by Gareth Roberts
Friday, 8
October 2021

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.

Join the discussion

  • 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.

  • 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

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