Comedian Dave Chappelle released a special on Netflix last Thursday titled, What’s In A Name which involved a speech he gave that addressed the backlash he faced for transphobic material in his standup. 

The speech was performed during a naming ceremony at Chappelle’s alma mater, Washington DC’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, in which the school was planning to rename the theatre after him. 

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The school’s decision to honour the comedian with the public renaming was criticised by the greater public because of previous jokes that he’s made which have ridiculed the trans community seen in past projects including his 2021 standup special, The Closer

‘Instruments of Oppression’

Chappelle recalled being yelled at by students at the Arts School during his 40-minute speech, where he believed his “artistic nuance” was being undermined. 

All the kids were screaming and yelling. I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, okay, well what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art,” he said. 

He defended his stance amidst the controversy by emphasising the importance of artistic expression and the freedom to speak about what he pleased. “You cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words. It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, ‘Man Shot in the Face by a Six-Foot Rabbit Expected to Survive,’ you’d be like, ‘Oh my god,’ and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon.”

Chappelle claimed that the responses during the Q&A had hurt him, conveying his pain to students that had objected to his material and called them “instruments of oppression.”

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He reasoned that he didn’t get “mad at them” because they were freshmen who were “not ready yet, they don’t know.” 

Not The First Time

The comedian has made transphobic comments in the past. In 2016, Chappelle expressed that he didn’t want “a woman with a dick” using the urinal next to him in the bathroom and during his 2019 Netflix special, called Sticks and Stones, Chappelle called transgender people “confusing”.

After the release of The Closer, transgender Netflix employee Terra Field staged a walkout in response to his transphobic jokes. 

Condemning the material, she tweeted, “Being trans is actually pretty funny, if you’re someone who actually knows about the subject matter. How could volunteering for a second puberty *not* be funny? That isn’t what he is doing though. Our existence is ‘funny’ to him – and when we object to his harm, we’re ‘offended’.”

She added: “Promoting TERF ideology (which is what we did by giving it a platform yesterday) directly harms trans people, it is not some neutral act. This is not an argument with two sides. It is an argument with trans people who want to be alive and people who don’t want us to be.” Field has since resigned from the streaming service. 

Chappelle has defended known transphobe, JK Rowling, for being branded a “Terf” (Trans-exclusionary radical feminist) in the past, adding that he agreed, “I’m Team Terf. I agree. I agree, man. Gender is a fact.”

The comedian defended his right to self-expression, explaining it was valuable and not ‘severed’ from himself. “It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavours in our noble, noble professions,” Chappelle said.

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