Do you remember when you couldn’t get through a comedian’s set without a gag about their mother-in-law? In-laws are largely out of vogue now, but seem to have been replaced by transgender people in the ‘must-have’ section of stand-up.
The latest person to access the oh-so-edgy archives is Dave Chappelle, who used his latest Netflix special to explain the context of his jokes from his previous specials. (Because you know a joke is funny when you have to explain it.)
Among the jokes he wants to defend are his jokes about trans people. There’s all the classics – digs about they/them pronouns, proclaiming himself as “team TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), and jokes about genitalia. Then insistences that he has no issues with transgender people, his trans friend (who has since taken her own life) didn’t think his jokes were transphobic, and that he just wants the LGBTQ+ community “stop punching down on my people”.
Because of course, there are no black LGBTQ+ people, right, Dave?
Now, there are a lot of reasons why I have issues with Chappelle’s pivoting to grabbing the lowest-hanging fruit, something that has been happening for a decade now. Trans people are among the most marginalised communities on this earth, particularly black trans women, and face conversations about whether they have the right to proper healthcare, or to use the bathrooms that correspond with their identities, or to access safe spaces, on a daily basis.
And while you may not think a joke about them is all that bad, they often give a transphobe the licence to laugh off their humanity, giving them the right to dehumanise a trans person all the more. It’s never “just a joke”.
But another reason is that the jokes are just so painfully unfunny and dated. Dave Chappelle is a comedy genius. So why is half of his material nowadays the same one-liners word-vomited onto Reddit by teenage edgelords in 2010?
To have a mind like Chappelle’s and resort to jokes about pronouns and bathrooms is offensively lazy to me. You’re really going to get a $60m deal with Netflix and then have a trawl through whatever’s bothering the internet this week the night before your assignment is due?
Chappelle may not think he is “punching down”, but if you have to dedicate 20 minutes of your set to marginalised people, that’s not groundbreaking comedy.
And before you start thinking “everybody’s so offended nowadays!”, I’m not against edgy comedy. Some of my favourite comics leave me uneasy – take the Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss, who hinges his entire routines on extremely difficult subjects, but always, always has a point.
There is no point to Chappelle’s recent material. What do you want to prove – that you can’t say anything nowadays? Well, you’re mocking people whose basic human rights are being debated all over the internet and in government, on a worldwide Netflix special, and getting paid millions.
“Cancel culture” strikes again, eh?