Comedians have been using marginalized races and gender as a punchline since the beginning of comedy. For example, earlier works of comedy featured blackface to poke fun at African Americans and comedic males would often cross-dress to mock women. Even today we have drag stars that have become gender impersonators for entertainment. Because this seems to have become the norm of modern comedy, the question is: when does comedy no longer become comedy? More importantly, when do we stop mocking a marginalized group for a quick laugh?
Dave Chappelle has recently fallen under criticism for his latest special on Netflix: The Closer. What has poor Dave done this time? Simple, the same thing he has been doing for years, make jokes towards a marginalized group of people to boost his popularity in the comedic world. That group: The LGBTQ. It has reached a point to where people are demanding the special be pulled from the Netflix line up. Well, as a member of said community, I had to view for myself how bad the damage is.
Honestly speaking, prior to coming out, I was a fan of Dave Chappelle. I have watched all three seasons of his show and enjoyed them. Post coming out, I still try to enjoy them, but admittedly, there is some of his content I just can’t continue to endure, especially after his special: Sticks and Stones. I had decided to walk away from his type of comedy. Yet, when I read about the recent controversy over his new special, I wanted to see if it was worthy of being canceled, especially when Netflix’s CEO made the decision to leave the special in the line up. Bracing myself and my emotions, I queued up the show on the red N, and held my breath.
Dave opens up as he usually does, joking about oppression of African Americans in US history. Then he dives into gay jokes. Let me point out he is not attacking the gay community, just mocking certain actions they may be associated with. In case you’re wondering it is predominately about gay men, not women. Truthfully speaking, there really is no harm in his jokes about the gay lifestyle either. It’s simply what it is: jokes regarding sexual acts.
Then the special pivots and Dave begins his focus on transgender women. Keep in mind, he never mentions men, and keeps the whole focus on women. He jokes about how he has been called a transphobe because of his last special. His ultimate message is simply he is no longer going to joke about the LGBTQ community because he feels the community is too sensitive. Ending by saying, until we can laugh together, he’s not going to joke about it.
More or less that sums up his special. I do stand with Netflix’s CEO and feel the special should not be pulled. I do agree, there were no harmful jokes, per say, towards trans-women, just about his situation and what he has been dealing with since his last special. It does not change my mind about Dave Chappelle though. If I do decide to continue to enjoy his brand of comedy, I will always have to keep in mind that his comedic brand is from a different generation of comedy, one that I no longer can support.
What do I mean a different generation of comedy? Think about the hit TV show “Friends.” At the time is was produced and shown, it was a different era in America. Within the show there are constant jokes about homosexuality, masculinity, femininity, etc. Mainstream comedy would focus on these topics because it’s what brought in ratings at the time. The LGBTQ community was not as visible or vocal in the 90s. There was vey little we knew about gender identity and sexuality. Presently, we have become more apprehensive of these topics and Sit-com producers have become more aware of it’s viewers. Granted, there is still very little content that focuses on transgender people in mainstream TV and movies, but the jokes towards the trans-community have slowly begun to fade off of the mainstream shows.
Are we being too sensitive? Personally, I don’t believe the community is, I believe we are fed up! We are done being the punchline of jokes. We have been for over a decade in the comedic world and we are starting to vocalize our frustration. Unfortunately, this is being interpret as being “too sensitive.” Comedians need to stop using the community as their punchline. Unless you are an actual member of the community and understand what we are going through and our struggle to be where we are at, finds some other material. When I hear jokes regarding trans-women, it can be traumatizing. Even more so from a cis-gendered male. What these comedians don’t understand is, these are the “jokes” that many of us have had to endure during our childhood. These “jokes” were forms of bullying and given the state of the world at the time, we didn’t have a voice to say or do anything about it. There were told by our peers, our parents, our relatives, our teachers, just about anyone we thought were friends or allies. So, why would we want to continue to allow it today in a world that is attempting to be more inclusive?
I question the need to use a marginalize group of people to generate laughs. For example, comedians don’t enjoy hecklers during their stand-up routine, but some comedians have no problem with point out personal flaws of the audience to snatch up laughs during their time on stage. Yet, there are many comedians who point fingers at their own personal experiences and use that for laughs instead. Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias tries to keep the focus of his comic routine on his own personal experiences and not on other people’s lifestyle or way of living. If Dave wants to continue to remain successful, he needs to change up his routine for a more modern group of audience. Instead of coming up with material that uses gay men and trans-women (which he clearly still knows very little about), stick with the history of black oppression and material he is more knowledgeable in. Perhaps that will keep him out of controversial discussions with the LGBTQ-M-N-O-P community.