining that people don’t think you are funny is the epitome of bad comedy.

Edward said...

Netflix has the power of a subscription business model so there are no advertisers that can grandstand and issue a press release declaring it will pull its ads unless the special is removed.

HBO has the same power.

Bill Maher used the"N" word on a show a few years ago but still has a job. Had his comment been made on a regular network, even with a 'bleep' he would have be gone ASAP.

Claro said...

Total agreement about Zucker's hypersensitive reaction. Comedy evolves, and what's funny in 1980 might not be in 2021. Guys like Zucker, who also wrote and directed the witless "An American Carol," and Adam Carolla think they're being "censored" by having to respond contemporary moods and viewpoints. They're not. They just need to work a little harder than they did before to find the funny. I think that's the real issue with these guys: the world demands more of them and they're too crotchety (or untalented) to provide it.

Walter Mann said...

I'm a big fan of your blog and the insights you give behind the scenes of entertainment. The length of time I've followed your blog has compelled me to comment.

Chappelle's comedy special is a hot topic right now. So if you praise it without acknowledging the controversy, why would it be unusual for someone to think you're in agreement with the material? No one I know would be bothered if you told them you liked the standup but don't agree with his views. This isn't an all or nothing situation, you can still say your opinion in a nuanced way.

But also yes, if you say something positive about a racist or homophobic joke and don't want to discuss the subject matter you might be "instantly" branded a racist or homophobe since that's the only information people have available to form their opinion about you.

I think you'll find very few people are against comedians being provocative in general. But to be provocative is to do something to get a response. And that makes provocative comedy riskier because when your jokes don't land they can provoke stronger pushback against them. Comedians have to accept that provocative comedy isn't for all audiences, and frankly any complaining about it sounds like blaming the audience for telling you they don't like your joke. If the joke was funny enough there would be no controversy.

Every network decision is made for the sake of profit. If 12 people complained and ALL IN THE FAMILY went off the air, that would be the fault of the network and not the complainers. Because the only way that would happen is if someone high up thought those complaints meant the show would lose money. And that happens when there are enough unhappy people to affect the bottom line. If the majority didn't agree, then the show would be profitable enough to continue no matter how loudly those 12 people complained.

The solution is not for people to suck it up and complain less. The solution is for the media to find their audience and deliver a product their audience wants. Anything else is a failed business model. And like it or not, social media means that more people have voices than in the past. The power balance has shifted away from having three tv channels, take it or leave it. Now people better like your product or they'll move on to the next one.

When Trump sent out tweets, why not simply say, "Fuck you, Trump," turn off the news and go on about your life? It's a tweet, not a snuff film. (I'm not a Trump fan.) The reason is because giving a stage to bigots amplifies their voices and does real, actual harm to human beings. Trans people can't just ignore the biggest comedian in the world saying "I'm on team TERF" any less than you can ignore the former president coming to California for a rally

And I don't understand people being outraged that other people are outraged. Why not just ignore their outrage then if you're saying that works?

JED said...

I know it seems that "these days", you can't make a joke about any group without getting in trouble but I happened to watch an old You Bet Your Life episode on YouTube where Groucho was interviewing a Baptist minister who also liked to tell jokes and they were both lamenting that it was getting harder to tell jokes because you have to be careful about offending anyone. Here's a link to the episode and the part I'm talking about starts at 8:19,

Because of this, the minister says he tends to makes jokes about himself. We can blame the Internet for amplifying this but not for starting it. This was back in 1960.

This is an interesting episode for another reason. The other guest is the mother of boxer Rocky Marciano and Groucho makes a bunch of silly statements about Marciano racking up wins against "stumblebums" because he's told Rocky isn't there. Then, of course, Marciano appears and Groucho has a good time pretending to be afraid.

Darwin's Ghost said...

"And I don't understand people being outraged that other people are outraged. Why not just ignore their outrage then if you're saying that works?"

Walter, the trans lobby don't just express outrage. They routinely engage in violence and death threats. Multiple female professors now require security on campuses because they've received death threats for saying biology matters and that women don't have a penis.

TERF is a term manufactured by extremists as a slur against any woman who says she should be able to access female only spaces and services without being confronted by biologically intact men. The implication in your comment that it's just people being outraged is laughable. JK Rowling receives abuse every day, including tweets showing graphic porn that were deliberately sent in threads where she was answering questions by child fans so that the children would see the porn.

Yeah, let's just ignore that.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Walter Mann well plenty of people seem to really dig Dave's comedy since it's currently holding a 96 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and most people who don't live in their basements crying on Twitter seem to love it, including another comedian who just so happens to be Trans so...

Rich said...

The people being offended by The Closer either never saw it and going by what Twitter says. Or if they saw it clearly missed the point and are the true targets of his jokes and points.

Walter Mann said...

The trans lobby isn't any more responsible for those extremists than all Christians are responsible for people who send death threats to Planned Parenthood. Are we saying christians don't have the right to complain about jokes made at their expense? Saying the people who state their disapproval of a comedy special are the same as those who engage in violence and harassment is disingenuous at best.

If you seriously believe that TERF is a "term manufactured by extremists as a slur", then you and I aren't living in the same reality. Anyone else reading this can easily find the origins of the term online and decide for themselves. If you have an ax to grind about the term TERF, my comment isn't about that and it isn't an invitation to engage in pearl clutching or whataboutisms. I wrote a comment about comedy on a blog about comedy.

ScarletNumber said...


According to modern liberal thought, it's not enough to not be a racist or a sexist, one must actively be anti-racist or anti-sexist. And if you say you would rather not get involved, you are told to "check your privilege". It's quite tiresome, and I'm saying that as a life-long Democrat!


The story of 12 people calling CBS to complain about All in the Family reminds me of the story of The Heidi Bowl. So many people called NBC to see if they would be cutting away from the Jets/Raiders game at 7 to show Heidi that NBC president Julian Goodman, who was going to give the order to keep the game on, couldn't get through!

I guess the point is that it wouldn't occur to me to call the local TV station or a network to complain about something. I wouldn't even have known how to do so. I guess people had more free time back then.

Leighton said...

Is that "Heidi" story even true? It sounds very dicey.

Walter Mann said...

I don't understand the point you're making. I'm not saying there aren't people who like his comedy. I've been a Chapelle fan for a long time, even if I'm not a fan of his views on trans people and the part of his act that speaks to that. What I was saying is that if, as you say, he's truly popular and profitable then he has nothing to worry about because his career is fine. And if his approval is so high, any complaining about people who don't like his act sounds like sour grapes or marketing spin.

If the trans people are anything like any other group in history, they aren't a monolith. Individuals in the group can have different viewpoints and opinions. So saying "well I have a trans friend so it's ok" or "a trans comedian thought it was funny" doesn't do anything to address the criticism of his act.

It's 2021, every politician, celebrity, writer, comedian, and meter maid is on Twitter. I think maybe it's time we lose the tired basement-dweller appellation. There's better ways to play gatekeeper over who's opinions are valid so...

Kendall Rivers said...

@Walter Mann That's the point, though. Nobody said that it was wrong for anyone not to like his act or to be offended by it, that's all perfectly fine. What people are laughing and\or complaining about is how these type of people that can't just leave it at being displeased have to stage a walk out to try to silence Chappelle and Netflix. That's where they cross the line from having their own opinion to being just plain crazy. It's counter intuitive because all they're doing is just giving the special more publicity and making it more popular than it may have been otherwise but they don't realize that because it's really all about chasing clout and getting attention not that they're just stating their own opinions. This is just like the Terry Rakolta incident with Married with Children, only she was a right wing housewife who started a crusade against Married with Children because her kids were watching a particularly "racy" episode. Now, what does it say about her that she wasn't monitoring what her small children were watching? Instead of simply turning off the Tv and not allowing it to be watched in her house she had to stir up a big ole stink that may have made them lose two sponsors but ultimately it put this little show on a no name network on the map and it lasted another 8 full seasons whereas it was perhaps on its way to cancellation. It totally backfired on her and these people crusading against Chappelle and The Closer are doing the same stupid thing and it's hilariously backfiring on them.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Walter Mann and btw, not being a monolith seems to be frowned upon with at least a good portion of that specific community because after Chappelle's friend Daphne, who was already suffering from depression and would eventually commit suicide, stood up for Dave she was attacked mercilessly by a good portion of the LGBTQ community to the point that certainly didn't help with her suicidal thoughts. Again, I know there's no monolith in any group, I belong to the black community and I know for a fact that that's not true with us, but I'm just making a point here.

MikeKPa. said...

I love Chappelle but just didn't think this special was funny. It reminded me of a special Chris Rock did several years back, in which much of his material was really bitterness over his divorce settlement. The jokes felt like anger release, not humor.

Walter Mann said...

@Kendall Rivers

If I understand correctly, the core of Ken's blogpost is that he is worried about comedians losing the ability to perform because a vocal minority that "can dictate policies and norms for the majority" is overreacting to the material. To that I reiterate, the only thing dictating policies for corporations like Netflix is their bottom line. Netflix doesn't care about trans people beyond the money they spend and the money they can influence others to spend. So their only power is getting enough people on their side to affect profitability. And if enough of the audience doesn't like the material, then maybe the act should change. Bad comics blame the audience for not liking the act, good comics go out on stage and win the audience over. Married with Children did that. Dave Chappelle used to be able to do that. But if this is all it takes to make him think he's being cancelled amid a highly successful $20million special, then to borrow his phrase, sounds to me like a brittle spirit.

Ken puts forward the solution "turn off their show, and go on about your life." I'd guess that most trans people would like nothing more than to be able to ignore Chappelle and go on living their lives. But they can't. You or I may only think about trans people for the 15 minutes we hear about it in a comedy special. But to them, that's their life all day long. And it stings to hear hurtful things from the most popular comedy special on the most popular streaming platform. To those hurt it's one more reminder that to some people your life is the butt of a joke. Everyone reading this has assumptions, but how many people here have actually talked to a trans person about the special to get their opinion and perspective? How would you even know how it affects them, or if they were talking from the heart?

Trans people are told by those with no skin in the game that the solution is to forget it and go about their lives. Don't complain, don't take a stand, don't rock the boat. So what should they do then? In their place could you just shut up and take it if you were hurt and angry? Just let it go? You already know you can't, you're here just like me, posting your opinions in the comments of a blog, telling others what they should do. And I hope if it ever comes to it that I have the fortitude to take a stand for something I believe in.

It's difficult when someone tells us the thing we like has hurt them. But apathy doesn't make you cool, and willful ignorance isn't the recipe for a better world. If you don't want to hear about it, then turn the tv off, and go about your life. The people who care don't need your approval to make things happen, and eventually you'll be like the hack comics who never update their acts-bitter because you never tried to understand a world that has since moved on without you.

Walter Mann said...

@Kendall Rivers

I don't understand the point you're making. So you know there's no monolith in any group, but actually they do act like a monolith, and I shouldn't be offended you said so because you're black? And also it's the LGBTQ monolith's fault she killed herself?

Kendall Rivers said...

@Walter Mann We'll have to agree to disagree but I respect your opinion and appreciate you taking the time to respond eloquently.

Darwin's Ghost said...

Walter, I'd just like to know one thing. When you say trans people, do you mean those who've undergone reassignment surgery? If you do, I agree their lives shouldn't be dismissed as a joke, though I'd still disagree that Chappelle said anything transphobic.

Or do you mean anyone who simply declares they self identify as a woman and scream misogynist things like "suck my girl dick" at women?

I'm not a woman, but I agree with the many feminists who have said that being a woman isn't a feeling or a mood or an outfit. A man shouldn't get the right to access women only spaces by just declaring he's a woman. Eddie Izzard calls it girl mode when he puts on lipstick and wears a skirt and has the nerve to say he feels it's a promotion to be called a woman. That is, until he needs the paycheck afforded to him as an male actor and then he exits girl mode.

At a women's rape crisis center in Scotland, rape victims discovered that the "woman" they were to talk about their experiences with was actually a biologically intact man. When they complained that they didn't want to discuss being raped by a man with a man, the rape center told the victims they need to "reframe their trauma."

So while you're virtue signalling, which you're entitled to do, please don't try and pretend women aren't being harmed by this movement. This is nothing new, of course. Women have always been easy targets throughout history. The difference is that now much of the misogyny comes from so called progressives who think they're on the right side of history. Whether it's the attacks from conservatives on women's right to choose or attacks from the far left on women's spaces, we're living in THE most misogynist era in modern history and everyone who tries to speak up is shouted down and threatened.

I won't comment any further so that this doesn't spiral off into an endless back and forth.

Tammy said...

Darwin's Ghost - sorry for getting emotional, but thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring so much about women's rights and safety and for speaking up. Most people have no idea about everything that's going on right now - I myself didn't know until the JK Rowling backlash, which ironically caused many feminists like me to become gender-critical. Even those who do know are often scared to speak up, and rightfully so, as you've mentioned. So thanks again, especially as you're (I believe) in the UK, where so many battles are being fought right now.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Darwin's Ghost Your comment really hit me right in the heart. Your perspective is very compelling and thoughtful. I never thought of some of the things you said before so you definitely gave me great insight. I also like how as a man you're able to speak on the behalf of women genuinely and not virtue signaling or pretending that you've experienced what they've experienced like so many "male feminists" do. Only thing I'd say is that not only are we living in the most misogynistic era in modern history but also the most misandrist, for both sides it's just a hot mess right now. I also think we're living in the most racially divided era in modern history, and considering what was going on in the old days that's really saying something terrible. The only difference between now and then is that the sexism and bigotry is far more hidden behind "progressiveness" and far more celebrated.

Fred said...

ScarletNumber10/19/2021 6:47 PM
According to modern liberal thought, it's not enough to not be a racist or a sexist, one must actively be anti-racist or anti-sexist. And if you say you would rather not get involved, you are told to "check your privilege". It's quite tiresome, and I'm saying that as a life-long Democrat!

As a response, here is a lightly edited Wikipedia except on the Hitler-supporting self-described antisemite Martin Niemöller,
and how he came to compose his most famous writing ... “First they came for...”
Niemöller’s later meeting with Ho Chi Minh — not exactly a civil rights patron — suggests he didn’t exactly understand or practice what he preached

Martin Niemöller (1892 – 1984) was a German theologian & Lutheran pastor. He is best known for his opposition to the Nazi regime during the late 1930s and for his widely quoted 1946 poem "First they came ..."

“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Niemöller was a national conservative and initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, but he became one of the founders of the Confessing Church, which opposed the Nazification of German Protestant churches. He opposed the Nazis' Aryan Paragraph, but was also a self-identified antisemite. For his opposition to the Nazis' state control of the churches, Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1938 to 1945. He narrowly escaped execution. After his imprisonment, he expressed his deep regret about not having done enough to help victims of the Nazis. He turned away from his earlier nationalistic beliefs and was one of the initiators of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. From the 1950s on, he was a vocal pacifist and anti-war activist, and vice-chair of War Resisters' International from 1966 to 1972. He met with Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War and was a committed campaigner for nuclear disarmament.

Mark/NM said...

How soon we forget that in 2015, a flamboyant and insensitive axxhole decided that he didn’t like one of Dave’s jokes and thought it was ok to toss a banana peel on stage.

Fred said...


1. Is “flamboyant” meant as a derogatory code word?
2. While no one is advocating the assault and battery of performers,
one can’t help but feel— after researching your story — that
• the tipsy assailant was no Mark David Chapman
• in comparison to Chappelle, the banana didn’t seem so thin-skinned

Compare poor Dave’s treatment to that of the below-average vaudevillian,
who suffered far worse vegan barrages

Fred said...


1. Is “flamboyant” meant as a derogatory code word?
2. While no one is advocating the assault and battery of performers,
one can’t help but feel— after researching your story — that
• the tipsy assailant was no Mark David Chapman
• in comparison to Chappelle, the banana didn’t seem so thin-skinned

Compare poor Dave’s treatment to that of the below-average vaudevillian,
who suffered far worse vegan barrages