Dave Chappelle: The Closer review – aggressive gags and feeble protests

‘I’m going all the way,” is Dave Chappelle’s refrain through this last in his run of Netflix specials. It’s a boast, of sorts: far from being cowed by the criticism (including transphobia and homophobia) 的 previous specials, he’s tripling down on that hot-potato content. After a palate-cleanser about his brush with coronavirus, the show mainlines our host’s relationship with women, transgender people and “the LGBTQ community”. He cracks abusive jokes about all of them, but this isn’t “punching down”, insists Chappelle who sees all these groups as more privileged than, and often racist against, black people.

Is there, in this tangle of shit-stirring, accusation and special pleading, any space left for light-heartedness? Plenty, if you’re Chappelle’s Detroit audience, who not only chuckle at but cheer his charmless tale of beating up a lesbian in a nightclub. But I found the show heavy going.

I respect Chappelle’s refusal to let matters lie, and one can imagine the good, knotty show – confronting the blind spots within and between modern gender and racial thinking – that his truculence might have engendered. But The Closer only occasionally gets close. Regarding his transphobia, we find a friend warning Chappelle: “Careful Dave, they after you”. Replies Dave: “One they or many theys?” That’s amusing enough as a standalone joke, and so too, 有时, is the self-irony in which Chappelle drenches his supposed status as a “transphobic comedian”.

The trouble is, the phobic jokes keep coming – and Chappelle’s efforts to ironise them, to dance around rather than wallow in the boorishness, are derisory. They’re often plain weak, like the predictable “suck my dick” punchline to his joke about feminism needing male leadership.

在实践中, The Closer toggles between two modes: aggressive gags about Chappelle’s antagonists, and feeble protests that he never said anything prejudiced in the first place. There’s also much self-regarding commentary on how brave he’s being. “Oh buddy I’m in trouble now,” says the man who was Emmy-nominated for, and won America’s prestigious Mark Twain prize, after his last round of anti-trans humour. He ends promising no more jokes about LGBTQ+ people “until we’re sure we’re both laughing together”. On this evidence, that may be a long time coming.