If you didn’t know that Dave Chappelle had a new Netflix special, Sticks & Stones, coming out on Monday, August 26, before it dropped, you definitely knew by that afternoon, just from your timelines. This whole week has had one main conversation going on, pitting those who are tired of what’s been described as “lazy” writing when it comes to Chappelle’s words on the LGBTQ community—or his comments on the Michael Jackson sexual assault accusations and Kevin Hart’s Oscars-hosting homophobia controversy—against those who want his critics to shut up and just accept the comedy. It’s an argument we’ll have as long as Chappelle is given a platform on a service everyone uses, but that’s where my biggest issue with Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones special resides.
Early on, Chappelle does a number of impersonations. His last is a mockery of, well, anyone who has a take on what he’s been saying, although it’s masked as (and, by the audience, assumed to be) rhetoric coming from President Trump, or at the very least many from the right. While we can’t imagine the guy who spent a chunk of his acclaimed Comedy Central series Chappelle’s Show railing against racism in America wanting to align with the far-right MAGA extreme of the nation, it’s exactly that side that’s now propping Chappelle up, reading his words as an attack on the left and expressing its joy over a comedian essentially saying, “Fuck you, I’m going to speak my mind.”
These are new supporters, those who aren’t aware of what Chappelle was doing on Comedy Central, some who may not have even heard of the man who’s been doing stand-up and acting for the last few decades. It’s crystal-clear bandwagon bullshit that’s only even being brought up because, while he isn’t supporting Trump outright (although when discussing what he’d do if Trump won again, he correctly said, “get a big tax break”), he effectively becomes an example of someone who doesn’t give enough of a fuck about any issue to do anything but speak his mind. And the right loves that.
We’ve seen this tactic before. When Kanye West started ranting at TMZ and rocking the Make America Great Again hat, he became an unlikely symbol for the far right. Couple that with him being not just willing to sit with Trump, but still having muddy (at best) political views, and it made it super simple for those who stuck with Kanye through everything to start questioning why they can’t just have the “old Kanye” back. It’s a dangerous dance to do, especially as an artist who is looking to be considered the best thing in the industry today, as many of his past supporters aren’t even trying to press play on material he’s associated with. Does Kanye ultimately care? It’s tough to say, but I doubt it—he seems like an individual who’s going to say and do as he pleases, knowing that at some point he’s gonna drop something that might make people forget why they canceled him in the first place.
Chappelle’s in a similar situation, although he’s taking the stance of accepting huge checks to say what’s on his mind, so, as he sees it, people need to just deal. It’s a tough argument: Yes, people can definitely just not click on his face, to use his verbiage, and watch the special. The thing is, let’s not forget that while he’s towing a line between, as David Dennis put it in Playboy, “brilliance and ignorance” in his most recent work, people who are pressing play are here for arguably the best stand-up comedian currently working. His show seems effortless; he’s been perfecting this phase of his routine, which feels much more relaxed and conversational-y with the audience, for years. He could very well be just saying the first thing that comes into his mind, knowing that a bit of shock here and a vocal inflection there can still pull a big laugh.
And that’s what’s scary—the aftermath of this special is a growing allegiance from one of the most hate-filled sections of the internet and the country today. Chappelle might be speaking his mind, but those who are aligning with his views—or at least his swagger, and regurgitating his words—is what makes this a dangerous time. Adding insult to injury is that, with his check cashed and the conversation around his special continuing to swell, Chappelle is likely going to go back into reclusion, chilling for a bit before hitting the road to do it all again. We likely won’t get anything more from him about it until he starts back up touring. But now, in addition to the response coming from certain sections of his fanbase that remain confused regarding where Chappelle stands on everything, there’s the far-right element putting him on a pedestal as a face of its toxic ideologies.
It’s sad, because there are moments in Sticks & Stones that I truly enjoyed—the Jussie Smollett commentary at the end gave voice to many who tried to stay silent as his case unfolded, and his talk about the opioid crisis in America was on point—but I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. It’s primarily due to what I don’t think needs to be in Chappelle’s stand-up anymore, but the flipside is the hypocritical adoration he’s being given by a group that is obviously hopping aboard to push its agenda ahead. It’s the last thing we need right now, and we can only hope that Chappelle sees this.