Awkward Political Commentary
Dave Chappelle is funny. He is also a highly problematic comedian. His latest 34-minute set titled “8:46” showcased why: his limits. When it comes to addressing complex, painful difficult material, he was floundering with managing it well. The net result was a show devoid of humor and light on purpose.
Chappelle has always come across to me as the face of “The Edgy Black Comic” palatable to White U.S. audiences. His frequent use of the notorious “N” word has become his equivalent of a comedy “crutch.” Its frequent use makes his act look shop worn. It also undermines the seriousness of what he is attempting to state.
His current set, airing on Netflix and YouTube, titled 8:46 is a reference to the time it took a Police Officer to brutally end the life of George Floyd. This tragedy has ignited national and world wide protests and outrage.
The severity of the matter does not automatically lend itself to humor. However, in the hands of a master comic, it could be a rich resource. For Chappelle, his grasp far exceeds his ability.
Considering what Chappelle is attempting, his standard comic stance feels out of touch with the current climate. Yes, we do need jokes and comedy. I am not convinced that Chappelle’s brand of it is relevant given recent events. He certainly does not put forth an effective argument that it is.
Chappelle makes a point that his celebrity voice and the platform it affords him is not necessary. The people protesting are sufficient. We do not need to hear from him. If this is so, what is the point of this special? Why address Black Lives Matter and Police Brutality if you feel the people are doing well enough on their own?
If you are a Chappelle fan seeking jokes during difficult times, there are few if any here. Much of the set is about his outrage. Alarmingly it is surprisingly muted. There is a great deal to be angry about. Yet, he is unwilling, or unable, to aim his guns at the real sources of the problems that the United States is confronting.
Chappelle spent time denigrating both Laura Ingraham and Candace Owens. Neither are great pundits, journalists or whatever they are. They are little more than corporate shills supporting conservative agendas. They have never been without biases. Noticeably, he did not find a male equivalent, for example Tucker Carlson, to direct his disgust. It was just women. And this maybe the reason why his White audience may find him less threatening than a truly “gritty” comic who will take on the heavy weights of oppression and injustice. Also note, Colin Kaepernick, the man who warned us about about Police Brutality, he is not mentioned.
Chappelle makes a point of saying that we do not need celebrity voices, namely actors, joining the protests. This stance ignores the long history that art has had with politics, protest and world views. Great art is art of its times. It is rooted in the events that shaped the culture that produced them. Art, in the broadest sense, helps us understand what transpires. It helps us deal with difficult things.
Some are telling people with platforms to just shut up and act, sing or whatever. Right now, we need all voices, celebrity or otherwise, to speak up and out and keep the struggle for change going. Artists, Writers, Musicians, Actors, Athletes and yes Comics, can help us navigate this dangerous new America.
When I discovered Dave Chappelle was going to do a show, I thought this would be a radical, energized pointed comedic stance on current events. Instead, what we the audience were treated to was an anemic diatribe that felt labored and listless.
Art, of any kind, is difficult to create. It demands focus, attention to detail and fluid execution. This is especially true of political art. It is a balancing act of art with message. Lean too far one way and all you have is a message, but little art.
Comedy is best when it goes for the jugular, not lengthy comments that lead to nothing. In the end, there was no summation as to what this was even supposed to be. One thing, this was far from being funny and closer to being, well dull.