REVIEW: Chappelle doesn’t realize the effects of what he says on real people


Lasirra Hines, Blue M Editor-in-Chief

I am a sucker for stand up, always have been. I was a fan of Dave Chappelle and found many of his stand ups very entertaining and impactful. Chappelle is known for his social justice commentary; much of his stand up related to the social injustices Black people face, and the conscious anti-Black racism that persists from white people. Chappelle is a very influential person, and his pieces often inspire people while making them laugh a little bit.

There’s no denying Chappelle is good at his trade. His jokes deliver well, and the reaction is usually laughter from the audience.

But I wasn’t laughing with “The Closer,” his newest, and final, Netflix special. Many articles about the special have called Chappelle out for his transphobic comments and insensitive jokes.

Chappelle starts off saying he is going to clear up anything he may have said in the past, including comments on the LGBT+ community. He then proceeds to say he “misses the old school gays,” and that the “new school gays are too sensitive.” He even went as far as saying the “Stonewall gays.” There is a constant overgeneralization of LGBT+ youth and sensitivity. It’s not sensitivity, it’s that we’re through with people oppressing us and getting away with homophobic comments. These comments impact our daily lives, whether they are a joke or not, and Chappelle doesn’t understand that.

There were moments where he made insensitive jokes and said particular words that he shouldn’t have. There was a case where he made a joke regarding sexual assault, then tried to combat that with the statement of “I was molested by a preacher when I was younger. Don’t worry, I liked it,” which is not only extremely insensitive but also is making a joke about religious abuse. This is a very sensitive situation, and to make a joke about something that is extremely traumatic is not okay.

Chappelle got into feminism and realized that he is a feminist. However, in that section about feminism, he brought up not understanding terminology, and even went as far as saying that he thought one of them was related to lesbians, and said the d-slur. It was a moment where I went “Did I hear that correctly?” He blatantly used offensive terminology and nobody is talking about it. 

In the most criticized and discussed section, Chappelle used a heavy amount of transphobic rhetoric in this special, and he didn’t even include nonwhite trans people. He starts with the word “transgenders,” an incorrect statement that should instead be “transgender people.” He then proceeded to talk about TERFs, or Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. Trans women are often on the receiving end of hate and transphobic jokes, and here they continue to be. He references J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series who was called out for being extremely transphobic.  He defends the woman, and says, “I’m team TERF. I agree with them.” This was the moment I lost every single ounce of respect for this man. It wasn’t in a joking way either. It was a very serious tone when he made the statement. 

He compared trans women to blackface, which shouldn’t have been compared at all. Blackface is when white people purposely act in stereotypical behaviors of nonwhite people and darken their skin to appear Black. Many go as far as applying dark makeup and creating a false, stereotypical look of Black people. 

This is not the same as transgender people at all. The statement he made defending that perspective was that these women see trans women as making fun of them and presenting in a stereotypical way. This is probably the most false and ignorant statement he could have presented in the special. Blackface and trans women are not comparable in any way, as one is about racism and white people burlesquing Black people and the other is something that is part of a person, this is who they are. They are women. It’s as simple as that. 

The main focus of arguments against trans people tends to include their genitalia, and Chappelle managed to also include that in his segment. He talks about the bathrooms, and while trying to be an advocate for the bathroom situation, he made a backhanded comment about feeling more comfortable with a trans man in the bathroom who sits on the urinal to use the restroom than a woman walking in and standing to use the urinal. Advocacy does not include backhanded comments like this. 

Chappelle brings up Daphne Dorman, a trans woman who was an aspiring comedian. He became friends with her when she came to one of his shows and saw him as an inspiration. Chappelle uses Dorman as the idea of what a trans person should act like and be like when it comes to transphobia. Dorman often made jokes in relation to herself and would clap back at people who attempted to make a transphobic comment to her. Chappelle says that this is how people should react. 

Dorman died of suicide in 2019, and Chappelle had made a joke relating to that while misgendering her in the same statement. The use of Dorman is similar to saying “I have a trans friend, so it’s okay.” Because Chappelle was friends with Dorman, it seemed like he was excused to make transphobic comments and jokes and not have to deal with the repercussions or give a care as to how it affects those in society.

Throughout Chappelle’s show, not once did he bring up nonwhite trans people. The fact is intersectionality, or a framework in seeing that many different aspects of individual characteristics intersect with each other and those groups must work together to overcome the system that is oppressing them both. Intersectionality is what should have been brought up, and yet it was completely ignored. Black transgender women face a lot of discrimination, more than most, yet Chappelle refuses to acknowledge this. 

In 2020 alone, 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were shot and killed, majority being Black and Latine transgender women. These murders often go unreported or incorrectly reported, and that is extremely harmful in getting justice for the victims.

Chapelle brought up Stonewall, how he misses the “Stonewall gays” and in the credits of the special it included a picture of four white men holding a “Stonewall” sign. It is a well known fact that Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, led the Stonewall Riots. It was her, not white gay men. Many nonwhite LGBT+ people led Stonewall, yet Chappelle does what is known as “punching down” in comedy to these people. The lack of including nonwhite trans people in the discussion, or even bringing them up for a brief moment, is contradictory to the Stonewall statement.

The most important thing to understand is that the comments Chappelle made aren’t funny, even if you are LGBT+. As a cisgender heterosexual man, making a joke about gay men and AIDS isn’t funny and it’s harmful to gay men. Making jokes about transgender people, talking about their genitalia, misgendering his friend and making a small joke about her death is extremely insenstive and harmful to the community, especially Black trans people. It’s all about intersectionality and not being closed-minded. 

Chappelle ends his bit with “I am not making another joke about you until I am sure that we are both laughing together,” even though he spent the entire hour making backhanded comments and ignorant jokes about the trans community. 

Netflix has received a lot of backlash for allowing the special to air. Some had defended him, saying, “It’s comedy, don’t be so sensitive,” and “Lighten up a bit.” There’s no sense in lightening up about something that has an overarching negative effect on the LGBT+ community.