Dave Chappelle's new Netflix special, 'The Closer,' uses comedy to veil bigotry In his new Netflix special, Dave Chappelle tries — and often fails — to justify button-pushing jokes about gay people, transgender people and feminists.

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TV Reviews

For Dave Chappelle, punchlines are dares. His new special, 'The Closer,' goes too far

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In his latest Netflix special called "The Closer," comedian Dave Chappelle leans into his reputation for pushing boundaries. In the special, he says he doesn't hate gay people; he's jealous of them. And we want to warn you what he says can be offensive to the LGBTQIA community.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "THE CLOSER")

DAVE CHAPPELLE: We Blacks, we look at the gay community, and we go, look how well that movement is going. I can't help but feel like if slaves had baby oil and booty shorts...

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPPELLE: ...We might have been free a hundred years sooner. You know what I mean?

MARTINEZ: Some say Chappelle went too far, specifically with jokes that could be construed as homophobic and transphobic. Trans workers at Netflix are reportedly planning a companywide walkout next week according to Verge. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans wrote a review. He's here with us now. Eric, we've seen a lot of fallout from this special. What's the latest?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: We've seen, basically, that a transgender staffer who tweeted criticism of the special was suspended along with a couple other people, but she's now saying that she's been reinstated. And there's a sense that there's growing protests about this. You know, a producer who worked on the show "Dear White People" also said that she was going to stop working with Netflix. So these comments have brought a lot of reaction. There's a section of the special where Chappelle says several times that, quote, "gender is a fact," expressing allegiance with people who said that transgender women are not women. And as you can tell from the clip that we played earlier, he also suggests that gay people's fight for their civil rights have progressed farther and faster than Black people, perhaps because of white privilege, and that idea seems to ignore the fact that there are a lot of gay and transgender people who are not white.

And in my review of the show, I noted that Chappelle seems to be using the fact that some gay people might access white privilege to justify criticizing, quote, "the gay community" in his jokes, and that's an oversimplification that keeps marginalized groups pitted against each other, which I don't think really helps anyone. And because he's this brilliant comic with an unparalleled ability to communicate with an audience, he's able to make these questionable ideas go down pretty smoothly.

MARTINEZ: Eric, Chappelle's defenders say - and he says it, too, in his special - that it's all about cancel culture.

DEGGANS: Well, you know, first of all, being so-called canceled has never been better for Chappelle's career. I mean, "The Closer" is one of Netflix's most watched shows in the U.S. this week, and the company has supported him. I don't think he's in serious danger of cancellation, though acting as if he is has certainly helped rally his fan base. Now, I don't want to see the special taken off Netflix, but I do want people to face the truth of what he's actually saying. It's also obvious that Chappelle uses jokes as an idea delivery system. He's making people think about important issues. So is it fair to joke without irony that women who aren't transgender should resent when a transgender woman like Caitlyn Jenner is treated like a woman?

MARTINEZ: You know, one more thing - Raiders coach Jon Gruden recently resigned after emails that came up with homophobic and sexist language, and some of Dave Chappelle's fans said that proved his point because news had emerged earlier of a racist email. He apologized, Gruden apologized, and his job seemed safe at the time. What would you say to that?

DEGGANS: Well, I'd say this is exactly what I'm afraid of - marginalized people looking at other oppressed groups and criticizing their success instead of supporting each other. The Gruden issue isn't simple, and these issues aren't simple. And pretending that they are does no one any good.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks a lot.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKAYA MCCRAVEN'S "BUTTERSCOTCH")

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