Dave Chappelle made a return to Netflix Monday with a new stand-up special, Sticks & Stones. Fans quickly realized that, if you watch until the very end, the special has a secret epilogue called "The Punchline," where Chappelle answers questions from audience members who went to his separate Dave Chappelle on Broadway stand-up show last July. The special takes the comic's anti-wokeness schtick to a new level, and the whole thing is repetitive and exhausting enough that it's a slog to even make it to the Q&A.
Chapelle's controversial 2017 Netflix specials, like The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium and Equanimity and the Bird Revelation, honed his voice as a comedian wary of progressive criticism. That voice is even sharper in his latest special. At one point in his routine, he says he doesn't believe Michael Jackson molested young children. He continues by saying that if Jackson did, the children should've felt lucky their first time was with the King of Pop, adding, "Do you know how good it must've felt to go to school the next day after that shit?" Chappelle also returned to his now-infamous obsession with making fun of trans people, saying, "[trans people] hate my fucking guts and I don't blame them. [...] I can't stop writing jokes about these niggas." This time, those jokes included asking the audience how funny it would be if he was actually a Chinese person stuck inside a Black man's body, which (you guessed it) also included a racist impression of a Chinese person. He also found time to defend fellow controversial comedians Kevin Hart and Louis C.K., painting them as victims of an overzealous callout culture.
By the time the Q&A plays at the end of the special, Chappelle has already shown his unapologetic approach to courting controversy. His answers put that into even starker view. He says that a white woman left one of his practice sets for the special at The Punchline comedy club in San Francisco, telling him, "I'm sorry, I was raped." Chappelle says he replied with "It's not your fault you were raped. But it's not my fault either. Ta-ta, bitch," to which the audience laughs raucously, as though that were a real punchline. He then followed with a story about sparking an unlikely friendship with a trans woman who he says "was laughing the hardest" out of anyone at the trans jokes in his practice set. The strange story of camaraderie seemed to highlight the common accusation that Chappelle is only interested in repairing his relationship with marginalized groups if he doesn't have to change anything about himself.
Chappelle has always been a daredevil comedian willing to take a controversial stance or downplay a serious controversy for laughs, including his early-2000s skits about R. Kelly's court trials on Chappelle's Show. But now he chooses to blatantly ignore the historic criticism against his style of comedy and new loud-and-clear criticism from the trans community. His approach comes off like a defiant rejection of change at any cost. As he keeps going down this path, drawing attention to the worst aspects of his important career, the biggest cost will be tarnishing his own legacy.
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