Pictured: Dave Chappelle. Photo by John Bauld. 

by Paul Moomjean 

With 2021 nearing the end, the Internet was ready for at least one more Twitterverse explosion, and comedian Dave Chappelle did not disappoint in his new comedy special The Closer. Claiming this will be the last hour-long special “for a minute,” the controversial yet highly accoladed comedian took on everything from the transgender and gay community to Twitter to his friendship with a transgender comic. As the culture wars shift from gay marriage (the Left won) to pronouns and identity (the world is still fighting), Chappelle decided to make an awkward amends with the LGBTQ+ community, by both calling a truce while also calling them out on their own bully tactics. What we end up with is a Chappelle 3:16 gospel of do unto others until others exhaust you, which is both highly pragmatic yet incomplete in its conclusion.

Chapelle is no stranger to LGBTQ+ backlash. His award-winning Netflix special Sticks & Stones attacked the inner turmoil within the “alphabet people,” which in 2019 caused a series of reactions from comics who identify as LGBTQ+.

Back in 2019, comedian Alison Grillo told The Wrap, “I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t make jokes about Michael Jackson, or you shouldn’t make jokes about trans people unless you’re trans, or you shouldn’t make jokes about school shootings unless you’ve been in a school shooting. No. I wouldn’t put that level of censorship on anyone.” She went on to add that his jokes about ambiguous pronouns offended her, but the rest of the special was fine. 

Today, the criticisms run closer to home. The New York Times reported on the internal chats coming from Netflix employees:

“One employee questioned whether Netflix was ‘making the wrong historical choice around hate speech.’ In reply, [Reed Hastings, a co-chief executive,] wrote: ‘To your macro question on being on the right side of history, we will always continue to reflect on the tensions between freedom and safety. I do believe that our commitment to artistic expression and pleasing our members is the right long term choice for Netflix, and that we are on the right side, but only time will tell.’”

Yet many others continue to see Chappelle’s jokes as license to mock. 

“Make no mistake, Chappelle’s alleged jokes do not impact hypothetical people; they, in fact, cause real harm to transgender and nonbinary viewers and Black LGBTQ youth who may have once looked up to him as a role model,” wrote Preston Mitchum, a queer author, attorney and director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project. 

There is truth in that, as Variety reported: “In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign recorded a record number of violent deaths suffered by trans and gender nonconforming people, the highest rate since the group began tracking these killings in 2013.” 

What sparked Chappelle’s antagonistic jokes was the way the LGBTQ+ community has used social media as a bully pulpit to enhance cancel culture, which has impacted other comedians, such as his friends Kevin Hart and the late transgender comic Daphne Dorman. Chappelle is going after a community that is judging behavior from years ago or those who cross the PC line and support him instead of folding to tribal politics. All of this feels authentic and sincere, but where Chappelle seems naïve is in his inability to connect the way America treated the LGBTQ+ community once they came out of the closet and how the roles are now just reversed. 

People were fired for years or kicked out of the military or excommunicated from churches for revealing LGBTQ+ thoughts or behaviors. Now, in 2021, the community that was shamed away is firing back with “reverse homophobia.” Essentially, anyone who has a history of bigotry is now paying a price the way they did for most of our modern history. It’s a revenge tactic no doubt, but a counterattack to a Reagan era that belittled and shamed a population of people that were not protected.

Chappelle’s argument is that the LGBTQ+ community has gone too far in making old homophobic tweets and comments a career ending death sentence. And for Daphne Dorman, a life ending sentence: She took her own life defending Chappelle. 

We teach the basic concept that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We are seeing that play out through social media now. I’m not saying Chappelle’s completely right, but if we are ever going to move on, we have to see humor as the bridge and not the sword.