Dave Chappelle’s newest Netflix special was hardly just hours old, and already the pearl-clutching nuns of the Internet were doing their best to sink it.
Buzzfeed rebuked Chappelle for his “truly vile” jokes about the trans community, #MeToo and Michael Jackson, lecturing him like a schoolmarm “to be more thoughtful.” Similarly, Paste and Vanity Fair called him “fragile” and “stale” respectively. Vice — a site that publishes frequently enough about dildos to have a page dedicated to it — told its audience to “skip” the show, advice that apparently had the opposite of the intended effect.
But Chappelle’s latest hour is just the most recent, and probably loudest, shot in a culture war that has been brewing between a mob of increasingly influential Internet nuns and comedians. Decades ago it was George Carlin raging against political correctness, but now the battle is pitched, the stakes are considerably higher, and one wrong word can get you “canceled.”
“It’s come full circle, now they’re eating each other,” comedian Nick Di Paolo, who just released his own special, “Breath of Fresh Air,” told the Daily Caller. “I’m the counter culture now, guys like me that lean right, those people, the woke ones, they are the culture. That’s how bad it is, that Chappelle and Bill Burr are labeled like the Anti-PC guys.”
Attacking comedians who refused to adhere to progressive thought broke into the mainstream in 2017, after Jim Norton was criticized for joking about transgender sex on his Netflix special. Next, we watched as Louis C.K. was chastised on social media for his leaked jokes about the Parkland shooting.
“It started off with the right instincts,” Di Paolo said. “Nobody is for sexual harassment. Now they’ve taken it too goddamn far. They’re lumping [Louis C.K.] in with Harvey Weinstein. And they’re not making any distinction. They got way ahead of their skiis on that one. It just got crazy.”
Joe Rogan spent a chunk of time in his special, “Triggered,” discussing the differences between men and women, a touchy issue considering that popular culture says that men and women are basically equal in all ways.
“It’s not sexist to say that women can’t do big physical labor things as good as giant men can,” Rogan joked. “But people will tell you it is. Well, I’m not sexist. As a matter of fact, my favorite people are all female. I have a wife and I have three daughters. They’re my favorite people in the world. But I could beat the f*ck out of all of them.”
In Chappelle’s new stand up piece, the comedian hits on taboo topics including school shootings, Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse allegations, R. Kelly’s sex tape involving a minor, Kevin Hart hosting the Oscars and the LGBTQ community.
Chappelle even went after cancel culture while doing an impression.
“If you do anything wrong in your life, and I find out about it, I’m gonna try and take everything away from you … if I find out, you’re f**king finished,” Chappelle joked.
The comedian asked the audience to guess who he was impersonating and many responded Trump. (RELATED: OPINION: Why aren’t More Comedians Making Fun Of Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez?)
“That’s what the audience sounds like to me,” Chappelle answered. “That’s why I don’t be coming out doing comedy all the time, ‘cause y’all n*ggas is the worst motherf**kers I’ve ever tried to entertain in my f**king life.”
“This is the worst time ever to be a celebrity. You’re gunna be finished. Everyone’s doomed,” he added.
Progressive writers, however, accused Chappelle of being incapable of change.
“But now he chooses to blatantly ignore the historic criticism against his style of comedy and new loud-and-clear criticism from the trans community,” the VICE writer wrote. “His approach comes off like a defiant rejection of change at any cost. As he keeps going down this path, drawing attention to the worst aspects of his important career, the biggest cost will be tarnishing his own legacy.”
Opposition to change seems to be a continued theme of new-age comedic criticism. Critics wanted to see a change in comedians such as Chappelle and Louis C.K.’s jokes after the introduction of woke culture. However, the comedians haven’t bought into that narrative.
The Ringer wrote a similar review after criticizing Chappelle’s nonchalance when admitting he was a victim blamer.
“Well, what’d she do?” Chappelle joked in response to hearing about someone experiencing sexual assault.
“As Chappelle ossifies further into a set of recognizable tics, the mystery of what he was up to has been replaced by the obvious reality of what he’s become,” the Ringer published. “Chappelle is adamantly opposed to change. Time will tell whether his audience is similarly committed.”
“It’s enough to make you want to tie Chappelle to a chair and force him to binge-watch episodes of ‘Pose,'” Buzzfeed added to the narrative.
The Reason pointed out the lack of change in Louis C.K.’s comedy in an article published in 2018 titled “Louis C.K.’s Politically Incorrect Comedy Didn’t Change. You Did.”
“In other words, the new stuff is pretty much exactly in line with Louis C.K.’s previous material, which was equally dedicated to the slaughter of sacred cows,” the. “His 2008 special, ‘Chewed Up,’ for instance, opened with him using the word ‘faggot’—he moved onto the c-word and the n-word shortly thereafter—and ended with him joking about masturbating on 9/11.”
Comedy isn’t about change or progress, comedians say. Among other things, it’s often about catharsis, about coping with change, and mostly about what makes the audience laugh.
“A joke is funny if the audience laughs at it. Now, that doesn’t mean that the audience always laughs at ethical humor,” culture editor for The Federalist, Emily Jashinsky, said in an interview. “So, it’s possible that if it’s an unethical joke, people laugh. But generally if people are laughing, it’s funny.”
Other comedians have also entered into the “anti-woke” counter culture. Comedian Aziz Ansari released his Netflix special “Right Now” back in July.
Ansari launched into a joke about the “newly woke white people,” with dialogue hinging on the popular iPhone game Candy Crush.
“Is there some sort of secret, progressive Candy Crush we don’t know about?” Ansari joked. “Like, don’t you imagine some white people getting together in secret, like, ‘All right, let’s tally up our scores. What did everyone do for equality today?’…’Well, I told one of my African-American friends I thought ‘Black Panther’ should have won Best Picture. Then I tweeted out some support for this new documentary by a lesbian filmmaker…Wrote a lengthy Instagram post calling myself out for white privilege based on something I did in 2015.’ Ding, ding, ding! ‘Tell him what he’s won, guys!’ ‘Oh, Brian’s won a bunch of Instagram likes from other white people playing the same game!'”
While Ansari’s joke landed with the audience, media critiqued him for missing the mark. (No more was this divide between media critics and the people more sharp than in Chappelle’s 27 percent to 99 percent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.)
“Despite some good jokes, it’s hard to see ‘Right Now’ as anything but a misfire … a critique of performative wokeness that is itself a performance of atonement, one that never fully grapples with or acknowledges what it’s supposedly atoning for,” Paste wrote.
“Complaining about ‘wokeness’ could easily come off as out of touch and cranky, but Ansari largely avoids that trap by cracking slyly scathing jokes about the ‘newly woke white people’ whose well-meaning indignation can tip the scale into ‘condescending,'” Variety published.
Notable comedians have come forward with support after Chappelle received negative reviews for his non-progressive thoughts.
Comedians are not saints. We advertise our flaws and often polarizing opinions as a thought experiment for entertainment. Nobody judges us harder than us. If you can’t handle disagreeing with someone, great news! There are millions of other things to watch.
— Whitney Cummings (@WhitneyCummings) August 28, 2019
“Comedians are not saints,” comedian Whitney Cummings tweeted. “We advertise our flaws and often polarizing opinions as a thought experiment for entertainment. Nobody judges us harder than us. If you can’t handle disagreeing with someone, great news! There are millions of other things to watch.”
How come if you’re offended by someone’s comedy it can’t just be your cup of tea and then that’s it? Why do you have to write 40 blogs about it? The comedy isn’t the problem. You are.
— Chris D’Elia (@chrisdelia) August 28, 2019
Comedian Chris D’Elia questioned why people even take the time to watch something they know they will be offended by.
“How come if you’re offended by someone’s comedy it can’t just be your cup of tea and then that’s it? D’Elia tweeted. “Why do you have to write 40 blogs about it? The comedy isn’t the problem. You are.”
Chappelle even took time out of his recorded special to make that point.
“If you at home watching this shit on Netflix,” he said, “remember, b*tch…You clicked on my face!”
The idea that comedy should adhere to politically correct speech hasn’t landed well with comedians.
“It’s totally irrational, the far left has totally lost its shit,” Di Paolo said. “They’ve created this stifling atmosphere … that transcends comedy. The ones that have balls are going to bite back.”
Di Paola said he’s glad Chappelle is biting back with such a gigantic audience, and he hopes it helps out everyone else in comedy.
Bill Burr’s new special “Paper Tiger” is just a couple days old. He made fun of men, women, dogs, hipsters and himself. But to open his set, he took on woke culture.
To the surprise of no one, they responded by calling him a Nazi.
Welcome to the “conform or be labeled a Nazi” club, @billburr.
Our membership numbers are really growing. pic.twitter.com/DI4OgvBpIX
— Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) September 10, 2019