I’ve been a little paralyzed from updating lately because I felt I needed to talk about Dave Chappelle’s flight from his own show. Like a lot of people, I felt sympathy for the man. All the rumors and details - mental hospitals, drug addiction and $50 million - sounded more like gossip instead of my usual interest in deconstructing poop jokes. None of Dave’s troubles in the press had any direct roots to his comedy… at least none that were being put forward at the time.
Dave Chappelle’s interview with Time confirmed that this is a bit more of an art-driven pullout than the usual celeb shenanigans. Chappelle’s fears that his sketches might perpetuate the stereotypes they mean to destroy struck me as a very real concern. Dave’s sensitivity does seem a bit high - the spark for his worries seems to be the raucous laughter of a single white male during a filming of a sketch. But I can still see why it bothers him. Comedy can be a pretty blunt instrument. Because so much of it plays on attitudes we don’t speak of, you first have to show the attitude you don’t like and then destroy it. But the act of reflecting racism, sexism, homophobia or anything else of that nature confirms the suspicions inherent in them. You run the risk of someone missing the point and thinking you share the same prejudice.
To me the risk is always worth taking. I think the more you bring the ugly side of life to light, the more these things robbed of their power. Worrying that one person might get it wrong and not get it isn’t worth it when compared to the others that will. It’s like this: if a child imitates a video game and kill someone, it doesn’t mean video games are bad. If a sketch about stereotypes reinforces racism in a few people, it’s not worth it to worry about because of the others who do get it. But that’s easy for me to say. I’m a white protestant male from the south, pretty much the template of the insider in this country now.
A lot of people make hay out of the $50 million Dave’s making. I’m a little concerned with our sense of scale when it come to entertainment, but I do see the money affecting Chappelle in some ways simply because his entire career has been based on taking risks with racial stereotypes. It’s what got him that $50 million, along with all the attention that comes with it. When you get access to an opportunity like that, you naturally reexamine your motives. Even if your jokes are no different, simply because of the money measure in our society, the jokes are more important. I’ve finally got the mic of the world now, what am I going to say and is it going to land the way I want. It’s easy to deconstruct racism in front of small audiences, but the bigger the audience, the more likely someone’s going to hear you wrong.
I hope Chappelle realizes that his instincts are strong and that the laughs of one white guy are a fair sacrifice for the people he is reaching. Take all the time you need, Dave.