Dave Chappelle gives a talk on free speech at his alma mater

July 11, 2022 • 1:45 pm

I happen to be a big fan of comedian Dave Chappelle, but he got into a lot of trouble on social media for his comments in his show “The Closer,” which dealt with transsexual issues. But his comments were edgy, as they tend to be with him, and after listening to “The Closer” I didn’t see them as transphobic, nor do I believe, based on his past behavior, that he is transphobic. He’s a comedian, and, being of the Lenny Bruce school, he skirts the edge of the offensive to make people think.

The social-media comments hurt him, as Datebook reports, and when he was asked to give a talk at his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., which was naming its auditorium after him, he decided that he didn’t want that naming to happen, at least for the time being:

Chappelle proposed that the theater be named the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression, and then said that his name would be added later, only when and if the school community was ready.

His talk at Ellington has now been converted into a 39-minute defense of freedom of speech and appears as a Netflix special called called “What’s in a name?” Sadly, I can’t watch it as I don’t get Netflix, but one reader wrote to me with big kudos for the talk (I’m not sure if this was his first talk at Ellington or a return talk):

But I ended up watching this speech by Chappelle now available on Netflix, and don’t want to miss sharing with you that I was very impressed. Besides many things, this is a thoughtful, heartfelt, passionate justification and defense of freedom of speech. That’s why I think you and your audience would appreciate it a lot. But I am pretty sure you’re not on Netflix. So it may be a bit of a challenge to get access.

Indeed, but you can watch if if you’re a Netflix member, and then let me know how it is.  I’m just calling it to your attention.

From Datebook:

In “What’s in a Name?” Chappelle returns to the school to announce the new name and reminisce about his time at Duke Ellington. But before long, he wades back into controversy by reflecting on his previous visit to the school. He says those who were offended by the material in “The Closer” missed its “artistic nuance.”

He directs most of his frustration at the students who challenged him during the Q&A session.

“All the kids were screaming and yelling,” he says. “I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, OK, well what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art.”

Chappelle says his “biggest gripe” is that his words were taken out of context as the controversy erupted.

“You cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words,” he says. “It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, ‘Man Shot in the Face by a Six-Foot Rabbit Expected to Survive.’ You’d be like, ‘Oh my God,’ and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon.”

There are few jokes in the special as Chappelle digs into his role as the victim, blaming the students for maligning what he describes as his “freedom of artistic expression.” He also suggests that his critics were manipulated by outside forces.

“When I heard those talking points coming out of these children’s faces, that really, sincerely hurt me,” Chappelle says. “Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words. I’ve heard those words before. The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. And it has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right, my freedom, of artistic expression. That is valuable to me. That is not severed from me. It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble, noble professions.”

If you’ve seen it, weigh in below.


19 thoughts on “Dave Chappelle gives a talk on free speech at his alma mater

  1. All credit to Dave Chapelle for refusing to kow-tow. Ditto Ricky Gervais. Sadly, Macy Gray has been bullied into submission.

    I wonder how many have silently noticed the treatment of Macy Gray and will remember it next time they vote.

  2. No surprises in any of this, unfortunately. I saw it and thought that not only was Dave not out of line but that he demonstrated quite decent views. As in, if everybody shared the views he demonstrated the world would be a better place for all.

    Yeah, some of his humor was rough, or crude. And that turns some people off regardless of the content, but I think we all know that this wasn’t the issue here.

    1. … some of his humor was rough, or crude …

      Yes, but is it rough and crude for a purpose? I don’t mind a comedian working as blue as blue can get (hell, I like to toss around a bit of profanity myself from time to time) so long as it’s not just blue for blue’s sake, but to achieve a purpose. The purpose may not be readily apparent, but on careful consideration, it should emerge.

  3. I have watched the comedy special for which he is being criticized but not yet “What’s in a name?”. I didn’t think he was transphobic in the special.
    Those who accuse him of that do so on the assumption that mentioning in any way that trans people are not entirely the same as cis people is transphobic and hurtful, much less joking about it, which is what Chappelle did.
    This is where the censorious Left will lose public opinion, in claiming that there are certain topics that cannot be debated or even mentioned.

    1. Well put.

      I’m a hard-core anti conspiracy theorist (there are true conspiracies, of course, but most rumored conspiracies are bunk).

      But I confess that the adamancy in service of extremely loony ideas among “trans activists” has given me pause in recent years. The positions are so grandiose and demanding and delusional, the language and approach so Orwellian, that I confess I’ve thought if some nefarious foreign power *did* want to stir the pot to disrupt American democracy (flaws and all), creating an entire absurd “trans” controversy like this might be one way to go.

      I suppose the counter argument would be that subtlety rules the day, not lunacy. But truly, that liberals are divided on things such as saying “transwomen are transwomen” or arguing that biological males should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports boggles the mind.

  4. Added to my watch list.
    According to another article, Dave Chappelle took part in two fundraising events, where people could donate to the school if they favored the name change, OR they could donate to a different fundraiser if they opposed the name change. If the opposers donated more money, then the auditorium wouldn’t be named after him. Then the school replied back that they’d name it after him regardless of the outcome.

    1. Just finished watching it. It was perfect — sincere, honest, and funny as hell. Disagree with the man if you wanna, but he speaks his mind as he sees things.

  5. I had no idea this existed, and I’m a big fan of both Chappelle’s comedy and freedom of speech, so I’m glad you brought it to my attention. Thanks!

  6. I enjoyed the talk. I think the summary from Datebook quoted above is slightly misleading in that the larger part of the talk is devoted to interesting and rather touching reminiscences of his start in comedy and how he came to get into the school. He only talks about The Closer about 2/3 of the way through, and I personally could see nothing at all unreasonable in what he said

    1. True as to the time spent on looking back on his school years vs issues triggered by The Closer. But the way I got away seeing it is that, in his reminiscences, he gives us a painting of his personal background against which the reactions of Duke Ellington School of the Arts students last year caused him very specific pain. And how tragic or ironic this pain-cause connection is. His early deep inspiration and talent for becoming a comedian makes him apply to Duke Ellingtonm kind of mid season. During his interview, he finds himself overwhelmed by the display of human and artistic diversity of the school community to the effect that he perceives himself as inadequate to be accepted. And yet, the school thinks otherwise and becomes a foundational home for his development as an artist. In part bc of great teachers but, equally importantly, bc of the school’s dedication to diversity in every sense of the concept. Finding his art neither understood nor respected by Duke Ellington’s own new generation of students last year crushed this highly accomplished man’s well matured ego by accusing him of failing diversity. The talk is a highly rendered, well-woven interconnected presentation. And at the same time he is able to share his personally perceived strengths and fragilities,which again documents his capacity to be, live, and see diversity. Here again, Chappelle validated his Mark Twain award big time. If I am allowed to launch some very loosely connected criticism, it would be befuddlement over why Seinfeld didn’t receive it earlier as in: I really hope the latter will receive that overdue recognition some day as well… Spread the word!!! 🙂

      1. very well said Markus. That’s a great summary of what the talk was about, expressed much better than my terse comment.

        1. Thank you, Jumbo. Was just happy your formally correct comment gave me the opportunity to vent what had been percolating in me about the talk by that time. Christine Brean’s comment further below sums it up to the point for me as well.

  7. Watched it, thought it was nice Netflix gave him the opportunity to explain himself, and give shout-outs to teachers that helped him along the way. Makes up a little for the Netflix’s employees prior Chapelle-protest, one of whom actually shouted “Repent, Motherf*cker!” (Not sure if that was directed at Netflix, Chapelle or pro-Chapelle counter protesters.)

    1. Repent?! Certainly backs up John McWhorter’s comparison of extreme progressive ideology with religion.

  8. Absolutely brilliant. Dave Chappelle is now officially my favorite comedian. A close second is Jeff Maurer. Both are supporters of Andrew Yang, the leader of the FORWARD party in the USA which is the only party which has an evidence-based program and which isn’t beholden to any ideologically firmly held, contradictory-evidence-proof belief systems.

  9. In this piece Chappelle not only displays his humor, he shows his love of the art with honesty and courage. He presents his ideas in a manner both straight forward, from the heart, and without any fear. That in itself is an art.

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