Ethics Hero: Dave Chappelle

I know: just a week ago, I began the last section of the  day’s warm-up with “He’s not exactly an Ethics Hero, but…Dave Chappelle’s new concert video, now streaming on Netflix, is thought-provoking, brave, and full of ethical insights and analysis. I could do a two hour ethics seminar using just his material.” Several things have changed since then, however…

  • I am desperate for ethics heroes. We all are. If the Democrat candidates debate proved anything, it was that.
  • Chappelle is being attacked, hard, by the very same cancellation culture and political correctness dictators he has been willing to  challenge.
  • There is an organized effort to try to discourage the public from watching his Netflix special “Sticks and Stones,” not because it won’t be funny to anyone still capable of finding things funny, but because it will inspire people to think. Can’t have that…
  • Only one reader, the usually intrepid and culturally aware Humble Talent, commented on the issue last week. Sometimes I think that including a topic in the warm-up rather than devoting a whole post to it causes some Ethics Alarms readers to gloss over the issues involved, or maybe miss the item itself, as if each warm-up topic  is only 20% of a serious ethics topic because there are typically five in a post. The benefit to me of this format is that it saves time (you would not believe how long it takes to set up an individual post after the text is written) and helps me avoid an ethics backlog, but sometimes whether a particular issue is covered in a warm-up item or in a full post is arbitrary, a matter of timing, what else has occurred and my mood at the time.
  • Upon further reflection, I have concluded that Chappelle is an Ethics Hero.

One of Humble Talent’s perceptive comments on that post on September 8th was that the so-called Streisand Effect was defeating Chappelle’s critics: he had decided to watch “Sticks and Stones” because of the publicity sparked by the furious attacks on the comedian. So had I. Yet I have asked many colleagues and friends if they had seen the concert video, and virtually no one has. I said that I could do a two hour ethics seminar using just his material, and I am serious about that. But I can’t talk about it if nobody has seen the comic’s material. I don’t want to paraphrase his lines, reducing skillful satire and humorous commentary to spoilers.

Think about this amazing fact: there are no gratuitous Trump-bashing jokes in the whole concert. Indeed no politician is directly mocked at all, though most of Chappelle’s social commentary has deep political relevance. This itself is ethics hero territory for a comedian.

As I was watching, I realized how much I missed stand-up comedy, which the recent phenomenon of our most high-profile practitioners pandering to Trump Derangement while declaring other spectacularly mockable  individuals–blacks, women, gays, and Democrats—off limits has rendered repetitious and nasty. In the past, I have enjoyed a wide range of stand-up masters who frequently had as much wisdom to offer as laughs: Godfrey Cambridge, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Phyllis Diller, Richard Pryor, Lewis Black, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, and many others. Good stand-up comedy can open minds, challenge conventional wisdom, make the listener feel uncomfortable while simultaneously provoking laughter. Great stand-up comedy requires more than just performing skill, but intelligence, perspective and courage.

One of the reasons I detest Stephen Colbert is that he possesses the intelligence, wit and perspective to challenge the mob, and instead panders to it—for money, for popularity, for safety, I don’t know. I don’t care. He’s a comedy whore, and a partisan political operative, seeking to nail shut already closed minds. Despicable,

In his comment last week, Humble Talent noted that the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes had rigged its system to give the Chappelle concert a rating of zero. I was late in investigating this, but he was correct, and it was an unethical effort to censor a politically incorrect voice. Can you trust a review site that intentionally manipulates its ratings according to a political agenda? Should you? Should anyone? No, no, and no.

Nor can you trust the critics whose biases caused them to misrepresent Chappelle’s work. Here’s a typical hit job that materially misrepresents what Chappelle says, either because the writer has an agenda, or because the whole thing went over his head. I suspect both.

“South Park” co-creator Matt Stone,told the Hollywood Reporter this week that he believed critics were under pressure from the “woke” entertainment industry and social media to condemn Chappelle. “They may have laughed like hell …and then they went home and they know what they have to write to keep their job,” Stone said. “So when I read TV reviews or cultural reviews, I think of someone in prison, writing. I think about somebody writing a hostage note. This is not what they think. This is what they have to do to keep their job in a social media world,” he explained. “So I don’t hold it against them.”

I do.

20 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Dave Chappelle

  1. You’ve convinced me to watch.

    Have never liked stand up, and vulgar stand-up comedians even less. (Okay, I did laugh at Richard Pryor in the 1970s.) Nevertheless I’ll give this a spin, if only to support critical thinking from a welcome and unexpected source.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. You were a bit late to the party – I think that’s why most people glossed it over.

    I recall the news and culture commentary breaking few days before the article on Youtube (which you should be on for the thousandth time).

    Also check out Bill Burr’s most recent standup. He more or less treads the same ground as Chapelle but, in my opinion is much much funnier. I dont think that Bill Burr made the special to ride the coattails of Chappelles success either. The timing here is so close that I think multiple talented comedians got fed up with the radical left that controls the ideology and took them to task independently.

    • Bill Burr has been poking the whole crowd for some time now. Some of his earlier pieces on being abused by his girlfriend flipped the script on them, and so he got pushed to the sidelines pretty quickly.

      I enjoyed Chappelle ‘s show, although it won mostly chuckles from me. The biggest laugh was his approach on how to fix the gun problem. I’m not usually a fan of the profane, either, but I will admit that there’s something refreshing about his. Something about his honest approach. He strikes me a real smart guy who cusses a lot. Might make me hesitate showing it to my kids, but I’d still have him over for dinner.

  3. Sorry, but I’m waiting for a real comedian who can get one sentence/joke out without the vulgarity. A comedian who is adept at being truly funny without being crude would be refreshing. Maybe it’s a lost art…but I hold out hope for genuine talent that doesn’t rely on gutter-speak for a reaction.

    • But that’s just not a fair description, at all. With few exceptions, the “gutter speak” is neither essential to the humor or the thought conveyed. Occasionally it is, which also rebuts your assertion. If a deft use of an epithet expresses an idea that cannot be expressed as well otherwise, then your blanket veto is indefensible.

      Here is one striking example from the show. Chappelle tells the story of how he was called into a network’s standards office and told that his use of the term “faggot” in a skit could not be broadcast. He said that he agreed, but asked why that word was an issue, when his shows were peppered, then as now, with “nigga did this and nigga did that.” Well, you’re not a faggot, he was told.

      “I’m not a nigga either, lady,” Chappelle says he replied.

      • I cannot say that I very well understand your reasoning — your relative *support* if I can put it like this — for Chapelle and any comedian who uses that crude and vulgar.

        But you know I have prudish tendencies. (Vulgarities are bad for the soul 🙂 )

        But allow me to ask this question: If it is OK for Chapelle to employ that sort of humor, and to use those terms of humor, is it similarly OK for anyone and everyone?

        Let us take an example of some joke or humor which is completely PG-13. No vulgarities at all and no offensive terms. And let us suppose that I make some jokes of that sort. Am I ‘allowed’ to do that? Or, is joking and humor a special category of communication in and of itself? How would you state the ethical guidelines?

  4. “Yet I have asked many colleagues and friends if they had seen the concert video, and virtually no one has.”

    Is it young child appropriate?

    Because if it isn’t, then when my wife and I are able to actually carve out 2 hours for ourselves, we probably aren’t watching a comedy show.

  5. I try not to comment unless I have something that adds to the post, or if I disagree. I think a litany of “yeah, I agree”s doesn’t really add much to a conversation…. Which as a libertarian puts me in a weird position sometimes of basically not commenting much unless I’m arguing with a conservative who I agree with more often than not.

    Regardless, had Vox and Vice not gone out of their way to be stupid and given me the opportunity to contextualize cancel culture at work in real time, I probably wouldn’t have commented on the Sticks and Stones story either, you basically hit the nail on the head.

    • I think a litany of “yeah, I agree”s doesn’t really add much to a conversation….

      Making a comment is the only way I can get WordPress to alert me to new comments on a topic. Yeah, we have over eager firewalls where I work, which is when I find time to read EA.

  6. Disgusting from start to finish.

    And I only flipped forward to listen to a couple of his ugly, vulgar ‘jokes’. 🙂

    A sick culture . . . rapidly guiding itself down the tubes . . .

    There is a kind of humor of descent I guess.

    It appears to be arise in a stage of culture where 1) you can’t condemn or prohibit it, but 2) neither can you admire it and celebrate it. You just witness it.

  7. Mostly due to Jack’s note and HT’s comment the other day, this show bubbled up to the top of my list and my wife and I watched it last night. Great to see this opportunity to throw up my comments on the wall. I then stuck around for Bill Burr’s latest Netflix special too, which is also referenced in the comments above.

    Regarding Chappelle, neither of us spent any time ROFLing as the kids say, but there were some very good insights that made us really think. We each conclude that we liked it. My spouse is far more sensitive to comics working blue than I am and she was not overly put off. It is inevitable and often works just fine.

    Bill Burr is more shock followed by aww (not a typo). He tries to balance things more, first with some often insightful and purposefully shocking statement, then, at times, with statements that almost make him look like he is pandering. He is far more vulgar than DC in his delivery but despite same I probably LOL’d more.

    I am guessing that both Chappelle and Burr limit specific political comments, or they are well-edited, because Netflix puts out these to its wide (non-US) audience and needs content that works internationally and on a second or third viewing. Burr’s special was even recorded at Royal Albert Hall.

    At $20M a special for Chappelle (as reported), I think he can spend some time and come up with great topical and universal commentary that doesn’t just bash Trump or anyone politician by name.

  8. I stopped seeing much standup when Carson retired and Comedy central stopped doing steady excerpts from the major clubs. My biggest favs were ones like Stephen Wright’ surreal reflective as steady blue acts just strike me as easy shock and non-clever. I haven’t relly gotten into the longer one performer shows in the last decade, other than Dunham.

    But I gave my rant here about Rotten Tomatoes cooking its ratings for the really really woke female Captain Marvel last February. Their close connection to TPTB at the Disney monopoly is suspect. There wasn’t enough pushback to make them stop at comic book characters, so it will keep expanding. Now it’s moving on nonPC comedy. Expect the same shilling for the CW’s BatWokeman as early reviews are coming in on Youtube, but the only early reviews allowed on RT are vetted ‘to prevent fake opinions.’ RT, RIP. It was nice once.

    A few big players like Disney are too big and control too much of the media. It wasn’t as much an issue twenty years ago when the subsidiaries might go in different directions, but now Disney/networks/Marvel/Lucasfilm/RT and ever adding acquisitions are in woke lockstep. My only real hope, outside a pro-business Prez hitting them as a monopoly, is multiple AA franchises lose big money for being woke. (Woke people just don’t buy as much toys and tieins) But people keep getting sucered in for rehashes like Aladin, so the general pulic is enaking all the woke rehashing like doing lines of coke…

    I’m voting ith my wallet, but not enough realize we are deep, DEEP in a national referendum well before the next Presidential election.

  9. Off topic, but if Jack’s list of his favorite comedians made you nostalgic you should go to YouTube and check out “Epic Rap Battles of History: George Carlin vs Richard Pryor”

  10. Off topic: I like interacting with the intelligent crowd here at Ethics Alarms. i learn terms, concepts, ideas, and… well, ethics, that I have not been exposed to before.

    Today’s new term is ‘Blue Acts’ courtesy of mariedowd and JLo. Never run across the term before, glad I had the chance to look it up. First comedy special I ever watched was Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ show. Hearing the swear words spoken unrepentantly was an illicit thrill to a young man being raised Southern Baptist. 🙂

    I generally steer clear of stand up comedy (short of a new ‘Fluffy’ special) these days due to content and politics. There is a huge audience who is waiting for someone (anyone) to say what we all are thinking about progressive crazy in a funny way. There is money to be made… if not for the anti free speech progressive censors.

    I will check some of these comedians out, before I shut down Netflix at the end of this month.

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