What LGBTQ+ comedians really think of Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special
Since Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” came out last week, it’s inspired countless stories, discussions and, well, arguments. Most of those arguments have to do with the way the comedian characterized the LGBTQ+ community throughout the majority of the hour and 12 minutes he was on stage. While there’s no shortage of opinions on the special, one perspective has been largely ignored — did LGBTQ+ comedians who get on stage every night and tell jokes about themselves and their community think what Chappelle did was funny? We’ve gathered three L.A.-based LGBTQ+ comedians — Tuesday Thomas, who is trans, Deven Bouchet, who is lesbian, and Billy McCartney, who is gay — to get their take on whether Chappelle was punching down or if his jokes about their community needed some punching up.
TUESDAY THOMAS: Going back to the previous Chappelle specials [and his jokes referencing the LGBTQ+ community], when I watched them and I would write on the internet “I think these jokes were low-hanging fruit. I think Dave Chappelle is funny, but I think these jokes aren’t, I think they are beneath him,” it was amazing to me how his support is almost Trumpian in a way. Out of the blue, hundreds of people came to my Facebook, mostly cis-men, and were like, “Who are you? You don’t have a comedy special! How can you say anything? Blah blah blah.” And I’m looking at them going, “Who are you? I don’t remember you ... you work in a carwash in Peoria and you’re not a comic.” But I was so bullied because I was attacking their hero. No matter what [Chappelle] says, they follow him blindly and there can be no discussion whatsoever.
He had said earlier that he didn’t care if you want to be called a man or a woman, but then he said [in his special] that he saw somebody come up to him in a miniskirt showing their junk and it was hard for him to say that that’s really a woman because he’s seen things under the miniskirt. And I’m like, dude, I lived in San Francisco, I’ve seen people walking naked down the Castro, I’ve seen leather guys walking with full leather gear, but not once have I seen a trans woman in a miniskirt with their junk hanging out. I mean, he’s being a bit disingenuous. There’s something that just doesn’t hit right [in that joke]. He said he was very good friends with Daphne [Dorman], but the way he speaks about her, there is no real proof he was, it’s almost like he “Dear Evan Hansen"-ed her, after she’s gone. Now he’s using one person as his get-out-of-jail-free card and we all know that’s happened before, like when white people have done that in the past and, “Well ... I have Black friend.” It’s almost like he’s doing that, “Yeah, I can say that, I had a trans friend.” And then he doubles down and says [trans women] can be called women but, you know, medically it’s still a man-made vagina. What are you saying, I’m three-fifths of a woman? I’m three-fifths of a person? Where have I heard that before?
DEVEN BOUCHET: Honestly, I laughed through the whole [special]. I am old-school, I was born in ‘63, I remember when comedians like Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor crossed the line all the time. And I just got real tough skin when it comes to comics and them saying things and I’m not easily offended — that’s coming from a person who has been gay-bashed on more than one occasion. It’s not like he’s out there physically beating up on gay people. These are jokes. Some people are gonna like them. Some people are not gonna like them. And he had to have some type of really good relationship with Daphne to make her a headliner. She was an amateur and he put her on stage even though she bombed for 45 minutes, so I believe they did have a close relationship. And I believe that Daphne knew his heart. I think Dave is kind of misunderstood sometimes. Some of those jokes were funny as hell to me, and I think we live in a cancel culture right now, and that people easily cancel people when they hear s— that they don’t like. People run to the internet and they say, “This is what I want to happen.” But there’s still gonna be people that follow [Chappelle]. So I understand certain parts of the gay community being upset, but I’m Black, I’m a female, and I’m a comedian, and I’m not easily offended.
What he said at the end was interesting when he said that he wasn’t telling any more trans jokes until, until I guess he built the bridge, or built the relationship with us, because he’s got so many people mad at him. It seems like it really bothers him that he’s got a large percentage of our community that is mad at him right now. And so, I think he wants to build a bridge, but I don’t think you should silence comedians.
BILLY McCARTNEY: My knee-jerk reaction [to the special] was to get angry, which is, I think, normal. I’m less angry now. But it’s tough. I think especially for people around my age, Dave Chappelle is fairly important to a lot of us. “Chappelle’s Show” started around the time I was in middle school, and the hardest thing about this has been that I never thought I would ever say Dave Chappelle is ignorant on what he’s talking about — because that’s never been the case before. Any special I’ve ever seen, any major issues he’s talking about, I could very confidently be like “Ooh, Dave’s talking, let’s hold on, I want to hear.” And the thing that hurts about this special is that it starts off so strong, and there’s a lot of really great jokes. Especially in the first half I think my favorite joke in the whole special is when he talks at the beginning about white gays who are a minority, until they need to be white again. When that joke happened I was like, “Oh no, I’m wrong about this whole thing” — I love that joke because it’s a point that we need to make in the gay community. I have my own jokes about waiting tables in Oklahoma City, where depending on the vibe when I greeted the table, it was like “Oh, straight Billy’s coming out because I want better tips,” I used to joke about weaponizing white privilege.
When it comes to cancel culture, I do want to say I don’t want Dave Chappelle canceled for this [special]. Cancel culture is great when it’s Kevin Spacey and Chris D’Elia and Louis C.K. — people that actually harmed others. I do think this special is harmful, but I do not think this special is malicious. I think he felt he was talking from a place of authority. And that’s a bummer because there’s so many things that are just factually wrong. It’s not that the jokes are bad because I even laughed, up until the end of the show even in the final 10 minutes when I was like, “Oh, buddy, here we go, that’s just inaccurate — you clearly don’t know enough trans people.” But then there are the lazy jokes, and the low-hanging fruit jokes and I really got upset that he talked about how punching down doesn’t exist and then his final bit was about punching down, it was like, then what are you talking about? You just contradicted your whole thesis statement. And when some of the jokes got more transphobic and more homophobic, it soured the jokes that I liked earlier on in the special. It was like it was like yeah, it made me be like “I wish the joke about white gays calling the cops was told by a gay comedian now.”
When [the special] was over, I remember thinking that I liked most of it. There was all the J.K. Rowling TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] stuff that was extremely just wrong. But then there’s little things he does in where he has this hypothetical argument with a trans woman in a club, and he talks about how she’s got two gay Black men with her, and she talks about struggling for decades and he talks about struggling for centuries, and there’s multiple times where it’s almost like he’s trying to pit queer people against Black people to prove who has suffered the most. And that’s bizarre to me it’s like there’s no intersectionality. In that situation as soon as the trans woman was coming at him for his opinions, he was looking at the gay Black man, like, “Are you going to do anything?” as if he can’t be Black and gay, they have to make a choice right then. That kind of bummed me out because I’ve spent a lot of time really appreciating Dave Chappelle’s point of view, and his comedy and his ability to wrap activism up in comedy, and especially to talk about race issues that make white people the brunt of the joke, and also educate. I thought that he probably could have done that again. But so often in this [special], it felt like he thought this was a comedy special for queer people, and by the end it became a special for straight people where queer people were the brunt of the jokes — and that’s not great comedy.
BOUCHET: I’m Black first, even though I was born gay. I feel like I’m Black first because people couldn’t always see that I was gay first, but they can see that I was Black first. I didn’t even come out until junior high or high school, but I have suffered for both. I have been gay-bashed but I also grew up in Indiana and experienced a lot of racism. And when a lot of people asked me why I moved to California, I grouped the reasons together — racism and homophobia. I have brothers and I’ve heard the stories of being pulled out of cars and thrown on the hood, having guns put to the back of their heads, and I know the fear. I have a cousin that was killed by a police officer. Being gay, we’re not afraid for our lives anymore, because the gay movement did take off, and we do have protections. Now I can get married, I can adopt children. It’s a hate crime to beat me up. Back in the day, you could kick my ass and nothing would [happen]. But they’re still killing Black people and Black people are still being set up by the cops and Black people across this country are still being put in jail for things like marijuana where it’s legal in some of the states. So you know we’re still being mistreated by systemic racism. So yeah, I can understand what [Chappelle] is saying.
THOMAS: I’ve been trans my whole life. I was beaten up as a child, I was forced to try to be something I’m not. You look at me and see that I’m so freakin’ white, but the reality is I have a grandmother who drank a lot and slept around a lot and had a lot of kids and three of them were by a Black man, and they were around my age. I also grew up being beaten up for being a sissy, but I also was beating people up for calling my aunts and uncles the N-word. I’ve been through rape, I’ve been through having guns put to my head. I’ve been through a lot of horrible things. I also know that the “T” in the LGBT did not come about until the late ‘90s. I would go to places, asking for help and LGB centers told me that I’m not one of you, and I can’t get any help. Trans are the last in line in the gay community. I also know that when I was with the Black gays and the Black trans people, I was treated better because I wasn’t misgendered. White gay people often made me the butt of the joke saying, “She’s a him.” Whereas the Black gays were always like, “Oh girl,” and called me “she.” So I have not experienced being Black, I but I have adjacency where I’ve helped fight for the Black trans people. I’m not trying to say this to make myself be like a hero. I’m just giving you the background of my life. So I know about the white patriarchy of the white gay community. They moved [gay civil rights] forward and the reason they could move it forward is because of systemic racism because cis-white males can make more money than anybody else, and so they have the monetary power to push the gay agenda through.
I was born a year before you, Deven, and I have thick skin and I grew up hearing all these jokes to my face about myself. I lived stealth for a long time. I heard people making jokes and I’ve tried to hide in the community. I’m finally out there and outspoken, and I have the thick skin too, but I think there’s accountability, first of all I don’t think there’s a punchline to a lot of [Chappelle’s] jokes. I think that I’d be OK if there were punchlines.
You know when you say you’re a TERF and you agree with J.K. Rowling because you think, trans women are putting on Blackface, that’s pretty s—, there’s no joke there, I don’t find the punchline. J.K. Rowling’s got enough money help enact laws that could allow people like me to disappear, that’s what the TERFS want. So if you’re going to identify with somebody like that, you better give me a damn good punchline.
McCARTNEY: My best friend is straight — it’s not his fault, apparently, he’s just born that way — and he is a pretty diehard Dave Chappelle fan. I called him before I watched this [special], and he said he watched it without seeing any of the press and he was surprised that he didn’t laugh for the whole second half of it. And I think a lot of people in my age range, even straight people, just have no patience for a lack of education because we feel like we’ve been educating people since we were 14 years old. And I think that’s what really hurts with this one. It’s just like you have the capability to know better, Dave, we know you do. There’s one other part he said in the special where he disparaged a trans person for describing the queer community as their “tribe.” Dave, you don’t think we can have a shared community because of who we are and because of our orientation or sexuality or our gender? That was, again, just like disparaging the whole concept of queer people being a united minority group— which is bananas. Most people I’ve talked to [about the special] who are in my age group — straight or not — are not pleased with it, which is probably good, but no one is like “Dave Chappelle is done.” No one is like, “I never want to see a special again” because I even found after watching this special, I would love to meet him. I would love to bump into him and just be able to talk about this because he’s so close so many times, then he undercuts himself. And please don’t agree with J.K. Rowling, Dave — don’t do that.
This special does make the lives of trans people in America more difficult. I do not believe that he was malicious going into this and I do believe that there’s definitely room to talk about this with him and that he can change his mind and be open about it, because he’s so smart about these things, and I think that’s where all the backlash is, I think all the backlash is especially like people my age who grew up being like, “Dave Chappelle is the one that taught me about race issues, he’s done all these things that’s made me a better person and a better comedian. Why did you f— it up, Dave?”
THOMAS: He went away 20 years ago because he decided that the wrong people are laughing at his Black jokes for the wrong reason. Yeah, and I’m thinking Dave, maybe the wrong people are laughing at your trans jokes for the wrong reason right now, maybe you need to think about that.
McCARTNEY: The audience for this special is not the queer community, and I think he thinks it is. The audience for this special is people who are already transphobic and want their transphobia validated in some subtle way, and his followers are gonna follow him no matter what.
BOUCHET: Now, all his followers may be transphobic but I don’t think he’s transphobic; I think one of these round table discussions with him [about this topic] would be great.
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