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Netflix has always included stand-up comedians, and to have a Netflix special is the comedy industry’s gold-standard. If that’s the case, then Dave Chappelle is the streaming service’s golden goose because his specials have always been popular on Netflix in the past. But only time will tell as to which type of egg—golden or rotten—his latest offering, The Closer, will be regarded as.
Chappelle’s style of comedy is not for everyone—his language can be raw and R-rated—but for those who have paid attention to what he has said in his previous three Netflix specials, there is a genuine social confusion that he is privately working out in his mind. The caveat is that he is doing so in the most public of ways—on a stage in front of thousands of people with no protection save for a mic stand and his wit. Whereas most comedians perform a script they’ve meticulously honed at hundreds of smaller comedy clubs, Chappelle seems to weave in and out of his—not in a slapstick improv sort of way, but as a storyteller who is crafting a tale as it is happening in his own mind. This candor has led to some major controversy, especially from the trans community.
However, my late high school English teacher Ms. Owen used to ask one question whenever we would submit a writing proposal for her approval: “So what?”
It was her way of getting us young writers to ask ourselves, “Why should the reader care about what we are trying to write? How strong, how compelling is your main point?” Well, Chappelle’s so-what, paraphrased by civil-rights activist Shaun King, is that “African-Americans continue to be the most disrespected people (group) in America.”
In a serendipitous turn of current events, King pointed out that pop culture has proven Chappelle’s thesis. Just this past month, Jon Gruden, the head football coach for the Las Vegas Raiders, resigned merely three hours after it was discovered that he sent openly homophobic emails. Yet for the previous five days before his resignation, it was discovered that Jon Gruden also sent openly anti-Black emails, which he was reprimanded for, defended against, and ultimately allowed to keep coaching. Chappelle’s so-what for The Closer, in this instance, represents life imitating art, and the life’s narrative couldn’t have been scripted with more accuracy.
The uncomfortable brilliance of this comedy set is that we can see the train wreck that will come. We might be able to predict that five or ten years from now, this Netflix special will be deemed completely inappropriate and unsavory; it might even get canceled (his comments on transgender people have set off a wave of criticism and calls for cancelation, which a Netflix CEO wrote “we are not going to do” in a memo), but at this moment it is his most honest and compelling comedy routine to date. (Rated TV-MA, Netflix)