Review: Dave Chappelle special The Closer is a big f–k you

Money and power rule in Chappelle's controversial Netflix special The Closer, even at the expense of trans people's lives


DAVE CHAPPELLE: THE CLOSER (Stan Lathan). 72 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix. Rating: NN


Dave Chappelle ends his Netflix special The Closer with Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, which plays over a series of black and white photos of the comic hanging out with some of the world’s richest and most powerful people. People like Bill Murray, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Mick Jagger, Jennifer Lopez, Quincy Jones and… Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who late last week defended Chappelle’s special in a memo to Netflix staffers.

The choice of song is significant. Gaynor’s disco hit has become an anthem about LGBTQ+ pride and perseverance. By finishing his special with it, and demonstrating how powerful he is – a few minutes before, he calls himself the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) – Chappelle is announcing he’s untouchable. And he’s rubbing this fact in the face of all his detractors.

Oddly enough, what went through my mind watching this was the scene from The Godfather II when Frankie Pentangeli is about to testify against Michael Corleone and, after he sees his brother from the old country brought into the court room by Michael’s thugs, changes his mind. Pentangeli realizes he’s powerless against this larger organization. If he talks, his family will die. He’ll shut up and then kill himself.

Bullying tactics

The message is clear. Anyone who has a problem with Chappelle’s special – whether it’s the transphobia, homophobia, misogyny or anti-Asian sentiment (there’s a coronavirus joke about Black people beating up Asians that nobody’s been talking about) – better back down. It’s a bullying tactic.

What’s gratifying is that clearly his detractors are not about to give in.

On October 20, a Netflix group for trans staffers is planning a walkout to protest the special and Sarandos’s defence of it. Artists who have benefitted from Netflix – including Dear White People’s co-show runner Jaclyn Moore and comedian Hannah Gadsby (Nanette) – have distanced themselves from the streamer and Sarandos.

As someone who’s covered comedy for more than two decades, I admire Chappelle’s craft. The way he constructs this special is worth studying – not because it’s especially funny (it’s not) but because he’s prepared the set like a debate team captain.

Rhetorical tricks

He uses every rhetorical trick in the book to try to prove he’s innocent of all the charges levelled at him.

He says early on that he likes the gays, but he prefers the Stonewall gays, the glory hole gays (insert decent Martin Luther King joke defending glory holes). He says the newer gays are “too sensitive.”

He tells us the Webster’s dictionary definition of “feminist,” concluding that he’s one because all along he thought it meant “frumpy dyke.”

Then he tells us he supported the #MeToo movement, even though he thought the way the victims of the movement handled their situation was “too white.”

All of which leads to his main point about the idea of “What is a woman?” which in turn gets him to call himself a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). He ends with an extended story about his friendship with a trans comic named Daphne, which is basically a riff on the “Some of my best friends are…” defence. Except this story has a tragic ending.

He complains several times that his detractors say he’s “punching down” in his LGBTQ material. Just because he complains about it doesn’t mean it’s not true – how else to explain his so-low-it-wouldn’t-even-work-on-amateur-night joke about that acronym – “LGBTQ…LMNOP…”?

Throughout the act, whenever a joke gets one of those I-can’t-believe-he-went-there laughs, Chapelle will say something like “It’s gonna get worse – hang in there,” or “I’m going all the way” or “Oh buddy, I’m in trouble now.”

What’s frustrating about Chappelle’s special is that there are bits of shrewd, intelligent observations in the act. He says that Black people are jealous of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Look how well that movement is doing,” he says. “How the fuck are you making that kind of progress? If slaves had baby oil and booty shorts, we may have been freer earlier.”

Elsewhere, he points out the racism in the early feminist movement.

But then he ruins it all by saying something nonsensical like: “In our country you can shoot and kill a [N-word], but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”

Does he really believe this? Hateful comments do more than hurt feelings; they can also depersonalize people and in so doing incite murder.

Speaking of murder, Chappelle says, “these transgenders want me dead.”

Do they? Or do they simply want to be heard? Do they not want to be a punchline? Do they not want to die themselves?

Terra Field’s Twitter thread

When trans Netflix employee Terra Field’s Twitter thread about the special went viral, it was remarkable because she didn’t sound off about being offended herself. Instead, Field listed more than two dozen Black, Indigenous and POC trans people who have been killed, after each instance writing that that person was not offended.

Field’s point was clear: they’re not offended, because they’re dead and can’t speak for themselves.

Chappelle reaches tens of millions of people. He’s rich and famous, as he shows us at the end of the special with the A-list stars. He doesn’t need to pick a fight with a community that doesn’t have the same platform. But clearly his pride has been wounded.

Unlike someone like Eddie Murphy, who years after his homophobic specials like Delirious and Raw apologized for that material, Chappelle is like a spoilt kid who knows he’s done something wrong and insists he hasn’t. And his parents – in this case Netflix – are defending him.

Money talks, and Chappelle earns Netflix a lot of money. Even if it comes at the cost of trans people’s lives.

@glennsumi

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14 responses to “Review: Dave Chappelle special The Closer is a big f–k you”

  1. Articles by this writer is precisely why comedy is important to show how stupid certain groups try to empower others with ideologies that destroys people…

  2. Oh give me a break. The writer seems to have missed the main point of the show, which is that it was the trans community that killed Dorman by dragging her thru the mud. Nothing remotely that Chappelle said or ever joke about. Is the writer really this obtuse?

  3. If you don’t like it, choose something else to watch on Netflix. Not everybody’s oversentimental over stand-up comedies…

  4. So brave to go after comedians doing their job. Oh nos, they made someone laugh but now my fees fees are hurt. Amazing how people will go after someone who is going for laughs. Like, somehow, it’s gonna change the world. Dave is there to make you laugh, you don’t like? Change the channel. But, if it was really bad, why is everyone watching it?

  5. The only reason why Eddie Murphy apologizes just like many of other comics is because he has something to lose. Also, if you know anything about the black community there’s not one “all time greatest” that has ended on top. The white, feminist, LGBTQ+ community and more has made sure every single one of the greatest fell before or after they died. You can’t take something away from someone that doesn’t care (i.e. D.C) that’s why real comedians are talking about how he’s free.

  6. If “hateful comments” lead to murder, then I guess we need to suppress those comment, right Glenn? I mean, we wouldn’t want to lead to murder now would we?

    And when deciding what are “hateful comments”, I’m sure our overlords will stick to firm guidelines. I’m sure comments such as “Men are men, women are women”, which is a concept 95% of the world’s population agrees with (including a much higher percentage of your dear oppressed POC) will NEVER be characterized as “hateful”, right?

    I’m being snarky but Glenn, can’t you see what you’re doing? You talk about power, but all you are advocating for will lead to a few elite powerful people to decide what is “hateful” and “lead to murder”, so that we can be told what we’re allowed to say and think.

    You seem to imply that as long as that elite is “diverse enough” (not in thoughts mind you), their edicts much be followed. I don’t want their edicts. I’m free, and I intend to remain free. And if the thought of me and others being free to think “hateful” thought bothers you that much, you should probably ask yourself why…

  7. Funny is funny. One can objectively measure it. If someone says a joke and 95% of the audience laughs it is funny regardless of if you personally laugh.

    If your in the 5% pouting in the back not laughing at the comedy show. To be honest, i don’t give a s**t about your opinions on media or comedy because you are empirically incorrect. Thanks for letting us all know your work is best ignored.

  8. I would much rather be leaving this comment in Roger Moore’s review but he cut comments off. What Roger represented ‘more’ in his review is an example of why Rotten Tomatoes critics and reviewers in general are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the audience. I used to lean on Critics opinions but now I recognize a film I am going to like because critics blasted it for social reasons or some personal issue with the genre/ director/ actor but the audiences love it. What we don’t get here is a review about the show. Which is what we come to reviewers for. Increasingly and for some years now we get the reviewers opinions of Dave Chapelle, Mel Gibson, James Cameron, etc. with only a pretense of being about the entertainment product being reviewed. We are starting to know certain talent, and catagories of film are not going to get a fair shake from reviewers because these reviewers didn’t get into the business to review films but to make a social statement about the people involved. The question is why in 2021 that there is this massive disparity between critics and the audiences who love these films and more rarely critics who love films the audiences hate. There is a role the critic used to care about which is will the audience have a good time watching this piece of entertainment or are they wasting their time and or money

  9. Hopefully this period will pass. If we have gotten to the point where genetics are being negated then there is nothing more to talk about. Power to all who want to express who they feel they are inside. I’ve been going to Wigstock since the late 80’s but damn if you can’t accept that XX & XY is a reality then what is there to talk about. Dave has always spoken the truth and has always, ALWYAS been sensitive …..laughing with never at. If you see Chappelle as an enemy then you are way off base and food luck fighting the real battles that need to be fought and won in the Real world. Americans have too much time on their hands to be picking hairs. I’s like to be appreciated for the scent I choose to wear, but there are far too many more issues to be concerned about. Good luck, peace and love, and maybe grow up?

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