Dave Chappelle and the Hubris of The Comedian

Bask too much in old glory and your inevitable fate is to become a boomer.

A. Khaled

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Courtesy of Flickr by Raph_PH. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Imparting upon some hidden truth through satire that the wider public is often too wary to share is crucial to comedians’ role as part of the global commentariat. Yet in the case of Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special, I couldn’t help but feel like assuredness of one’s views to the point of blind confidence dampened what impact the comedian could’ve had by doing his usual bit of peeling back the thick layers of false societal pretenses and subsequently unearthing an erstwhile buried part of the trans lived experience–Chappelle didn’t just fail to do that, but he’s proven that he might never be able to.

Pomposity is almost a necessary prerequisite for comedy, and the best jokesters consistently have a reputation for being insufferable assholes among their acquaintances–that’s usually not an issue if their worst instincts are mostly kept at bay, and some do learn to only burden their on-stage personas with the weight of poor social etiquette, but what we’re collectively witnessing as Chappelle continues to evolve is contentment with that “asshole” status, now looking less like nurture’s work and more like a set of attitudes he’s working to actively cultivate and capitalize on.

“The Closer” is as apt a meta-commentary on Chappelle’s current status as celebrity who’s gotten everything they could’ve possibly wanted — the fame, recognition, accolades and money — and the inevitable path some of them take wherein the search for even more social capital leads them to adopt views contrary to the political mainstream in an act of supposed defiance. In this case, it’s not even fair to say that trans people have cleared the steep social stigma ahead of them–while increased visibility had done the community wonders, it also made them easier targets for the preyful and attention-starved trolls of J.K. Rowling’s kind. While Chappelle may think he’s speaking truth to power, the fact is he’s only punching down, and the comparison he drew between trans issues and anti-black racism and how the latter was supplanted by the former couldn’t be less inappropriate given how black trans women often face the brunt of it.

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A. Khaled

Internet culture scribe with an interest in the digital economy, content creators, media and politics.