Yet another series of protests erupted against comedian Dave Chappelle this past month. Transgender-identifying individuals and their supporters insisted that platforming him could give license to other people to ridicule and physically assault trans people. One of the venues hosting Chappelle ultimately capitulated to the protesters and canceled the comedian’s show.
Chappelle, a professional comedian, has become an enemy of woke ideologues for the crime of making jokes. He has been branded as “transphobic,” and people are taking increasingly drastic measures to silence him. Attempts to silence comedians for speech deemed offensive by the left, however, have been going on long before Chappelle poked fun at “the alphabet people.”
The Curious Case of Sam Hyde
Nearly a decade ago, a grown man wearing a red sweat suit and plastic centurion armor delivered a talk titled “2070 Paradigm Shift” to an auditorium filled with people attending Drexel University’s third annual TEDx symposium. This talk, given by comedian Sam Hyde, was an elaborate prank aimed at lampooning the self-congratulatory and pompous nature of TED Talk-style lectures and higher education in general.
The performance was both hilarious and critically acclaimed. Hyde received a positive review from The Washington Post — which called his performance “subversive brilliance” and “the most glorious TED talk takedown” — and Gawker applauded the prank as a “symbolic victory in the war on bullsh*t.” However, such corporate approval was short-lived.
The Adult Swim Saga
In 2015, Hyde’s success in alternative comedy led to his crew getting a development deal with the alternative programming behemoth Adult Swim. The subsequent show, “Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace,” had a six-episode run before the network pulled the plug. Despite having high ratings, the show attracted an eccentric fan base of young, right-wing men, and the network that platformed shock-comics and surrealists such as Eric Andre, Tim Heidecker, and Eric Wareheim and has run countless hours of offensive and absurdist content could not allow this to stand.
“World Peace” was met with the typical list of pejoratives that can make any mainstream right-winger drop to his knees and plead for mercy. Hyde and his associates were branded as alt-right neo-Nazis responsible for communicating on behalf of Donald J. Trump. They were some of the first people to experience the phenomenon that is now referred to as “cancel culture.”
Did “World Peace” — and by extension, Hyde and his cohorts — make offensive jokes? Of course they did. They are comedians, and that’s what comedians do. Their style of comedy relied on satirizing the absurdity of established trends by subverting and outright refusing to adhere to the expectations and standards of polite society.
And to be fair, with a group named “Million Dollar Extreme,” one really shouldn’t expect anything other than tomfoolery taken to its logical conclusion.
The Comedy Stylings of MDE
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter shortly after his show’s cancellation, Hyde acknowledged that “World Peace” was “strictly meant to be a comedy show” and wasn’t “supposed to be a political statement that says one thing or another.” The show had no message. Its only goal was to make people laugh.
In the same interview, Hyde, who at this point had been branded as a crypto-nazi white supremacist, acknowledged that his show “made fun of white people more than any other group on the show” and that a lot of the crew who helped them develop the show, including its assistant director, were black people.
In 2015, Hyde took to the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, to lampoon the town’s overwhelmingly white and wealthy college students for their self-aggrandizing rhetoric about race. At the time, Yalies — ostensibly some of the most elite people in the nation — were riled up about the injustice of the then-Washington Redskins having an allegedly racially insensitive name. So, the MDE team showed up to infiltrate student protests. As luck would have it, Hyde and associates did not encounter a single protester. So instead, they walked the streets of New Haven role-playing as left-wing culture warriors to show liberal elites just how grating and annoying their worldview can be.
Further evidence of MDE’s prioritization of disregard for establishment is Hyde’s performance as the eponymous character in the sketch “Officer Maggot,” in which he portrays the caricature of an incompetent and bigoted police officer.
While harassing a man of undetermined Middle Eastern ethnicity, Officer Maggot tells him that he will get a “paid vacation” because he “has the state behind [him]” if he abuses his power to kill him. He goes on to say, “I’m power tripping, I’m doing my thing; this is what I was born to do.” Clearly, Hyde is — in comedy parlance — “punching up” by caricaturing a police officer who overtly stereotypes and mistreats the people he pulls over. The sketch satirizes how a police officer with an inferiority complex might interact with the general public.
The members of MDE, around the same time their show was airing, even released a satirical book titled “How To Bomb The U.S. Gov’t.” The book is little more than a coffee table book-sized “zine” that exudes schizophrenic energy, but that’s probably the point. The book is meant to make you scratch your head, nervously laugh, and thumb through a couple of pages before setting it back down in a state of utter confusion. The joke is that you wasted your time and money reading it. It has no larger message.
The Politics of It All
Several people allege that “World Peace” was canceled — and that Hyde’s standing with Adult Swim was torpedoed — due to antisemitism, sexism, etc. It’s worth noting that these things, in and of themselves, probably don’t actually bother the folks at Adult Swim and that none of the content produced by Hyde or MDE was any more offensive than that of their peers.
For instance, Eric Andre is still in good standing with the network after using the word “k-ke” in the fourth season of his eponymous talk show, “The Eric Andre Show.” And “Family Guy,” a longtime fixture of Adult Swim prior to its acquisition by Disney, is replete with jokes that, to this day, are considered antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic, and more.
The fifth episode of “World Peace,” titled “Not Everyone Thinks You’re a Hero,” opens with a sketch set at a fancy wine party attended by wealthy urbanites. In the skit, Hyde and his co-star Nick portray a set of brothers, and it quickly becomes clear that Nick is resentful of the “dog of a woman” that his brother married due to her unappealing appearance and her socio-economic status.
The sketch climaxes as Nick very obviously trips his brother’s wife, sending her into a glass table which subsequently shatters. Having been eviscerated by the broken glass, the woman lies on the floor, bleeding profusely, while Nick’s character gaslights his brother into believing that his wife’s fall happened naturally.
Is the skit satirizing domestic abuse? Yes, but is that really any worse than Eric Andre intentionally making his show’s female counterparts intensely uncomfortable by being performatively grotesque on camera? Both approaches were incredibly over the top in the pursuit of making their audiences laugh, and both were, generally speaking, effective.
The reality of the situation is that it doesn’t matter nearly as much that the content produced for Adult Swim is offensive as it does that the people who produce the content have the right politics, as many influential people in the upper echelons of Adult Swim seemingly do.
Take, for instance, Dan Harmon, the creator of “Rick and Morty.” Harmon is renowned for his offensive stylings and has found himself bugged by controversy in recent years. Is there really any question that his offensiveness and controversy don’t matter nearly as much because of his emphatic opposition to Donald Trump and the alleged insurgence of American fascism?
Since his show’s cancellation and his subsequent mainstream de-platforming, Hyde has been busy producing content on Gumroad, an independent crowdfunding platform similar to Patreon. He became friends with and trained Jewish-Canadian YouTuber Harley Morenstein for a philanthropy boxing match, has collaborated with independent black artists, and is venturing into the world of amateur athletics.
Surely, there are valid criticisms that can be made of Hyde, whoever he may have supported, and whatever he may have said in the past. There are things he has done that would probably make most people deeply uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, the conduct that branded Hyde as an unperson was virtually indistinguishable from that of his counterparts.
Much to the dismay of people who spend their free time protesting standup comedians, Dave Chappelle is not going anywhere. He is an incredibly successful performer both commercially and critically and has cemented his status as an American icon. Still, there remains a rabid base of culture warriors who are desperate to silence him despite the fact that at one point they probably laughed at his jokes.
However, unlike Chappelle, Hyde is still largely persona non grata in polite circles. Has he done things that the average person would never think of doing? Of course he has; that’s what he does for a living. Nevertheless, he continues to captivate the interests of several ever-growing online communities who feel drawn to him for any number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that he was canceled for committing the same sins as those around him.