Yup, Dave Chappelle went there. In his new Netflix comedy special, The Bird Revelation, Chappelle touches on sexual harassment in Hollywood and in comedy, mining the accusations against fellow comedian Louis C.K., who was accused of masturbating in front of female colleagues, for joke fodder. The special debuted on New Year’s Eve.
As Billboard reports, Chappelle leans into the topic of sexual abuse and fallout from the #MeToo movement from his opening. “Here we are, Los Angeles, the real capital of rape and dick breath,” Chappelle says. “They got Charlie Rose today … who’s next, Captain Kangaroo?”
Chappelle introduces the bit by saying that Louis was “like the turning point” for him. From Uproxx:
All these allegations were terrible — I shouldn’t say this — but his allegations were the only ones that made me laugh. When you think about it, he’s jerking off — he’s surprising people. I picture all the comics in comedy reading it like, “Word!” It’s terrible, I’m sorry ladies, you’re right. At the same time, Jesus Christ, they took everything from Louis. It might be disproportionate, I can’t tell.
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Chappelle then focuses on one particular accuser’s story about Louis C.K., that from comedy writer Abby Schachner, who told the New York Times that Louis C.K. had masturbated while on a phone call with her in 2003.
“One lady said, ‘Louis C.K. masturbated in front of me, ruined my comedy dreams,’” he says, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “Word? Well, then, I dare say, madam, you may have never had a dream. Come on, man, that’s a brittle spirit. That is a brittle-ass spirit, that is too much, this grown-ass woman.”
The comedian then segues into a comparison between #MeToo and COINTELPRO, the FBI program that spied on, among various groups, the Black Panther Party. Chappelle goes on to say that if Louis C.K. had masturbated in front of Martin Luther King Jr., he doubts that King would have dropped his dream.
From the Hollywood Reporter:
“Show business is just harder than that,” he continues. “I know that sounds fucked up, I’m not supposed to say that, but one of these ladies was like, ‘Louis C.K .was masturbating while I was on the phone with him.’ Bitch, you don’t know how to hang up a phone? How the fuck are you going to survive in show business if this is an actual obstacle to your dreams?”
Chappelle does try to connect the jokes about Louis C.K.’s accuser to make a larger statement about creating lasting change in addressing a corrosive culture of sexual abuse.
“All the bad guys are scared, and that’s good, but the minute they’re not scared anymore, it’ll get worse than it was before,” Chappelle says. “Fear does not make lasting peace. Ask black people.” Chappelle also suggests that Hollywood follow South Africa’s example in the wake of apartheid, by looking at everyone’s role in the system.
But Chappelle wasn’t done courting controversy. In a different special also released Dec. 31, Equanimity, Chappelle offered his thoughts on the transgender community—a decision he made in one of his earlier Netflix standup specials, which sparked outrage among viewers for its insensitivity.
These motherfuckers are really mad about that last Netflix special. It’s tough man, I don’t know what to do about it ’cause I like them. I always have. Never had a problem with them. Ya know, just fucking around. And a matter of fact I think I make fun of everybody, and I mean as a group of people they have to admit ... it’s kind of fucking hilarious man. I’m sorry bro.
In a comparison that is more than a little stale, Chappelle then goes on to compare transgender people to Rachel Dolezal. The bit left many people wondering, why even go there?
For the most part, the two specials have been warmly received on Twitter, with fans lauding Chappelle’s genius and his ability to string jokes into larger philosophical points. Which makes his decision to revisit jokes about rape culture, trans people and the LGBT community, areas where the comedian has been flat and out of his depth, all the more bizarre.