Famous comedian, Dave Chappelle, is no stranger to controversy. In fact, it’s to be expected, at this point, for any new stand up special of his to be met with a certain amount of blowback. It has been nearly been two weeks since the release of his new Netflix special, The Closer, and it has already climbed in viewership, currently making it Netflix’s most popular release just below Squid Game.
In the special, Chappelle talks about a variety of controversial issues, but primarily talks about his experience and perspective on the LGBTQ community. To report that his entire rhetoric was an offensive attack would be inaccurate as well as subjective. It is true that he makes a variety of jokes that would be considered taboo in our Western society’s vision of political correctness compliance. However, every joke is accompanied by a message of empathy; in his special, Chappelle stresses the importance of having compassion for your fellow human, and how as a black man, can relate to the struggle of minority groups including the trans community that he pokes fun at. At the end of the special he addresses the LGBTQ community: “I am not telling another joke about you until I am sure that we are both laughing together.”
Whether or not you agree with his message, or consider his comedy valid is completely up to you as the viewer. Comedy, like all forms of art, is subjective. However, many viewers, media outlets, and employees within Netflix found The Closer to not only be of poor taste, but harmful to the progress of the LGBTQ community. As a result, Netflix CEO, Ted Sarandos, put out a memo to his staff, acquired by Variety that read, “you should be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.” The memo continued, “As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom—even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful.”
While the notion of creative freedom, as well as first amendment rights are typically supported by the general public, the blowback from people who found the Closer offensive, site Netflix allowing Chappelle such a large reaching platform to express these ideologies as the main problem. In a Wired article, Angela Watercutter, stated “The reason a show like The Closer can grab as much attention as a show like Squid Game is simple: People sometimes like content that is harmful to others. Thousands, if not millions, will vote for anti-LGBTQ candidates, and the same amount of them will watch content with similar viewpoints.”
The comparison of The Closer to Squid Game is interesting; sure, they’re both surging in popularity on Netflix, but does that really mean that we’re only watching them to fulfil a desire to see harm come to others? If this was the case, why is there no call to pull the South Korean TV show from the platform? Many would argue that, with Squid Game, there is so much more to flesh out from the narrative and characters; a variety of social political commentary that shines a light on corporate corruption that lives between the lines of these characters’ partaking in gory children’s games. The same could be argued about Dave Chappelle’s special: That within the jokes regarding the LGBTQ community, people of color, women, white people, law enforcement, and all the other people he joked about (including himself in the acknowledgement of his own privilege) there is an accompanying message of unity, humility, harmony, and humanity.