When comedy is best it reminds us all, for however fleeting a moment, to not take everything so serious. I was fully reminded of this while watching Dave Chappelle’s impressive new Netflix special Sticks and Stones. The Jay-Z quote that fills the first frames of his special speaks precisely to what makes the native D.C. comic’s brand of anti-pc comedy so appealing and engaging to audiences across America.
Chappelle says what he wants when he wants, and how he wants.
Chappelle’s number of critics has grown considerably in the past few years but he has refused to back down to a younger, overly-woke media. In his newest hour-long show for Netflix, Chappelle courts even greater controversy.
For many of Chappelle’s loudest critics, the point is never to simply sit back and have a laugh. Those who attack Chappelle for his unseemly jokes are on a mission, sent forward by the sociology departments of American universities, to rid the society of what they conveniently define as meanness.
Despite this, Chappelle seems more at ease than ever. Lounging across the stage in a plain green jumpsuit with a single army-style patch across his chest that reads “Chappelle,” the comedian leans into sensitive subjects with the easy way of a man with nothing to lose and plenty of time to kill. Almost three decades deep into his career, Chappelle flows, brilliantly from one inspired observation to the next.
His material is intimate and bare, turning seemingly minute and inconsequential moments of his day to day into masterclass explanations on how difficult and rewarding and ugly and fulfilling life can be. He is a blunt hammer in a time of feathered quills.
Comedy has always been an arena where speech finds its slippery footing. Lenny Bruce was convicted of obscenity in 1964. Late-night host David Letterman blacklisted Bill Hicks for a standup set that featured ‘religious material.’ In 1988, Lorne Micheals, producer of Saturday Night Live, censored Texas comic Sam Kinison’s monologue, telling the Los Angeles Times, “When you work on network TV you have to play by the rules and Sam didn’t play by the rules.”
Like each of these comedians, Chappelle too has brushed against censorship and the misappropriation of his work. Through it all, Chappelle has mastered the greatest and deepest level of comedy – turning the political funny. Every single ounce of Chappelle’s special is dripping with open social commentary on the driving forces of modern America. And it isn’t pretty.
Chappelle paints the image of a world flipped upside down – where the inmates are running the asylum and the rest of us are holding on with clenched fists for dear life.
When Carlin spoke, it wasn’t pretty either. He was tough, honest, and blunt with his eviscerations of the people and things that filled the country, both physically and ideologically. The reason why people love Carlin in the same reason they love Chappelle; they both willingly tell the truth, even if it meant flexing out the polite narratives of our civilized society.
On the topic of Michael Jackson, an alleged pedophile, Chappelle cut against the accepted narrative when he defended the late pop icon, “I’m going to say something that I’m not allowed to say but I got to be real. I don’t believe these motherf—ers. I do not believe it.”
The crowd soared, seemingly unphased by comments that would get most of us fired and banned from professional society. This is precisely why Chappelle’s brand of comedy is so appealing; he, without fear, willingly engages with the unallowable opinions of our day. Chappelle continued, “I don’t think he did it. But, you know what?” The comic shrugged his shoulders “You know what I mean? You know what I mean? I mean it’s Michael Jackson!”
“I know more than half of the people in this room have been molested in their lives. But it wasn’t no god damn Michael Jackson, was it? This kid got his dick sucked by the King of pop! All we get is awkward Thanksgiving’s for the rest of our lives.”
Chappelle is doing here what made Carlin such a national treasure in his late years – teasing out unacceptable material about an event and a human being that still warrants some degree of skepticism. Chappelle explores, with penetrating humor, the dark underbelly of an America that often makes heroes, and then villains, out of its most beloved stars.
But the most controversial bit of the night involved his opinions on his ‘very good friend’ Louis CK.
In the special, Chappelle stands up for CK saying, “Louis CK was a very good friend of mine before he died in that tragic masturbating accident. You read the story? He was masturbating in his own room – that’s where you’re supposed to do it! And then he said, ‘Hey everybody, I’m gonna pull my dick out.’ Nobody ran for the door, nothing like that.”
Chappelle isn’t the first comedian to lend CK his support, but he is definitely the loudest. Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo, and Chris Rock have all had the spotlight unceremoniously shined on them for making similar defensive comments about their friend Louis CK. It speaks to the type of human being that Chappelle is. He is willing to stick his own neck on the line to try and take some heat off his friend, even if it means he will suffer by association.
He doesn’t care and that’s what makes his words dangerous.
Carlin could be like that too. Carlin was always skeptical of the big stories of the day, never one to merely accept the judgments of others. Carlin would figure it out for himself and then use the stage to expose the corruption and lies of people and organizations.
All throughout the special, Chappelle goads the privileged class of media that is filled with left-wing writers, academics and apologists. Chappelle defends guns and suggests that every black American should go buy a gun immediately. He mocks Jussie Smollett and breaks down, step by step, every way the actor got away with backward bigotry.
On every single topic, Chappelle is completely out of step with the legacy media and that is what makes his special so fun and worth your time.
Chappelle hasn’t been canceled or blacklisted or arrested – yet, but it’s easy to anticipate a time when such a thing could happen. For now, we can still enjoy the potent examinations from under the hood of America by one of the best stagemen to ever do it.