Readers, I’m conflicted.
I’m conflicted for two reasons. The first reason is because I am actually a fan of Damon Wayans. He holds a special place in my heart thanks to My Wife & Kids, a series that I grew up watching and still watch reruns of to this day. It’s hands down one of my favorite Black sitcoms of all time. So naturally, when Complex reported that Wayans spoke out in support of Dave Chappelle, specifically explaining how he “freed the slaves” with his brand of comedy, I was beyond confused. I’ll explain.
During an interview with TMZ, Wayans was asked where he stood on Chappelle’s latest Netflix comedy special, The Closer, and whether or not he should be canceled for it. Stopping his stroll to through LAX airport, Wayans said:
“I feel like Dave freed the slaves. The comedians, we were slaves to PC [politically correct] culture and he just, you know, as an artist he’s Van Gogh. Cut his ear off, he’s trying to tell us it’s OK. I just feel like he’s saying, ‘All that I have, I’m not afraid to lose it for the sake of freedom of speech. You can’t edit yourself. Comedians, we’re like…Mercedes makes a great car. But they gotta crash a lot of them before they perfect it.”
He later added, “I can’t speak about the content of the show but what I say is, there is a bigger conversation we need to have. Someone needs to look us in the eye and say, ‘You’re no longer free in this country. You’re not free to say what you want, you say what we want you to say. Otherwise we will cancel you.’ That’s the discussion we should have.”
*Deep, heavy, Negro spiritual sigh*
This leads me to the second reason I’m conflicted. I’m conflicted because, for as much as I admire Wayans, I am also equally tired of this notion that for comedians, there’s no way to be funny without being offensive. I am also tired of the word “slaves” being thrown around as if it’s some cutesy adjective to throw around for dramatic effect. What Wayans and others think is oppression via “censorship of free speech” is actually just the weight of accountability being brought forth by a group of marginalized folks who rightfully feel and believe that jokes like the ones present in The Closer can cause harm.
Is it too much to ask that jokes don’t punch down on a group of people who have already been punched down enough by society for years? If one of the key elements to comedy is standing at the intersection of humor and truth, wouldn’t it be beneficial to acknowledge the true, lived experiences of one group and to bring about a better, funnier way of understanding them instead of using language that could further alienate and harm them?
And while I’m asking questions, can we please cancel the words “cancel” and “cancel culture”? For the bazillionth time, it does not exist. Actions have consequences. Point blank, period. It’s 2021, for crying out loud, get a grip, folks.