Comedian Dave Chapelle has been starting firestorms in Detroit for years. In 2015, crowds demanded refunds when Chappelle slurred his way through a disastrous stand-up performance in which he appeared visibly intoxicated.
“I don’t know that he really understands … the depth of violence that the trans community faces.” —Dr. Rev. Roland Stringfellow, Metropolitan Community Church Detroit.
His latest appearances in Detroit were filmed for a new Netflix special, “The Closer,” which has stirred massive backlash against Chappelle from the LGBTQ+ community and allies for what they say is blatantly homophobic and transphobic messages.
Listen: How Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” crosses the line of what is funny and what is offensive.
Dr. Rev. Roland Stringfellow is a senior pastor and teacher at the Metropolitan Community Church Detroit, which serves the LGBTQ+ community. He says Chappelle had been one of his favorite comedians, but that “The Closer” clearly promotes homophobic and transphobic prejudices. As most disenfranchised communities have already critiqued Chappelle about what is inappropriate to say, Stringfellow believes the comedian should be able to distinguish what is funny and what is crossing a line. “I don’t know that he really understands … the depth of violence that the trans community faces,” he says.
Ahya Simone is a Detroit-based multidisciplinary artist as well as the creator, co-writer and director of the fictional comedic web series Femme Queen Chronicles. She says Chappelle is a famous and crass part of America’s cultural lexicon. She says in the early 2010s, the comedian was a “roaring lion” through the comedy circuit, but is now struggling to understand what is funny. “He’s not as adept when it comes to addressing topics he knows nothing about,” she says.
Simone says Chappelle’s new comedy special is hurtful, but that it’s also not pushing the boundaries on how most people think. “He seems to not understand in that moment, or not care in that moment, that he’s not saying anything original or outside of the norm,” she says.
Dr. Thomas Ford is a social psychologist at Western Carolina University, focusing on prejudice, disparaging humor and discrimination. He says Chappelle’s Netflix special is complicated and that there are questions of how much leeway should be afforded to comedians. “They’ve traditionally made fun of people, ideas and movements that are shaping culture,” he says. Ford also says comedians should be held responsible to think about the negative consequences of their art.
“We find that when people are exposed to disparagement humor, it opens them up to express the prejudice they already have,” he says. “They have a greater willingness to discriminate themselves as well.”