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Dave Chappelle Once Tore Down the Establishment. Now He Represents It

Chappelle

This makes this, what? My third? No, my fourth piece about millionaire cisgender straight male comedians acting like they’re living on the bleeding edge of controversy and speaking truth to power against those overly sensitive hyper-PC types and how oppressed they are as they bring in millions of dollars for performing in specials that are on the largest platforms in the world. So yeah, let’s plow through this shit again.

Dave Chappelle dropped another special on Netflix that earned him more press, more money, and more buzz than 95 percent of all the comedians currently grinding their way through open mikes and small clubs will ever earn, collectively. The ad had him looking all tough, walking through the desert, going for the bad-ass rebel look, with Morgan Freeman doing a voice-over where he *GASP* curses! Morgan Freeman curses in the ad, yes, kindly Morgan Freeman, cursing, so you know it’s on. What’s on? I dunno. I guess the same thing we’ve seen in the past few specials he’s put out? So yeah. I guess that’s what’s on.

In the special itself, Chappelle comes out in what appears to be a designer mechanic’s coverall with his name and logo on it. ’Cause, you know, rebellious outsiders are well known for their branded content and bespoke clothes. From there, Chappelle delivers the content you would expect from a mediocre white male comedian whose whole gimmick is he’s an angry Irish/Italian guy from New York City who “can’t believe this shit, I’m tellin’ ya!” We get it, women and the queers are being too sensitive. We’ve seen this act in every strip-mall comedy club in the Midwest. It’s sort of cliché. Lots of folks online, including myself, have started calling the type of jokes he performed the “airplane food” of edgy comedy.

That’s where Dave is at now, and frankly, he’s not worth any more of my time. Yeah, Dave was funny back in the aughts, and I was quoting lines from his show like everyone else. His movie Half Baked is a stoner classic. He was funny. He’s not anymore. Sure, his classic delivery and stage persona are there, but the jokes? Meh. I can find those premises at any open mike in the country. The delivery might get a mild chuckle out of me, but there’s no bite left, no counterculture, no rebellion in it. I’ve walked outside to go smoke during stand-up shows where people were performing these kinds of jokes. They’re just not interesting anymore.

The popular thing to go at Chappelle with is that he’s punching down at victims in all of these shows. Yeah? So? He’s done that in all of his specials for the past couple of years. A lot of the jokes are just rewrites of jokes he’s told before. That’s very common in the world of comedy, and if you listen to enough stand-up from a particular performer, you can find reused premises and even reused jokes, just told differently over the length of a few years. It just doesn’t work out that great when the jokes weren’t that strong before.

Also, comedians do change over time. For example, George Carlin, probably one of the best-loved and most popular stand-ups, has clear “periods” in his almost 50 years of performing. He started out pretty conventional in the '50s and '60s, even wearing suits and ties onstage. Then the '70s came along, he grew his hair out, and started wearing jeans and a T-shirt on stage and went “counterculture.” His jokes in the '70s were often controversial for vulgarity, but the material was never steeped in meanness. He just decided to talk about absurd things most weren’t. The '80s arrived and he started dressing in black and got political. Then the '90s hit and he started getting a bit darker and cynical and by the early aughts he was pretty mean-spirited. Carlin quit being funny to me.

That’s where Dave is at for a lot of us. He’s mean now. George Carlin’s material toward the end seemed to reflect his substance abuse, the pain of his wife dying of cancer, his financial troubles, and his own health issues. Carlin’s inner pain came out in his comedy and it just soured his performance. I don’t know what Chappelle’s personal life is like, and honestly it’s none of our business unless it’s something very illegal, but where Carlin became nihilistic and angry as he grew older, Chappelle has just grown mean and egotistically entitled. It really just seems that he’s rich, famous, and it’s gotten to his head. His walk-on music in his newest special is from Kendrick Lamar, and the lyrics, “You mothafuckas can’t tell me nothin’ / I’d rather die than listen to you,” just set the tone for who Chappelle is now as a performer.

He’s been praised for so long, Chappelle could walk into any club and do as long of a set as he wanted; people have fawned over his every word and deed for almost 20 years now. He’s Dave fucking Chappelle. Chappelle build his career calling out the establishment that oppresses black people and the poor, but now that he can name his own price for a coveted Netflix special, he doesn’t have time to reflect on how he’s the establishment, which oppresses women and LGBTQ people now. In his mind, he’s still that comedian speaking truth to power. He’s Dave fucking Chappelle and you’re gonna listen to him because he can’t stop to listen to us. We’re the ones who are wrong. One bit of barstool psychology that’s always true is that when you stop listening to criticism and take everything as an attack, you stop growing. That’s who Dave Chappelle is now. A guy who can’t be bothered to grow as a comedian because who knows why.

Well, the rest of us have grown and changed with the world around us; if Dave doesn’t want to join us, he can keep being him without us because he can’t tell us anything we haven’t heard before.

Amanda Kerri is an Oklahoma-based writer and comedian, a regular contributor to The Advocate, and a former board member for Oklahoma City Pride. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.               

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