Dave Chappelle has credibility. Aside from being one of the most talented and wisest comedians of his generation, he tells the truth. Over 10 years ago, he left $50 million on the table when he left then-hit TV show “Chappelle’s Show,” because he felt the corporate interests that were paying him constrained his message.
Today, the left’s social justice warriors are attacking Chappelle for refusing to bow to their sacred totems. But if $50 million didn’t tame Chappelle’s appetite for the truth, then neither will hot takes from progressive zines. And this is something to be thankful for.
Why Chappelle’s ‘Age of Spin’ Is Brilliant
Chappelle’s new Netflix special, especially part one, “The Age of Spin,” is a bright and hysterical light amidst the dull, dark, and decidedly unfunny musings of millennial favorites like Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, and Amy Schumer. He takes aim at everything, and doesn’t let anything or anyone off the hook—not even himself.
What emerges—sometimes quite directly in references to his age (he’s 42)—is that he is tired of the new censorious world of media and entertainment, and eager to return us to a time when we could just talk.
The frame for “Age of Spin” is the four times that Chappelle met OJ Simpson. Right off the bat, he explains how tense, fractious, and important a moment OJ’s acquittal on murder charges was. His own feelings and that of black America at the time were complicated, and perhaps not entirely justified. But OJ was still a man, a human being and an important one for Chappelle. The same is true of Bill Cosby, who Chappelle talks about as a hero, and in a controversial moment, says, “Saved more than he raped.”
Chappelle Argues For The Value Of The Examined Life
In 2017, you can’t say things like that without expecting a backlash. Rape isn’t funny. But as Chappelle points out, in the case of Cosby, the rapist was funny. And he also happened to be a leading figure in civil rights, and a hero for young, black comedians. He says finding out Cosby committed rape was like finding out chocolate ice cream is a rapist, “but I love chocolate ice cream,” he says. He’s asking an important question.
How do we acknowledge the accomplishments of flawed people? The question is much bigger than OJ and Cosby. Our educators struggle to teach the legacies of Washington and Jefferson, who owned human beings. There are calls to abolish Columbus Day, because the great explorer massacred native populations. The past, even the recent past, has often become a terrible place. Its inhabitants fail to live up to our own ever-shifting standards of decency. Now Chappelle himself is receiving some stern finger wagging from the generation of reprimand.
Thankfully, for all of us, Chappelle has a finger to use in reply. He knew his joke about trans people, equating “body affirmation surgery” with a Wu Tang Clan member cutting off his own johnson, was “problematic.” That’s why he made the joke. Because our society won’t take a long hard look at gender dysphoria, or question the wisdom of people, including kids, modifying their bodies to become the gender they feel like. Instead, we decide trans people are oppressed, and we must believe whatever they say. Chappelle is arguing for the value of the examined life, over adherence to the latest dogma.
Chappelle Exemplifies The Best Of Generation X
For just about the amount of time that Chappelle was in self-imposed exile, Generation X has rolled its eyes at the newfangled religion of oppression. See, for Gen X life is as complicated as “Infinite Jest.” Answers aren’t easy, if they come at all. We read books to balance opposing perspectives.
But for millennials, the mantra is “life is simple.” No need to read books, just read these “10 easy ways to be a great ally.” The thinking has all been done for you, so now you can spend your day selling useless crap on Etsy.
In the days of Gen X, controversial campus speakers were either listened to, or just ignored. It was Tipper Gore who wanted to censor speech in entertainment, and we thought that was dumb. A common complaint about Chappelle’s show is that it belongs to an earlier age; that as our society has grown more woke, Dave Chappelle stayed in place.
Well, thank God. The new standards of truth and morality aren’t a priori realities just because millennials decided they are 10 minutes ago.
Dave Chappelle Is Actually Funny—Unlike Samantha Bee
Oddly, one complaint that almost nobody has about Chappelle’s show is that it isn’t funny. In fact, it is a laugh riot. That, at the end of the day, is the only measure by which comedy can be properly judged. Laughter absolves the comedian from the sin of offending people. Because laughter, a reaction we do not control, is always the result of something we already know, feel, or wonder about.
John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah are comedians of confirmation. They provide mirthful snickers when they “devastate” some backwards member of the oppressive class. But they never produce the soul-scorching belly howl that comedians like Chappelle can give us. It is never a challenge to our well-intentioned beliefs and mores. Five minutes of Chappelle’s special tells us more about American society and ourselves than 17 years of the Daily Show has.
Confirmation bias is central to “The Age of Spin” because, what is spin? It isn’t quite a lie. It’s a story, with selective facts, tailor-made to appeal to prejudice. It is a narrative that only makes sense if it can never be challenged. Chappelle is challenging us and asking us to rule our ideas and not be ruled by them.
The Value Of Free Speech And Shared Laughs
Dave Chappelle has come back from his decade on hiatus like a time traveller. The world of entertainment he is reentering is very different from the one he left. In just over 10 years he went from being the most progressive voice in comedy to a symbol of cis, straight male bigotry. But he didn’t change. This is clearly evidence that the Left has moved drastically towards militancy in the past 10 years.
In the opening credits of his special, Chappelle sits smoking a cigarette, a look of slight disdain on his face, as if he is looking at the world saying, “what is wrong with you people?” He reminds me of my friend Jeremiah, who sneaks out for a smoke and laughs, “I’ve got two little boys trying to kill each other, I’m having this cigarette, and I’m not apologizing.” That’s a very Gen X thing. It’s fine to apologize for having wronged someone. But you don’t apologize for how you feel, or who you are, or what crazy thoughts crash through your mind, summoned or un-summoned.
I don’t expect Chappelle to apologize for any parts of “The Age of Spin” anytime soon. Nor should he. It’s a brilliant show, one that is crafted with expertise and which delivers a steady stream of laughs. And for many of us who are Gen X, it is more than that—it is reassurance that we aren’t crazy. It is a reminder that the value we place on free speech and sharing ideas, on laughter and good will, are not misplaced relics of an earlier time, but time tested values to which we must return.