In the last few weeks comedian Dave Chappelle has been prominently in the news for a stand he has taken regarding the content of his shows, particularly the latest Netflix special that debuted on Oct. 5th. He was, as he always is, acutely anti-woke and generally offensive and insulting toward numerous groups, races, and ethnicities. Among many other topics, he regularly targets gender issues with his jokes including the LGBT movement whom he has called “the Alphabet people.” Right on cue, of course, he has now been attacked by LGBT activists and social media mobs.
What is most interesting to me is how improbable it is that a foul-mouthed comedian would be leading the charge against one of the greatest cultural dangers of our time—the bullying, suppression, and canceling of artistic expression and speech.
What we are really seeing is what many of us always thought was the case: jokes are allowed, and encouraged, if they target the “right” people or groups—or rather the people and beliefs the Left thinks are wrong. However, the moment the humor and mocking are extended to the Left’s favorite dogma or groups, broad outrage follows. In other words, freedom of speech is permitted—provided The Mob agrees with it. Their commitment to inclusion ends with those with whom they disagree— sometimes violently. These Thought Fascists believe in diversity of all things—except thought.
As the Wall Street Journal has succinctly noted: “… the recent dustup over Mr. Chappelle only further demonstrates the true power of political satire and comedy. It can shine a light on the unflattering traits of those controlling our cultural institutions. Funny is funny, even in a time of political polarization and censorship. Comedy can get people of all stripes laughing and dole out a little truth while their guard is down. This is why, from woke boardrooms to the White House and elite universities, those wielding cultural power today can’t abide humor that illuminates their moral failures, their hypocrisy and the ultimate bankruptcy of their worldviews. Jokes intended to provoke a good-natured laugh are now met with calls for censorship, boycotts and even “fact checks.”
The long and short of it is that a joke, by its nature, is made at some person or group’s expense. That is what makes it funny. The humor comes from pointing out a quirky or unusual human characteristic; a foible—and every one of us have them—being one of the things that make us human. It is our very imperfection, the error-filled, mistake-driven way we learn and improve—that is interesting and funny. And yes, jokes can sting and hurt but that truly is one of the prices we pay for living in a free society that values freedom of expression for everyone. (Remember, we can always change the channel or avert our eyes). It is one of America’s greatest promises and virtues.
Otherwise, certain groups—the Thought Police—then take it upon themselves to decide what speech or expression is “hate filled” and “offensive” and that quickly becomes a slippery slope because every single one of us has a different idea about what is offensive and unacceptable. Soon, comedy would become so bland and boring we would no longer be entertained by it.
However, let’s keep in mind that the Cancel Culture seeks far more than an end to jokes from comedians they don’t like. As America has witnessed over these past two years, the Cancel Culture seeks, through the use of intimidation, bullying and violence, to “cancel” those with whom they disagree from eating establishments, academic institutions, places of employment and in the most violent examples, to literally ‘cancel’ the lives of those with whom they disagree.
This pushback by Chappelle appears to be the beginning of other artists and entertainers also beginning to say, “enough is enough, you are killing comedy and entertainment.” Chappelle is an unlikely messenger but the message he brings is critically important to our living in a free society.