WASHINGTON (SBG) — Dave Chappelle has remained defiant in the face of calls for him to apologize for jokes he made about the LGBTQ community in his latest Netflix stand-up comedy special "The Closer." Amid the controversy, Chappelle played a sold-out show in New Orleans Thursday.
The one-night show at the Smoothie King Center brought in 17,000 fans and grossed $1.5 million at the box office, according to NOLA.com. Chappelle headlined the show with Joe Rogan, the popular comedian and podcast host who also came under scrutiny for comments about COVID-19.
"I haven’t been in this much trouble in my life," Chappelle reportedly quipped. He went on, "In the middle of me being canceled, we broke the attendance record."
Chappelle's 90-minute Netflix special prompted condemnation from the LGBTQ community and allies who claimed the comedian's jokes were "transphobic" and promoted hatred against transgender people. There were calls for the special to be removed from Netflix. Some called on the streaming giant to sever ties with Chappelle. Netflix’s Trans Employee Resource Group and its allies staged a walkout to protest the comedian and demand the company do more the reduce harm to marginalized communities.
In the aftermath of the controversy, Chappelle said he was "disinvited" from every film festival that had planned to screen his new movie that documents his 2020 comedy shows against the backdrop of the George Floyd protests. "Not a film company, not a movie studio, not a film festival, nobody will touch this film," Chappelle said in a clip recently posted to Instagram. Chappelle is now screening his movie in 10 select cities.
Against the pushback, many have encouraged Chappelle to make amends. At the beginning of a speech to induce Jay-Z into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Saturday, Chappelle pretended to read from a piece of paper. He started, "I would like to apologize — Nah, I'm just f---ing with y'all."
He elaborated on the consequences of speaking one's mind. "Being Black in America is not as easy as it looks," the comedian said to laughter. "There's always an 'or else.' Don't do this or else. Don't say this or else. ... We do it anyway, whenever we have to."
Like many other comedians, Chappelle has defied "cancel culture" and maintained his appeal, while scoring some new material in the process. Kevin Hart stepped back from hosting the Academy Awards in 2019 after several old tweets resurfaced that included jokes about homosexuality. Hart said he has been canceled "three or four times" throughout his career and is still the highest-earning stand-up comic in the world.
Joe Rogan, who was accused of promoting vaccine conspiracies, shrugged off the criticism, telling an audience in New Orleans, "If you’re getting your vaccine advice from me, is that really my fault?"
Scores of comedians, including Eddie Murphy, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey and Jimmy Kimmel have come under scrutiny for past jokes that were culturally or racially insensitive. Comedian Seth Rogan recently acknowledged, "There are certain jokes that for sure have not aged well, but I think that’s the nature of comedy."
The difference with Chappelle is the jokes are new and he is not sorry. He made that point in his Netflix special and accused some in the LGBTQ community of "punching down on my people" (comedians) in their response to his material.
He recently told an audience, "I am not bending to anybody's demands." He said he would meet with transgender employees at Netflix who want his special removed from the service, but he was confused about what they wanted to discuss. "I said what I said and boy, I heard what you said. My god, how could I not? You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. Well, it seems like I'm the only one who can't go to the office anymore."
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has come under fire for defending Chappelle and refusing to pull the special from the streaming service. "The Closer" racked up more than 10 million views in the first two weeks and his previous special was the most-watched stand-up on Netflix. Sarandos explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, "You really can’t please everybody or the content would be pretty dull." He said Netflix employees are told upfront that there will be programming they don't like. "So, this kind of commitment to artistic expression and free artistic expression is sometimes in conflict with people feeling protected and safe."
While some claim Chappelle is wrongly playing the victim, several comedians who have felt held back by cancel culture have voiced their support. Comedian Damon Wayans told TMZ he felt like Chappelle "freed the slaves" by refusing to fold in the face of criticism. He explained, "The comedians, we were slaves to PC culture ... he’s trying to tell us it’s OK."
Jon Stewart, the former host of The Daily Show, urged people to consider the intent of his fellow Comedy Central alumnus. "Look, if this spurs a conversation where people get more on the same page in terms of understanding, that’d be great, but I know his intention is never hurtful," Stewart told TMZ.
Jamie Masada, the founder of the Laugh Factory, wrote an open letter urging other comedians to support Chappelle. Acknowledging comedic sensibilities change over time, Masada warned, "If we don’t stand up for one another it won’t just be one of us that loses this freedom — it will be all of us — and once this freedom is gone, the doors of comedic expression will be sealed shut."
Caitlyn Jenner, a prominent and increasingly controversial figure in the transgender community, said Chappelle was "100% right" not to bend to pressure. "This isn’t about the LGBTQ movement. It’s about woke cancel culture run amok, trying to silence free speech. We must never yield or bow to those who wish to stop us from speaking our minds," Jenner tweeted.
The family of Daphne Dorman, a trans comedian and friend of Chappelle, defended the comedian, calling him an "LGBTQ all" whose message was "lost in translation." Dorman committed suicide in 2019 shortly after coming under attack for defending Chappelle's jokes about the trans community. Dorman's sister Brandy wrote on Facebook, "I feel like he poured his heart out in that special and no one noticed."