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Did 2019 Just ‘Cancel’ Dave Chappelle or is He a Still Relevant Comic Genius?

Dave Chappelle (right) and Donnell Rawlings, actors and comedians, stand in front of a C-17 Globemaster III Feb. 2, 2017, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
Dave Chappelle (right) and Donnell Rawlings, actors and comedians, stand in front of a C-17 Globemaster III Feb. 2, 2017, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. Chappelle was in town for his stand-up comedy show when he made the visit to see service members and federal civilians at the base. (Photo: U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman Tom Brading)

Love him or hate him, Dave Chappelle is still here and his new Netflix special has viewers split over whether his comedy is outdated or perfectly on target.

Since his new stand-up comedy special, Sticks and Stones, premiered last month on Netflix, comedian Dave Chappelle seems to have exposed a cultural divide between the cultural elite and the masses.

The comedy icon, who rose to prominence in the 2000s with his acclaimed sketch TV program, “The Chappelle Show”, didn’t seem to do anything out of the ordinary on his special: he told some edgy, provocative, and funny jokes. However, this is 2019 and in the wake of the #metoo movement, LGBTQ visibility, and the divisive Trump era— comedy has seemingly taken a backseat to political correctness.

So it was inevitable that Chappelle has polarized today’s audience — perhaps most revealing on the website Rotten Tomatoes, where films and TV shows are reviewed by critics and audiences. The former gave the standup special a 30% approval rating, compared to audiences who lauded it with a whopping 99%.

Articles have sprung up, eagerly dissecting this disparity — reading into the tantalizing concept that the cultural elite is out of touch with everyday Americans after all, with unvarnished truth and skepticism (the hallmark of comedy, such as Chapelle’s) as the great divider.

The common theory is that the media and its critics are generally left-leaning and liberal, hence their reticence to embrace any repudiation against transgender Americans, women’s right to choose abortion, and sexual abuse allegations — all of which Chappelle seemingly skewers or challenges in his special.

Critics who are offended by Chappelle have naturally opined that he’s out of touch with these aforementioned issues, comparing him to a “rascally uncle” and lacking empathy.

Audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, however, praised Chappelle as a comic “genius” and his set as “perfection” and “absolutely hysterical.”

Regardless of your political or social beliefs, the fact that there is a large audience for Chappelle’s comedy proves that the hot-button issues sweeping our nation today are certainly not sacred to everyone. This isn’t surprising; the election of Donald Trump has already been the most blatant symbol of a culture seemingly split between two separate ideologies and narratives.

What is surprising is that since 2016, with the rise of “cancel culture” — where a public figure can be vilified and ostracized by fans based solely on alleged moral issues — Chappelle isn’t succumbing to that fate with his stand-up special. He even mocked the dubious mindset of this cultural phenomenon in his special, saying: “If you do anything wrong in your life and I find out about it, I’m gonna try to take everything away from you. You’re f–king finished.”

Although it’s just a stand-up comedy special, like all works of art, Chappelle’s comedy is a reflection of its audience today — and not everyone is going to be happy with what they see.


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