90 Miles From Tyranny : Dave Chappelle’s Lutheran stand against cancel culture

Monday, October 11, 2021

Dave Chappelle’s Lutheran stand against cancel culture

Few challenge the new intolerance as effectively and naturally as Mr Chappelle.

There is something a tad disquieting about Dave Chappelle’s demeanour in his new Netflix stand-up special, The Closer, filmed in Detroit. For a while, as I watched him joke about coronavirus, racism and the trans question, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it struck me. It was his lack of nerves that felt unnerving. Here was a man making gags about some of the most vexed topics of our time, even going so far as to joke about trans women’s ‘vaginas’ (‘I’m not saying it’s not pussy, but it’s Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy’). And yet he displayed neither the darting-eye angst that so often accompanies the saying of unsayable things, nor the smug self-satisfaction of those who blaspheme against woke orthodoxies for the thrill of it. No, this was a man calmly, funnily saying what he believes to be true, as if he were compelled to do so, as if he could do no other. And that, in this era in which people either sheepishly duck controversy or hug the hell out of it for the retweets, feels unusual, and bracing.

Chappelle’s comedy has an increasingly Lutheran vibe. ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ He mocks the fact that Caitlyn Jenner was given a Woman of the Year award – ‘Her first year as a woman… Never even had a period. Ain’t that something?’ – not to stoke a Twitter fire or to upset the Jenners, but because he truly is amazed that a biological male ‘beat every bitch in Detroit, she’s better than all of you’. He rails against cancel culture not because he wants your sympathy or because he’s worried about losing his platforms – here he is on Netflix, after all, his sixth special for the streaming giant – but because he has to. It’s the truth as he understands it forcing its way from his soul into his routine. On rapper DaBaby, who survived the controversy of shooting a black man in 2018 but was ‘cancelled’ for making homophobic comments in 2021, Chappelle said: ‘In our country, you can shoot and kill a nigga, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.’

That line contains more insight into the moral perversions of cancel culture than anything I’ve read in a thousand thinkpieces. It nails the hierarchical politics of identitarianism, in which the emotions of very-online upper middle-class ‘queers’ count for more than the literal life of a young black man shot in a Walmart. It captures the madness of elevating...

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