by Gareth Roberts
Friday, 8
October 2021
Review
10:26

Dave Chappelle is winning the culture wars

His closing act has riled up all the right people
by Gareth Roberts
Dave Chappelle performing in his new stand-up, The Closer

The Closer, the last in the mini-series of stand-up comedy specials by Dave Chappelle on Netflix, has dropped a stink bomb into the culture. It’s Chappelle’s response to his critics, particularly the criticism from the ‘LGBTQ+’ lobby; a plea for tolerance, empathy and mutual understanding delivered deliberately in the most impolite, scabrous and uncomfortable way. It made me physically squirm, and laugh, again and again. Three cheers for it.

In 2021, it is astonishing to see a mainstream TV show that doesn’t automatically treat its viewers like children who cannot appreciate sour flavours. We live in an age win in which almost every cultural product — however supposedly adult or controversial — comes loaded with sweaty- palmed, utterly conventional Goodthink. The Closer, by contrast, does not play by those rules.

Unsurprisingly, criticism has come from familiar circles, namely GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition, who are demanding its removal and trying to cancel Chappelle. It’s all boilerplate stuff: ‘Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities’; ‘Black LGBTQ+ and same gender people exist – and have always existed’; The fight against oppression is not a zero sum game, and the pervasiveness of white supremacy in the United States is not an excuse for homophobia or transphobia’. This is to be expected and of course ignored.

The Closer has all the things — warmth, empathy and humanity — that its critics profess to have but actually don’t. Chappelle is a unique, inventive human being. These critics are Borg, and their assertions have all the easy fluency of JavaScript.

There is no place for dirty, difficult, often-unpleasant humanity in the Borg world. It is all lived experience but no life, which is why they are obsessed with comedy in particular. It is a space behind semi-closed doors where the normal rules of polite conversation don’t apply. Comedians tell jokes in that space for the same reason that writers write books and singers sing songs — because different states, different ways of looking at the world outside the norm can be expressed in them. Yes, this is a basic, banal observation. But robots cannot grasp it.

There’s also been some criticism from more human quarters that The Closer is tedious because everything now is about the culture wars, and we’ve had quite enough of that, thank you very much. I think this is a little unfair. Chappelle is making his closing statement here, as is explicitly stated in the show’s title. He wants this over as much as anybody, and indeed almost everybody.

I think what we see here is the culture war in microcosm. One side views humans as children; Blue Peter viewers permanently on the verge of being sparked into violence by words. The other says we are adults and credits us with the intelligence and ability to reason like adults. And yes, it’s boring; wars are. They are also, very regrettably, impossible to hide from. The Closer is a highly enjoyable skirmish in this one.

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George Glashan
George Glashan
11 months ago

The Guardian gave it 2 stars and said ” it triples down on the phobia”. When it upsets the sanctimonious scolds this much you know its going to be great.

Paul Sorrenti
Paul Sorrenti
11 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Chortle likewise gave it 2 stars. However, on Rotten Tomatoes it currently has 96% audience approval after hundreds of reviews from the proles. I dare say it’s as if these mainstream publications don’t speak for the people

G A
G A
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Sorrenti

Chortle is a sham of a website and anybody involved with it should be ashamed.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Sorrenti

But.. but… they SAY they do.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Love that he is accused of white supremacy.

Ludwig van Earwig
Ludwig van Earwig
11 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

His show upset the Grauniad? I take that as a good sign.

John Riordan
John Riordan
11 months ago

Didn’t know Dave Chappelle had done another standup that’s on Netflix, I will watch it ASAP.

I used to be very into stand up comedy in the 1990s/2000s, but gave up as it became yet another victim of the culture wars, and we ended up with people on stage who are about as funny as toothache and whose purpose is nothing more than policing cultural boundaries and inviting the audience to approve of liberal-left pieties through the mechanism of laughter on cue.

Dave Chappelle, conversely, was an exception to this miserable descent into dystopian lunacy, and stayed funny, clever and brave. And it is worth remarking upon the fact that nowadays you do have to be brave to use your freedom of speech fully. That is not something the rest of us should be proud of.

G A
G A
11 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Comedy is in rude health at the moment. In the US. Tim Dillon is the greatest natural talent I’ve heard since… Bill Hicks?

US comics have gone feral since the culture war cranked up. They have extracted so much good stuff from it. There’s almost too much out there. It’s a golden age.

UK comedy is dead. I could type for a long time about this but I won’t. It has simply rotted away and I want none of it in my life.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
11 months ago

Comedians tell jokes in that space for the same reason that writers write books and singers sing songs — because different states, different ways of looking at the world outside the norm can be expressed in them. Yes, this is a basic, banal observation. But robots cannot grasp it.

Oh, the robots get it, all right. They just can’t stand it. It’s why all cultural products are targeted for infiltration and control, or cancellation – from TV, to film, to video games, comics, comedy, music… etc.

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan
11 months ago

Glad to see a prominent American speak up again on the trans issue. It would have been much more effective if he talked about sex not changing instead of gender but nevertheless his call for compromise and mutual respect rather than blind subservience to someone else’s opinion of what is right is totally refreshing.

Helen E
Helen E
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

He used the word gender but he clearly meant sex. While not up on the nuanced word choice, Chappelle is 10x more fluent on this topic than Starmer, and Lammy, whose business it is to know.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
11 months ago

Dave Chappelle entered this arena with his routine on the ridiculous Jussie Smollet affair (You Tube). With his sense of timing, irony and of the absurd, he had the (mixed) audience with him from the very start. The same absurdity runs through all contemporary wokeism, for all to see and know. It just needs giants like Chapelle and Gervais to slowly lead us out of this nonsense.

Last edited 11 months ago by Adrian Maxwell
Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago

Never heard of it, but will look it up now.

Last edited 11 months ago by Andrea X
John Riordan
John Riordan
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

There are three Chappelle specials on Netflix, and they are all worth watching.

Edward H
Edward H
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Your weekend just got a whole lot better! Enjoy!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I will also tune in!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago

Kudos to the Vice Chancellor of Sussex University for doing his job.