Dave Chappelle’s brilliance is infuriating. If I were a standup comedian, I would be on the phone with Tonya Harding, plotting to take Chappelle out with a Nancy Kerrigan-style attack.
In the end, though, I don’t have the criminal IQ or money to pull off such an attack. However, neither did Harding and Co. (they got caught) and given Harding’s regular appearances on truTV’s World’s Dumbest, she’s having money issues, and I could hire her for $1,000 and a hot plate.
Listening to Chappelle talk about overcoming his fears of a drug-dealing baby and giving him career advice only to have the baby say, “I’ve got kids to feed,” made me green with envy. Even though my mother thinks I’m funny, I know I will never be able to write a joke that packs that punch, and the thought is depressing.
Angering us lesser mortals is what geniuses do, though. Bobby Fischer ticked off the chess world, Bryce Harper is hated by half of baseball and LeBron James is probably the NBA’s most polarized player since Dennis Rodman and Chappelle is no different.
There’s an old adage that goes “Death is easy. Comedy is hard.” All death requires of us is taking our last breath and soiling ourselves. In the meantime, our families and loved ones are left grieving and with the grunt work of disposing our bloated corpses. Comedy, on the other hand, involves finding humor in the tragic and obscene, and it’s where Chappelle’s brilliance lies.
During a show at The Cutting Room in New York City in early November, the comic offended some of the audience and the press by throwing shade at Hillary Clinton, while appearing to endorse Donald Trump, calling him the most gangster presidential candidate ever. The media pounced on Chappelle, while completely missing his point.
Good comedy is based on tragedy and there have been very few political moments in this country’s history as tragic as the 2016 Presidential Election, where the American public had the dubious distinction of choosing between a smug, two-faced career politician in a pantsuit or the orange, oxidized stain you try to get out of your toilet bowl. As Americans, we are used to choosing between the lesser of two evils, but last year’s election was the real-life equivalent of South Park’s “Douche vs. the Turd Sandwich” episode.
Either way the American public was screwed in the past election. I joked with my girlfriend that we were choosing between death by starvation or Nuclear Holocaust. Democrats have made a fuss over Russia’s interference in the election, while completely ignoring their own sabotaging of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the only decent choice in the election.
That’s what the media missed in Chappelle’s bit. The comic was not endorsing Trump, but commenting on the tragic election that will go down as the official end to American exceptionalism and the beginning of our descent into Idiocracy.
Alchemy is a form of chemistry and philosophy concerned principally with discovering methods of transmuting baser metals into gold and finding a universal solvent and an elixir for life. If comedy is transforming fear and tragedy into brevity and livelihood, then Chappelle is the master alchemist charged with providing the medicine for helping us escape from the Shit Show of times in which we live.
In the first 10 minutes of The Age of Spin, the first special in Chappelle’s $60 million, Netflix trilogy, the comic talks about Marlene Pinnock, who in 2014, was beaten on the side of the road by a California highway patrolman, in full view of rush-hour traffic. Chappelle:
“The city of L.A. just gave this woman one-and-a-half million dollars for her pain and suffering. That’s not bad considering that’s the same amount of money Marcos Maidana got to fight Floyd Mayweather for the second time. And this woman obviously hadn’t trained a day in her life. You could see it on the tape. Her guards were low, she was taking a lot of shots.”
The joke is hilarious because honestly, who thinks like that? How many people have the ability to take the beating of an innocent woman at the hands of those sworn to protect her and turn it into a gleeful fight analysis you might hear on HBO Boxing? It’s also hilarious because Chappelle’s delivery is at odds with the macabre content of the joke. If we don’t have people like Chappelle to tell these jokes, we would fall into full-time despair.
Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery also makes an appearance and Chappelle uses his story to highlight the tragic differences in the way black and white people are treated in America’s justice system. Chappelle jokes that Avery failed in a justice system that was stacked in his favor and how he needed just one black juror to say, “I think the police did this.” According to Chappelle, Avery would’ve benefited from one black juror because black people know how police do. Chappelle ends the bit by saying if Avery had been black, the series would’ve just been called Duh.
Chappelle uses reoccurring stories about O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby to point out the tragedy in knowing your childhood hero could’ve done something as terrible as brutally murder his ex-wife and her lover or rape 54 women. The comic compares the feeling he has towards Cosby’s alleged rapes as loving chocolate ice cream and then realizing it had raped 54 women.
Some of Chappelle’s more politically correct fans will not appreciate some of his remarks made towards the LGBTQ community in The Age of Spin. The comic laments having to “change his pronoun game” as not to offend members of the transgendered community. Before we jump the gun and call South Park’s Principal PC on Chappelle, we need to realize the point he’s trying to make.
Chappelle is not saying he’s against the progress the LGBTQ community has made in his time away from the spotlight. He talks about as an American he was happy to see Caitlyn Jenner being accepted by society, but he comments that as a black American, he feels some jealousy. He goes on to ponder how transgendered people are beating black people in the Discrimination Olympics. He also argues that if police were killing transgendered people at the same rate of black people, then there would be wars in the streets. Chappelle concludes the bit by joking about how hard, street dudes from Brooklyn are wearing pumps and high heels just to feel safe.
While in the end, Chappelle does fail to recognize the violence many members of the LGBTQ community experience, it is understandable the comic is somewhat apathetic considering America is not as over the black and white issue as we think, even though the country’s first black president left office just 100 days ago. He’s expressing his frustration at the number of people who fight for transgendered rights, while saying, “Well, if they would’ve just complied, they wouldn’t have gotten shot,” when seeing news about another unarmed black man being gunned down by the police.
Not all of Chappelle’s tragic material is found in issues concerning race or gender, though. He closes the special with a story about taking his son to see Kevin Hart. Chappelle quips about being jealous of the size of the crowd Hart is performing for, how much more financially successful Hart is than Chappelle, and the dagger in the heart of his own son thinking Hart is funnier than him.
The appeal of gallows humor — laughing when there’s nothing to laugh at — arises from Sigmund Freud’s Release Theory. Basically, the relief theory of laughter is when one is faced with a situation where tensions are created within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and incongruity.
And that’s important. In a world where Trump and Clinton were the two best picks to lead the country, police get more upset over the killing of a gorilla named Harambe and 10-year-old’s are twerking on Musically, we would fall into a constant state of despair if not for the ability to laugh.
Thanks for saving us, Mr. Chappelle.