Dave Chappelle brings the controversy to ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Dave Chappelle & Black Star
November 12, 2022

The first time Dave Chappelle, the brilliant and controversial stand-up comedian and star of Chappelle’s Show, hosted Saturday Night Live was the Saturday following the existential shock that was the 2016 Election. Chappelle handled that episode with a degree of calm and maturity that I don’t think a lot of us expected; giving even the most anti-Future President Firestarter among us pause when he asked us to give the man a chance. (That turned out to be a mistake, but I digress.)

Chappelle was then the obvious person for Saturday Night Live to have host following the 2020 Election, which everyone knew would be controversial no matter what happened. (Of course at the time, we had no idea HOW controversial, but, again, I digress.) It ended up being a largely anticlimactic and unmemorable episode — but for his monologue, in which he showed us a glimpse of where his career would take him next.

I had this to say about his 16-minute-long 2020 monologue:

Dave Chappelle is funny, and his delivery — especially when he is talking about racial issues — is confrontational in a mischievous way: looking White America directly in the eye and calling us racist while making us laugh at the same time. It’s a trick that he pulls off beautifully.

What he doesn’t pull off beautifully are jokes that punch down. Dave Chappelle is a straight male comedian of a certain age, and what I have learned in the past four years is that many straight male comedians of a certain age feel pretty sure they are under attack from cancel culture and political correctness and that it is their singular job to fight back. Fighting back, to these guys, means unapologetically making sexist, homophobic, and racist jokes and then yelling at the audience that they are being too sensitive if they don’t laugh along with them.

Chappelle does it twice here: using Dr. Birx as an excuse to “joke” that women shouldn’t receive equal pay (and literally asking the audience if he “triggered” them) before making a “joke” about Freddy Mercury contracting AIDS, a joke that would have been considered offensive in the 80s. More than being offended by this, I’m just so fucking bored with comedians relying on shock value and then claiming that somehow they are the victims because society has moved on without them. Far from making them heroes who “dare to say what ‘everyone’ is thinking” — everyone being straight men — it just shows how lazy they truly are. The bottom line: Dave Chappelle is better than this, and if he’d just let down his defensive posturing for half a goddamned second, he’d realize that.

As I’m sure you know by now, in October 2021, Dave Chappelle released a Netflix special, The Closer, in which he mocked and belittled trans people so much that it created a firestorm within Netflix itself and the culture as a whole. But instead of being apologetic for once again punching down on a marginalized group and taking some time to do some self-reflection, Chappelle has spent the past year doubling down and positioning himself as the real victim, a martyr to “cancel culture.”

Unsurprisingly then, upon the announcement that Chappelle had been invited back to host Saturday Night Live, there were reports that some of the writers were going to boycott the show in protest. In fact, looking at the list of writers for this episode, it is noticeably short on women writers, including transwoman Celeste Yim.

Perhaps this is cynical of me, but ultimately what does SNL care if some of their writers (and cast) feel personally attacked by the invited host? As when Elon Musk hosted in season 46, SNL will only benefit from the ensuing controversy. Both fans and detractors are sure to tune in to see if Chappelle continues spewing his offensive positions on gay and trans people either out of so-called principle or sheer perverseness.

In the end, and much to the relief of NBC, I’m sure, Chappelle avoided the trans issue altogether, while also managing once again to suggest that it is he who is the real victim; the victim of cancel culture.

To that, I will merely point out that the only reason I am writing any of this right now is because one year after being paid millions of dollars for doing a comedy special that specifically and relentlessly attacked gay and trans people, last night “cancel culture victim” Dave Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live for the third time.

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