Why Can Dave Chapelle Not Be Canceled out?

Dave Chapelle tells insulting jokes about trans-people, and he does it with impunity.

"Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth; that is a fact." That was one of the jokes he told in "Closer," his special on Netflix. The game was on for efforts to cancel him out.

Most people who commit these cardinal sins apologize right away, then donate money to non-profit organizations advocating for minorities, and then apologize some more. Not Dave Chapelle. He has doubled down in mocking those who called him out or want to cancel him out. And, he is doing it laughing all the way to the bank. His popularity has gone to the roof. All his performances after his last Netflix special have been sold out. He has proved that he is too popular and too rich to be punished in any significant way.

Dave Chapelle is notorious for making his audiences feel uncomfortable. He draws laughter from anything that is considered divined or untouchable. He has no qualms about being targeted and canceled out.  He claims he is speaking up because his art will not survive in an environment constrained by political correctness. In his world, every group that occupies public space is fair game.

Dave Chapelle is pushing back what he believes is a rising tide of censorship sweeping the comedy industry.  Many comedians, including Chapelle, aim to be "equal opportunity offenders" and like to push the envelope. He argues that they should be able to say whatever they want. After all, they are driven by "a collective ethos of truth."

Chapelle reasons that in the comedy galaxy, stand-up comedy or any comedy for that matter is supposed to be funny, engaging, insulting, and yes, vulgar. Furthermore, anything that interferes with that artistic process of writing or telling edgy, risky, and offensive jokes is point blank, "artistic suppression,"

There are many definitions of "cancel culture." But its core meaning is essentially a public backlash that eventually pushes someone out of social or professional circles because said individual has committed a cardinal sin of saying something very offensive to a member/s of a marginalized group. Some people see it as taking accountability for one's actions. Others believe it is akin to "mob mentality." Moreover, others see it as unnecessary censorship and a significant obstacle to sincere and robust democratic dialogues.

“Gay people are minorities until they need to be white again,”  Chapelle asserts.  His critics point out that he is either profoundly or conveniently ignorant. They surmise that Chapelle sees trans people or gay people as being mostly whites.  Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin must be spinning in their graves, his critics contend.

Chapelle might have rekindled the tensions between Black Conservative Pastors and the gay community back in the 1990s.

Larry Kramer, a gay activist and founder of ACT-UP, was videotaped in 1993 at a rally misquoting Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech.  Kramer replaced the "skin color" part of the speech for "sexual desires."  The video was sent to many religious leaders throughout the country and used to mobilize black communities.

These black conservative pastors pushed back what they saw as a radical agenda coming from the gay rights movement.  They also saw them threatening the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They urgently made the call for action to stop this "indulgence group." Black Pastors vehemently rejected the comparison that sexual orientation was the same as the color of the skin. "Queer people had no clue of the viciousness and violence of slavery or Jim Crow segregation," these pastors claimed.   These are the very arguments Dave Chapelle is making today.

Chapelle might see the movement for trans equality as unfair to the status of women in this country. He illustrates his sentiment on this Joke:  “Caitlyn Jenner, whom I’ve met. A wonderful person. Caitlyn Jenner was voted the woman of the year. Her first year as a woman. Ain’t that something? Beat every b---- in Detroit, she’s better than all of you. Never even had a period, ain’t that something?”

He might be able to elude accountability because, as many argue, his views on the movement for trans-people are more aligned with public opinion.  Chapelle represents the voice of those in our communities who do not dare to say it publicly, some folks on the right claim.

Very intriguing, Caitlyn Jenner tweeted the following supporting Chapelle: "Chapelle is 100% right. This is not about the LGBTQ movement.  It is about woke cancel culture run amok, trying to silence free speech."

Dave Chapelle also appears to be bothered seeing how some comedians were canceled even when they begged for forgiveness. He sees these woke social justice warriors calling out offenders not providing room for genuine apologies or for opportunities to grow and learn. He sees them overplaying their hand.

Chapelle saw how in 2018, his friend, Kevin Hart, was on his way to host the 91st Academy Awards, a dream come true for the comedian, and then he had to step down after homophobic tweets that were written some years ago were published. And how Shane Gillis was fired from Saturday Night Live in 2019 after it was revealed that she had made racist and homophobic jokes.

The woke social justice warriors have aggressively targeted rich and powerful individuals for offensive acts. Many extrapolate that this accountability mechanism of cancel culture no longer works when it is aimed at the rich. . Many see these woke social justice warriors targeting and destroying not too powerful individuals who could have been educated instead.

There have been reports where low-level employees have been fired for using the wrong pronoun when referring to a trans woman, using the N-word, or asking Latino employees to speak English. These transgressions should have been viewed as opportunities for educating offenders not to wreak havoc on these employees' livelihoods.

Chapelle has forced a conversation about the effectiveness of "cancel culture." Is cancel culture an effective social justice tool with measurable success, or is it just a new way of ruthless intimidation? Or has cancel culture become counterproductive, as those who claim to have been canceled attract more people to explore their art? These are important questions that need to explore as we endeavor to have a more welcoming and respectful community.

Thank you for reading.

Chamba Sanchez


Photo Credit: Bigstock

Sources consulted.
Deggans, Eric.  "For Dave Chappelle, punchlines are dares. His new special, 'The Closer,' goes too far."  NPR Morning Edition 5 Oct. 2021.
Farrow, Keyon. "Too smart' Dave Chappelle has fallen for 'old right-wing political device." The Columbus Dispatch 14 Oct. 2021.
Granderson, Lz  "What I want Dave Chappelle to understand about the color of queerness." Los Angeles Times 9 Oct. 2021.
Grobar, Matt. "Kevin Hart On Cancel Culture’s “Bad Environment” And Defending Ellen & Nick Cannon: “I Know Who They Are.” Deadline.com 18 August 2020.
Romano, Aja. "Why we can’t stop fighting about cancel culture." Vox.com 25 Aug.2020.
Simon, Seth.  "The Comedy Industry Has a Big Alt-Right Problem." The New Republic 2 Feb. 2021.
Vogels Emily A., et al. "Americans and ‘Cancel Culture’: Where Some See Calls for Accountability, Others See Censorship, Punishment." Pew Research Center 19 May 2021.