Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
It wasn’t all that long ago that standup comedian Dave Chappelle was brilliant.
Take it from Slate, which in 2014 called him “brilliant” and in 2017 described his Netflix specials as “electrifying.” Now Slate complains, “he went away for a long time, and while you changed with the times, he fashioned himself a badge of honor for defiantly not doing so.” That long time is 2 years.
Two years isn’t a long time chronologically, but it’s an eternity in politically correct dog years.
Sticks and Stones is full of jokes about school shootings, child molestation, and transgender sensitivities.
Chappelle casually swipes at the “#MeToo headache”, LGBT lobbying, “you are never, ever allowed to upset the alphabet people”, and “my money, my choice,” his rejoinder to abortion’s “my body, my choice.” “If you decide to have the baby, a man should not have to pay,” he snaps.
“Dave Chappelle on Broadway: The Joke Is Getting Old,” the New York Times whined in July. If anyone knows what old and unfunny is, it’s a 170-year-old newspaper read by aging Upper East Side lefties.
IMDB ratings demographics showed Sticks and Stones performing best with viewers 18 and under. It performs worst with media hacks who believe comedy exists to tell people what to believe.
The media’s problem is that Chappelle is popular and he’s saying some politically incorrect things.
The snippy shots from the media’s cultural gatekeepers turned into a hailstorm of snowflakes when Chappelle’s Netflix special, Sticks and Stones debuted. The issue, the gatekeepers claimed, was that Chappelle wasn’t funny. The hit pieces were really confessions admitting they don’t know funny.
They liked Chappelle because the only black comedians they can relate to service their racist countercultural ‘fight the man’ fantasies. Chappelle isn’t out of step comedically, but politically.
Dave Chappelle sets up his audience by accusing the Founding Fathers of racism before asking them to guess who’s “gonna try to take everything away from you” if “you do anything wrong in your life.”
The audience, primed by hours of tepid lefty clapter comedy, shouts, “Trump, Trump.”
Chappelle responds with, “You.”
It’s the moment early on in Sticks and Stones that sets the tone for the comedy and the backlash that he knows is coming. And, like Kanye West, Chappelle is courting it. He picked a side in the culture wars and, like every comedian, it’s his own side. His taunt doesn’t just ridicule audiences for their role in social justice mobbing, but for their laziness in assuming that he’s just another unimaginative shill.
The Founding Fathers line is the politically correct setup for a politically incorrect punchline.
Audiences want to be surprised by comedy. The media wants comedy to be politically predictable. That’s why there’s such a wide ratings gap on Rotten Tomatoes between the critics, mostly negative, and the audience, mostly positive. Chappelle is entertaining audiences and upsetting the gatekeepers.
Why does Slate think that Chappelle isn’t brilliant or electrifying anymore? Take it from their sad headline. “Dave Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones Fights for the Rights of the Already-Powerful,” it complains.
Somehow, Slate thought that Chappelle was a civil rights crusader instead of a comedian.
Audiences know better. The people paying to see Chappelle want to laugh. The political elites want comedy to be an exercise in indoctrination and they hate it when the punch lines don’t go their way.
“Dave Chappelle Once Tore Down the Establishment. Now He Represents It,” The Advocate objects. “Dave Chappelle Doesn’t Need to Punch Down,” BuzzFeed moans. The Atlantic accuses him of being driven by fear of the “social movements shaping the country.” It applauds when he calls the Founding Fathers racists. It boos when he turns the spotlight on social justice mobs, #MeToo, and the Left.
And then it pleads with audiences to stop laughing.
The Atlantic and dozens of other media publications owned, run and read by wealthy white lefties complain that Chappelle isn’t “irreverent” anymore. Their complaints are proof of his irreverence. If Chappelle were the establishment, wouldn’t the establishment media be singing his praises?
Lefty gatekeepers think that irreverence is when a comedian makes fun of someone else’s beliefs while paying homage to the “social movements” they support. That’s not irreverence. It’s reverence.
Dave Chappelle was always irreverent. And irreverence, unpredictably ridiculing anything and everything, is what comedy used to be until it turned into Hannah Gadsby’s social justice tantrums.
Sticks and Stones, like Chappelle’s other comedy specials, was funded by the African-American standup comedian, and brought to Netflix as a finished product which the streaming service could take or leave. In the ‘clapter’ era, when Stephen Colbert’s CBS audience applaud his political views like trained seals, Chappelle is raw, offensive and unpredictable. It’s the work of a freewheeling comedian, not a party line.
Chappelle’s Netflix specials carry the energy of Eddie Murphy’s Raw. But they’re the work of a comedian who didn’t want to turn into Eddie Murphy. Instead, Chappelle dumped his show, vanished for a decade, and resurfaced untouched by the Hollywood bubble. That gives him the freedom that Kevin Hart and other black comedians who want to work in Hollywood don’t have. The freedom to say anything.
That’s a freedom that the cultural elites who politicized comedy and everything else have quashed.
Chappelle embraces the freewheeling freedom to joke about celebrities, abortion, pedophilia, gay rights, feminism, gun control, and racism, tackling charged topics with disdain and skewed punchlines. It’s not new. It’s what comedy used to be like. It feels raw and fresh only because comedy isn’t anymore.
On Colin Quinn’s Red State Blue State tour, the comedian sardonically responds to being told to “evolve with your audience” with “that’s actually why I got into comedy so I could march in lockstep with society’s contemporary convention, I wanted to conform to the status quo.”
Comedians don’t want to conform. But they’re pressured to be relevant. And to be relevant is to lecture.
Despite namechecking everything from abortion to gay rights to gun control to school shootings, Chappelle isn’t trying to be relevant. He’s making jokes by putting the absurd pieces of society together in awkward, offensive and obscene ways. And that’s what comedians have always done.
“If I’m wrong, then perhaps we’re wrong,” he rambles during a bit on abortion. “I can’t live in this new world you’re proposing.”
Comedians question everything. Political fanatics hate any questions except the ones they want asked.
But Chappelle is immune from the rules, the pressure and the intimidation. He won his freedom by walking away from a $50 million Comedy Central contract. He did it then, he can do it again. And when he jokes about Kevin Hart’s apology tour, it’s coming from a comedian who will never do one of those. He can’t be cancelled because he isn’t afraid to get on a plane and walk away from everything. He’s part of a black community immune to the cultural obsessions of social justice critics, and he turned his back on Hollywood to work in clubs making him immune to the pressures on Hart or Tracy Morgan.
The real message of Sticks and Stones is in the title. “What are you gonna do to me?”
Even in the Hannah Gadsby age, where professional comedians are falling one by one, Dave Chappelle is going to unload his stream of consciousness on a stage knowing that, unlike Gadsby, it’ll get real laughs.
And that’s what worries the media gatekeepers working overtime to convince audiences that they shouldn’t laugh. Leftist power in America doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun, but from a camera lens.
The Left gets to decide what literature, music, entertainment and all the other elements of culture are. It gets to decide what people should be watching, reading and listening to. And what they shouldn’t.
It gets to decide what cool is.
That is why it has a political death grip on younger people that washes away in a few decades.
Chappelle’s Sticks and Stones performance is impervious to the cultural gatekeepers. And that worries them. The greatest trick of the elites is pretending to be anti-establishment. It’s making their totalitarian system seem like the cool project of rebels rather than the shoddy bureaucracy of egomaniacs.
But this fake culture doesn’t hold up when it’s exposed to an actual counterculture.
That’s what the wide gap between critic and audience ratings on Sticks and Stones really means. It’s what the frenzy of media hit pieces accusing Chappelle of being part of the establishment are about.
It’s not anger. It’s not even jealousy. It’s fear.
Politically correctness is about intimidation. It’s less about the things being banned, than the power to ban. It depends on keeping celebrities and entertainers too afraid to break its always changing rules.
The media’s power is in the words it uses to lie, to smear and to intimidate. When people stop being afraid of its words or even stop being influenced by them, what remains of the media’s power?
What, The New York Times and the rest of the media wonder, if they can’t get Chappelle to shut up?