As I was watching Dave Chappelle's fifth Netflix special, Sticks and Stones, I couldn't help but wonder what the response would be. Comedy has entered a realm in which people feel the need to tip-toe around certain subjects out of fear of backlash or being "cancelled"; some topics are even considered off limits. Dave Chappelle is not one of those people. No stranger to past controversies for jokes within his specials, comedy club appearances, and the infamous Chappelle's Show, Chappelle comes out the gate hot in Sticks and Stones and doesn't cool off for the rest of the hour.
My first introduction to stand-up comedy was Jim Gaffigan's Beyond the Pale, an album I listened to repeatedly on a Zune my dad won from a Pepsi bottle cap. I don't know why I remember that so vividly. From there, stand-up became one of my favorite facets of entertainment as I discovered there were people that actually got on stage and told jokes for a living. I've never had the balls to get on stage and try it, but I want to. Sometime around eighth grade I discovered multiple Louis C.K. specials on Netflix and he instantly became my favorite comedian of all-time*. The way he presented his life, deepest insecurities, and darkest thoughts primarily through stories rather than punchlines enthralled me. "He can actually say these things, and people laugh?" What would be considered offensive to be said in the line at Subway was completely acceptable in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. There was no fear of angry tweets being shot off or "hit pieces" on pop culture sites. It was just comedy. I saw Louis on tour with now-corporatized Rob Weede and our dads in Milwaukee a few years ago; I've never laughed so hard in one night.
Maybe it's because I grew up with full access to the internet and the early years of YouTube, but I've always had an "interesting", perhaps "dark" sense of humor; nothing really offends me. Jokes are, well, jokes. Not much, if anything, is off-limits, nor should it be. The world is filled with darkness and hate and violence (my nihilism is kicking in), why not make it a little lighter by taking some of the sting out of the issues that plague us on a daily basis? Life should be taken lightly; as that one saying goes, you're not going to make it out alive.
*-Chappelle touches on C.K.'s scandal during his special. I don't feel like this is the place to, maybe another time.
Comedy today is a lot different than even a few years ago. Comedians, in a way, have turned into America's most important social commentators because they have a platform in which they can lampoon themselves, government, and prominent issues. In Sticks and Stones, Chappelle touches on multiple controversies and social issues that are at the forefront of American's interests as we near the end of the decade: the Michael Jackson HBO documentary, the LGBTQ community, the Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart scandals, mass shootings, and the increasingly popular "cancel" culture. Like I mentioned in the intro, I kept wondering how people would react to Chappelle's takes on these. Throughout the special it didn't feel like he was telling "jokes", but rather giving humorous quips about some of the most prominent social issues right now. People can't agree on anything and never will, but with so many seemingly looking for a reason to be angry, there were times I knew they'd be coming for Chappelle's throat. Before writing, I simply Googled "dave chappelle".
This was the result:
The thing that seems to have gotten everyone on edge was Chappelle saying he doesn't believe the accusers from Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary that focused on two men who accused Michael Jackson of grooming and sexually assaulting them as young boys. Reactions to the doc were polar opposites, with people either defending Jackson and calling it a cash grab or saying that it's important to shed light on who he could've been. Again, it's comedy. Is it uncomfortable to listen to someone joke about child molestation? Sure, but that's what comedy is about sometimes; not molesting kids, but stepping out of your comfort zone.
I'm not here to recap the jokes Chappelle told, that's what his special is for. It'd be pointless for you to watch it if I was like, "OK, so he said this about Louis C.K. and his LGBTQ car joke was hilarious, and the take on school shootings was interesting." Maybe I don't know why I'm writing this because it's not a review nor really about the special; it's more of an opinion on how Sticks and Stones shows that you can still joke about things, the price just may be people getting angry. And that's OK.
Did I find Sticks and Stones funny? Yes. Is it my favorite Chappelle special? No. But I appreciate what he did with it. He knows that people are going to be angry at a lot of the things he said; he touched on the most controversial issues he probably could. Those who watch the special and get angry must do it for the sake of being pissed. At one point he makes a joke and says something along the lines of, "So? You clicked on MY face!" Chappelle is lauded as one of the best comedians of all-time, as he should be. Netlflix shells out tens of millions of dollars to him because they know how much star power he packs, and I feel a lot of that stems from him saying what he feels.
There's a place in comedy for clean jokes and happy-go-lucky performers, hell, some of the best in the game right now avoid controversial subjects. The man who introduced me to comedy, Jim Gaffigan, is considered "The King of Clean Comedy" and he's absolutely hilarious. But now, especially with today, I want realness in my comedy. If things can't be made light of or turned into comedic bits, then the world is going to be an even darker place. People just need to stop being mad all the time because somebody told a joke or said something they don't agree with. If a comedian can't even tell a joke, we're headed for a dry life.
Putting out your thoughts on certain topics isn't easy, especially when the audience is potentially millions of people. Dave Chappelle doesn't really seem to care, but rather welcomes the idea of being criticized for being openly honest and joking about what he thinks is going on in the world, and that's important. In a time where comedy seems to be under attack, Chappelle is one of the guiding lights in keeping the style of stand-up I fell in love with alive.