At its best, Dave Chappelle’s standup is as good as comedy can get. Both hilarious and insightful, Chappelle established his place at the top of the stand-up ladder with his Netflix specials. The specials were extremely controversial, largely due to jokes that some perceived as transphobic. And now, after almost two years, he is back. Chappelle’s new special, The Closer, is perhaps his most controversial to date. He opens by saying that it will be his last special for a long time, which would be truly unfortunate: The Closer is debatably the weakest of Chappelle’s Netflix specials to date. While truly hilarious and insightful at times, this special lacks consistency, and the balance between comedy and social commentary that Chappelle had mastered in his previous specials is missing.
The opening of The Closer is classic Dave Chappelle and the high point of the special. With no reservations, he tackles getting COVID, child molestation, and sticks the landing on a punchline that should never have worked – all in the first ten minutes. If you are looking for great stand-up, look no further than the opening minutes of The Closer.
There are other highlights similar to the first ten minutes in the rest of the special. But unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. The fatal flaw of the special, though, is that Chappelle’s comic instincts have fundamentally changed. He seems to have gone from being a comic genius who makes people think, to a person who uses comedy purely for attention and the garnering of controversy. This is not to say that comedy should not be offensive—the most controversial parts of the special are also among the funniest. But I don’t think Chappelle is saying anything original—he is doing his same act, but less consistently. It is an excuse for Chappelle to try to explain himself to the LGBT community, and this is where I think much of the criticism of the special has missed the point.
As Chappelle says in the special, “Any of you, who have ever watched me know that I’ve never had a problem with transgender people. If you listen to what I’m saying, clearly my problem has always been with white people.” At many points in the special, Chappelle talks about how, as he says, “Gay people are minorities until they need to be white again.” This is a recurring theme of The Closer, one Chappelle tackles to varying results. In the funniest line of the show, he says, “Is it possible that a gay person can be racist? […] Of course, it is! Look at Mike Pence!” Chappelle should have ended there—before he moved into mostly-unfunny self-aggrandizement. The bit that ends the special is about a transgender friend of Chappelle’s named Daphne. While it has one or two funny moments, the overall arc of the story was a desperate ploy for Chappelle to polish his own ego, one that does not pay off. The only reason to watch it at this point is to see what the controversy is about. If you are going to complain about Chappelle, watch The Closer first. But if you want provocative, thoughtful comedy, watch his earlier specials—they are much funnier.