Dave Tries Being Civil

"I told you I was going there"

Dave Chappelle isn’t as funny as he used to be. And basically his last Netflix standup special boils down to ‘one of my best friends was a tranny, and a genuine human being’. There’s no good punch line when you’re telling that kind of shaggy dog story.

What’s hard to watch is Dave trying to demonstrate his basic decency, which no sane person ever questioned, while he still finds it necessary to talk about niggers and bitches. It doesn’t work. He needs to do the smoking and drinking on stage and remind us that he doesn’t need to give a shit. Something must have happened to him. I think it happened when somebody promoted him to moral godhood for his emotion over the martyrdom of St. George. So now he stopped wearing the coveralls and started giving us trigger warnings in his routine.

Maybe he thinks that if he keeps going to the edge that he’ll end up self-destructive like Sam Kinison. Or maybe he thinks he’ll end up bitter like George Carlin. The bottom line is he’s going to end up somewhere. All comedians end. So now he has done it twice. That’s pretty damned good. He doesn’t have to do anything else, but clearly he has to keep whitey on the hook and continue the niggers and bitches language for his racial schtick. I’m not sure if his ingenuous straight talk is a capitulation or not, but the major stuff didn’t land. I can’t help but think that ‘they’ got under his skin, and he’s not quite as dismissive as the younger Chappelle.

He’s not devilishly grinning. I think that’s what I miss. Maybe he can act. Maybe he can invest in a film project or two. I don’t really care, so long as he doesn’t turn into Patton Oswalt. Oswalt had millions of good reason for doing TV and an excellent reason, the death of his wife, for curtailing the biting transgressigvness of his humor. Dave Chappelle got criticized.

Here’s the thing. From the POV of my generational expectations, I don’t want to hear any black comedians crying into their mics. You might believe Paul Mooney was the last of those - but Paul was complex, and yet I think he was still on the edge of bitterness. I’m not sure I’m ready to hear the shaggy dog stories of a world famous multimillionaire comic.

What I appreciate is that thing Chappelle has which he shares in common with another great comic genius of our time, Dennis Miller. That is the ability to see, in social situations when somebody is trying to set him up. The best bit from his routine is the one where he tells a woman who accosts him that this is real life, this ain’t Twitter, bitch. That’s classic. In that particular way, Dave is, like no other anywhere near his level, the last angry black comedian / social critic. Maybe he needs to be, but I don’t think America is ready to give up that pedestal. We sure as hell can’t leave it to Trevor Noah.

I hope this is the last time that Dave has to give his audience middle school football coach instructions. Just because you knock somebody on their ass doesn’t mean you hate them. Getting knocked on your ass builds character. Chappelle is treading a fine line between the comfort of having worked through his demons and being devilishly hilarious. It is natural for him to want and need to walk his audience through civility 101, but damn, it’s not that funny.