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Stateside Podcast: Has Dave Chappelle crossed a line?

A microphone with a dark background--looks like it was shot from the stage of a dark club
Matthias Wagner
/
Unsplash
Comedian Dave Chapelle has attracted some pushback on his latest Netflix special "The Closer," filmed in Detroit.

At Detroit’s Fillmore theater this past summer, comedian Dave Chappelle performed four shows that became his current Netflix special "The Closer." Since then, Chappelle has been criticized for homophobia, transphobia and antisemitism. But his defenders say he is misunderstood and is pushing the bounds of comedy.

Eric Deggans thinks so. He’s a television critic for NPR who first interviewed Dave Chappelle before the debut of Chappelle’s Show in 2003 and has followed his career over the past decade and a half.

In the past, Deggans said, Chappelle paired his critiques of society at large with critiques of himself.

“But we didn't get much of that here,” said Deggans.

“I think he was very deliberately and often pushing these buttons that he knew were sensitive topics, particularly for the audience that he's cultivated on Netflix,” Degans said. “I think there's a there's a method to him joking about Jews, gay people and transgender people in a way that challenges the conventional notions about how we talk about all of those topics.”

From Deggans’ perspective, Chappelle constructed the illusion that equality is a zero-sum game where the barrier to racial progress wasn’t racism, but rather LGBTQ+ progress. Degans said he thinks there’s a way to talk about race without minimizing the struggles of other marginalized groups.

“People from groups who are marginalized for whatever reason should be looking for ways to hold each other up and help each other and not say, ‘Well, you know, your struggle seems to have moved faster than my struggle. So now I'm going to criticize you,’” said Deggans.

“On the one hand, some people will say it's just jokes,” Deggans said. “But on the other hand, people say that Dave Chappelle is such a groundbreaking comedian because he's not just telling jokes, he's telling truths.”

After Deggans published his op-ed critiquing Chappelle, he said his social media has been flooded with responses from people-- many of whom are coming to the defense of the comedian. He knows that he will get feedback from those who don’t like what he said, but hopes for more productive dialogue in the future.

“I wish more of it was about the ideas in my column, and less of it was just people defending a comic they love.”

GUESTS:

Eric Deggans, television and media critic for NPR

Bryce Huffman, reporter for Bridge Detroit

Joe Aasim, comedian and host of the monthly Neapolitan Ice Cream open mic in Detroit

NOTES:

Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.

If you like what you hear on the pod, consider supporting our work.

Stateside’s theme music is by 14KT.

Additional music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and the Director of Stateside.
Claire Murashima is a production assistant for Stateside.