The Dave Chappelle Morality Play
OK, fine, I finally watched The Closer, Dave Chappelle’s last special for Netflix. It was...OK. Not great, not horrible, a bit preachy at times but he did say at the top of his set that he would be addressing a few issues so you could see that coming. Yes, he spends a fair amount of time making jokes about transgender people. No, he is not transphobic, nor were the jokes.
Chappelle also made jokes about child molestation, Asians, Jews (twice), Mike Pence, the LGBTQ+ community, glory holes, hippie chicks, feminists, the #MeToo movement, and white people in general. He also was very generous with the use of the n-word, both the soft-a and hard-r variants. Oddly enough, I haven’t seen anyone express anger at any of those jokes or language choices.
The Closer is exactly what you would expect out of Chappelle at this point in his career — a mix of comedy and straight social commentary, done in a purposefully incendiary manner. It’s something that you can watch once and be all set, no need to watch it multiple times. Honestly, there’s not much to say about the special itself.
Of course, that didn’t stop the media and a bunch of perpetually angry people from trying to make it part of the culture war zeitgeist.
I dragged my feet while writing this post. No really, I did all sorts of things to avoid sitting down and writing it; experimented with my Instant Pot, deep cleaned my convection over, watched my friend’s Twitch streams, anything to put this off. Why? Because this ginned-up controversy is the worst thing a controversy can be — it’s boring.
Of course, Chappelle was going to have plenty to say on the topic of transgender people after the freakout over his jokes about transgender people in his last special Sticks & Stones. Of course, all the usual suspects were going to be Very Mad Online about it without ever actually watching it. George Takei’s tweet about The Closer sums up the knee jerk online reaction perfectly
Of course, Netflix employees were going to stage a walkout where the number of employees who participated is unknown (estimates range from 12 to 30 employees) but would draw hundreds of activists, counterprotesters, and members of the press. Of course, Netflix would bumble its way to a halfhearted apology. Of course, the aggrieved Netflix employees would have a list of demands that looks more like a shakedown than anything that would help the transgender community.
The most absurd moment of this debacle was when the AP decided to caption a picture of YouTube creator Vito Gesualdi with "Comedian and videographer Vito Gesualdi screams profanities as he engages with peaceful protesters begging him to leave."
Here is the video of what took place between Gesualdi and the protesters, which had gone viral before the AP wrote their caption
But again, that’s not surprising either — even reputable outlets like the Associated Press have fallen into this trap of thinking anyone who is counter-protesting against a “good” cause must be some horrible human and frames their coverage of them as such. The ironic thing is, the counter-protesters weren’t there to protest against transgender people, they were there to let it be known that jokes are funny and that they like jokes.
And as to the “peaceful protester” claim? While Gesualdi was uninjured, his friend was not so lucky
If you’ve spent any time watching or, God help you, writing about culture war stories you already know how each new story will begin, unfold, and end. You’ve seen it all dozens if not hundreds of times already and boy did everyone show up to play their parts in this morality play. Chappelle wasn’t aiming his jokes and comments about transgender people towards his audience, he was aiming them at those who he knew would get performatively upset over them. Those very people took the bait and played out their scripted roles. Netflix employees, activists, and counter-protesters showed up to deliver their lines faithfully, right down to the gal shaking her tambourine and shouting “repent motherfucker.” The hapless, fumbling company released its PR-themed apology in the third act, right on cue.
One could, at this point, make a Word template and swap out the names of the actors and the company for each new story (did I just stumble on a lifehack?).
The Chappelle nontroversy is the latest in a string of nontroversies created by a handful of people who look for reasons to be angry, a media that desperately tries to make controversies happen so they can report on them, and an activist class that will take any opportunity to get in front of a camera. Per leaked internal Netflix data, the platform has received 1,000 complaints about The Closer, with an estimated 10M streams of the special. For those not mathematically inclined, that’s a .0001% rate of complaints to streams.
And it seems this morality play has already spawned a sequel. In a video Chappelle posted on his Instagram account, he announced that he filmed a documentary last year chronicling the shows he put on in an open field in Ohio. Due to the controversy surrounding The Closer, he has been disinvited from every film festival that had previously agreed to show it. Instead, Chappelle will be releasing the film himself, airing it in 10 US cities starting November 4th.
Chappelle also outlined his terms for meeting with members of the transgender community
“To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody’s demands. And if you want to meet with me, I’d be more than willing to, but I have some conditions. First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing, and thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.”
Feel free to watch the full video below
Not to worry though — Chappelle will be just fine and we will all have moved on to a new nontroversy in a week. In the meantime, go ahead and get that Word template ready.