Comedian Dave Chappelle’s new “Sticks & Stones” special on Netflix proves that Chappelle has sharpened himself into a fierce tool against crushing wokeness. He also happens to be one of the funniest comedians working today and possibly of all time.
The seasoned comic, 46, essentially vanished off the face of the earth in 2005 after two wildly successful seasons of “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central. Frustrated by a loss of creative control and general overwork on the sketch comedy series, Chappelle chided a stand-up audience in 2004 after they continuously interrupted him with famous lines from his TV show.
“You know why my show is good?” Chappelle frustratedly asked the Sacramento audience of 4,000. “Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.”
Chappelle’s words were harsh, to be sure. He had claimed recently that he was working nearly 20 hours a day and had waning control over the jokes he was allowed to tell on air. He further claimed his stand-up career, always his priority, was beginning to suffer.
Returning for the Outrage Mob
But Chappelle got a couple of things right during his infamous 2004 outburst. As he said, he fought for his audience on Comedy Central. He fought executives, standards and practices, and everyone who told him he wasn’t funny enough for his viewers. He never agreed with that, and he knew what he put in his show was the funniest material on television.
Despite having only produced 28 episodes and bailing on the show mid-production in the third season, “Chappelle’s Show” remains one of the most quoted, most beloved sketch shows of all time.
It would be 13 years before Chappelle returned to television after his contentious, abrupt departure. But return he did in 2017, fully prepared to face his new adversary: the outraged.
“Sticks & Stones” is Chappelle’s fifth comedy special in three years produced for Netflix, with total control by Chappelle. While each special has been met with critical acclaim, every one has also kicked a hornet’s nest of self-righteous anger belonging to overly sensitive Twitter users, bloggers, and “comedy reporters,” who now believe comedians should have to abide by a code of wokeness.
Chappelle succeeds, however, because he simply does not yield. He does not apologize. He makes jokes — really funny jokes — and no matter how many angry tweets and horrified reviews emerge, he persists.
The first four specials stridently test the waters of how Chappelle can function in the new world of censored, sensitive-to-all comedy. Lots of jokes push in at transgender people, racial issues, and other “taboo” topics, but the success is there. More importantly, the laughs are there. Each of those specials was a raving success.
“Sticks & Stones” takes an inward look at how Chappelle’s comeback has affected the new landscape of comedy-bashing harpies, and he takes specific aim, with a big comedy blowtorch, at those trying to stop him from being him.
“Is this really the world you want to create?” he asks the crowd after jokingly telling them they are “celebrity hunters” intent on bringing everyone down for anything they have said at any point. He addressed previous criticism over his making jokes about transgender issues and said, “The alphabet people [LGBTQ]” specifically had it out for him. “The T’s hate my f-cking guts,” he says before launching into a hysterical analogy of how the very different varieties of people somehow grouped together by letters would get along in a long car trip.
Chappelle’s Continued Success
Chappelle succeeds in his unwillingness to bend. “Sticks & Stones” leaves no stone unturned as he masterfully finds humor in every silly, weeping critique he hears. He laughs at his own jokes and begs viewers to question whether or not he truly does not know how to say Jussie Smollett’s name. Not wanting to rewrite the artist’s jokes here and rob him of his craft and delivery, I will say simply that the special is an unwoke riot.
As a treat to fans at the end, he includes a brief epilogue featuring audience questions from people who saw the special on Broadway in New York. The New York Times famously panned the short engagement of Chappelle on Broadway, saying he still “hasn’t adjusted his material for the setting: he’s still defending wealthy, famous peers and joking about transgender targets.”
Audience questions range from silly, to hysterical, to serious queries about comedy and Chappelle’s history. His answers, often meant to be funny, also offered surprising insight into his illustrious career, and some were downright touching, including a brief tribute to the late Charlie Murphy, Chappelle’s collaborator on “Chappelle’s Show.”
“Sticks & Stones” is simply further proof that Chappelle didn’t make a comeback to placate anyone. He came back to make people laugh, and, once again, he has succeeded.