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Dave Chappelle's New Special Has People Asking Whether Comedy Needs to Be Funny

- Dave Chappelle made a return to Netflix Monday with a new stand-up special, Sticks & Stones. … 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. …

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. … 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.

Comedy is tied with music as the most subjective things in the world. Not only is what’s funny to me not going to necessarily be funny to you, some stuff that seems funny to you now might not be later on. How many times have you liked a movie or a show and on re-watch you find yourself wondering why you laughed at it the first time? There is no such thing as objectively funny. (Except my stand-up and blogs, which have never, ever failed and are universal in their appeal.) Hell, I’ve got a buddy who insists “Anchorman” sucks, which is lunacy since that’s about as successful a comedy as there’s been in the last 50 or so years. So I’d never begrudge someone from giving a negative review of a stand up show, no matter how funny it was to me. As Dave Chappelle’s newest Netflix special is. You’re entitled to your opinion.

What you’re not entitled to do is to nag the world about what we should and shouldn’t find offensive. The professional scolds have been getting away with it for a while now. And while I agree that, sure, the pendulum needed to swing some, it absolutely needs to swing back to a place where creative people can be funny. Offensively funny. Insultingly funny. Dirty, filthy, outrageously funny. But fucking funny.

Which is exactly what it feels like Chappelle is trying to do here. And Ricky Gervais in his most recent Netflix, which I liked even better. In it, Gervais deconstructs a rape joke that in no way makes fun of rape, but is offensive only if any mention of rape offends you. It’s a clever bit and makes a great point about how we’re being led in a direction where the idea is to evaluate every joke on the basis of how safe it is first, then worry about whether it makes you laugh later on. And that way lies a dystopian hell-future of airline food bits and “How do you always lose a sock in the dryer?”

And the sick part is, we’ve been allowing ourselves to be led there like sheeple to our own, humorless slaughter by the woke shepherds. From an article entitled “How Funny Does Comedy Need to Be?”:

Comedians and comedy writers are increasingly pushing the bounds of what it means for something to be a comedy in the most basic sense, rewiring the relationship between comedies and jokes. So what is comedy without jokes? It’s post-comedy. … Like post-rock, post-comedy uses the elements of comedy (be it stand-up, sitcom, or film) but without the goal of creating the traditional comedic result — laughter — instead focusing on tone, emotional impact, storytelling, and formal experimentation. The goal of being “funny” is optional for some or for the entirety of the piece.

Another titled “How Comedians Became Public Intellectuals“:

Comedians are fashioning themselves not just as joke-tellers, but as truth-tellers—as intellectual and moral guides through the cultural debates of the moment.

Another partially titled “Why a New Wave of Comedians Don’t Want to Be Funny“:

Whereas once philosophers and political theorists held a public role of guiding national debates and parsing the nuances of current affairs, comedians were increasingly taking on that responsibility.

Post-comedy. Awe-some! Hey, who wants to head out to the Laff Factory tonight and hear some TED Talks?!?

Here’s the thing. I like clean comedy. The funniest stand up I’ve ever seen in person was Jerry Seinfeld. There wasn’t a joke in there he couldn’t have used at an elementary school, and I laughed my ass off. Jim Gaffigan can do 15 minutes about shellfish, and is so clean he’s opened for the Pope. For real. But I love vulgar humor too. Sam Kinison was one of the great comics of all time, and he did jokes about “Save the Children” ads featuring starving kids. Eddie Murphy’s specials were memorized and repeated by everyone in the country. And half the bits were impressions of old sitcom stars having gay sex with each other. And somehow the republic survived.

The point is, be funny. If you want to save the world while being funny, have at it. George Carlin was a genius who pushed buttons and challenged your beliefs, and made you smarter for listening to him. But there was always a punchline at the end and you turned off the TV entertained.

Back when I first broke in there was a club in Harvard Square that made it clear they didn’t care if you made people laugh. They just wanted you to be enlightened and progressive. I amm not kidding you. If you delivered a non-political monologue that got a good crowd reaction, they called it “pandering.” One time I was at another club across the river, where the normal comedy scene was, hanging with a comic who was a regular at the Harvard place. The guy on stage was doing a bit about how terrorists put a $5 million contract out on writer Salman Rushdie that went “I’m all for free speech. But for $5 million I’d push my granny in front of a train,” etc. The comic I was with told me how a lot of people at his club are offended by that joke. I asked why. “Because we’re comedians,” he said. “We rely on free speech for our livelihoods.”

“Well, that’s true,” I said. “But more to the point, we rely on people having a fucking sense of humor. People work hard all day at jobs they hate for bosses who treat them like shit. And they come to a comedy club to laugh and be entertained. But I’m sure when the world does finally get saved, they’ll look back and say it all began with you guys.” I’m not sure we ever talked again.

The bottom line is that, whether you find Dave Chappelle hilarious or offensive or somewhere in between, at least give him credit for trying to pull us back from the brink we’re headed toward, where no one can say anything and humor that isn’t totally anti-septic is a hate crime. And thanks to guys like him who are fearless and give no fucks, we can get back to what comedy was always supposed to be since the Greeks invented it a million years ago. From the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”:

Something appealing,
Something appalling …
Something convulsive,
Something repulsive,
Something for everyone:
A comedy tonight.