Dave Chappelle is Back and Courting Controversy as Always (review)


On Tuesday, October 5, comedian Dave Chappelle released The Closer, his (to date) final standup comedy special for Netflix. The Closer comes at the end of a career comeback that has seen Chappelle release his first concert specials in 12 years with the streaming giant.

With special number six, Chappelle doesn’t hide what he’s here to do. He has gathered in front of a sellout audience in Detroit to answer for his career, every controversial joke and contrarian statement, providing a conclusion to an arc which began once he famously walked off the set of Chappelle’s Show in 2005. It’s not a perfect package, but neither is human experience; a point Chappelle stresses throughout the special.

The Closer doesn’t find the gut-busting humor of The Age of Spin or Deep in the Heart of Texas, nor does he rehash tired trends from his long-distant Comedy Central past. Chappelle thrives on what he’s always done best: doing the opposite of what people expect, and executing it with flawless delivery. Main focuses include the COVID-19 pandemic, racial inequality, and Chappelle’s supposed “punching down” on minority groups. If everything he says is taken at face value, it’s not difficult to understand why many feel this way about Chappelle’s comedy.

Take, for example, an early quip which involves a science fiction film Chappelle thought up during his time in quarantine. “In my movie idea, we find out that these aliens are originally from earth — that they’re from an ancient civilization that achieved interstellar travel and left the earth thousands of years ago. Some other planet they go to, and things go terrible for them on the other planet, so they come back to earth, and decide that they want to claim the earth for their very own. It’s a pretty good plotline, huh? I call it Space Jews”. Chappelle uses this to highlight the genuine conundrum of the interwoven theme of human experience. Each of us is both oppressor and oppressed – such as with the Israelis and Palestinians. He touches on the topic again later in the special, mentioning black slave owner William Ellison – once enslaved himself, now freed and employing the brutal practices once perpetrated on him.

Still, Chappelle is a modern day jester – his social satire is underscored by hyperbole, a point which his detractors continually fail to understand. You’re likely to see headlines about The Closer– “Dave Chappelle confesses to beating up woman in nightclub!”, “Dave Chappelle finally admits he’s transphobic!”. Yet, Chappelle’s message is that it is our duty to see one another as human, regardless of the power and privilege we experience as a result of traits we possess. If Chappelle was really “Team TERF”, why would he go out of his way to aid the career of a burgeoning transgender comedian, much less start a trust fund in her daughter’s name after her suicide? The man who says “please don’t abort DaBaby” knows exactly what he’s talking about. He’s actively sacrificing his public image, and by this, he gains a platform to speak the truth. “Punching down requires you to think less of someone”, Chappelle states proudly, quoting late friend Daphne Dorman. “But Dave Chappelle does not punch up or down, he punches lines, and he is a master of his craft”.

At the special’s culmination, Chappelle announces he’s finished telling jokes about the LGBTQ+ community until “we are sure that we’re laughing together.” Chappelle’s naysayers are unlikely to be swayed by The Closer, but he’d be the first to tell you that wasn’t his aim with the special. What Chappelle wants you to understand most of all is that he’s human. Recalling the final time they spoke, Chappelle quotes Dorman as stating, “I don’t need you to understand me. I need you to believe that I’m having a human experience!” And Chappelle replies: “I believe you, because it takes one to know one.”

Rating: ★★★★★

“Empathy is not gay. Empathy is not black. Empathy is bisexual – it must go both ways.”

The Closer is available to stream on Netflix.

Categories: Opinion

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