A Guide to the Controversy Around Dave Chappelle’s Netflix Special ‘The Closer’

dave chappelle

“Comedians have a responsibility to speak recklessly,” Dave Chappelle says in the trailer for his Netflix special The Closer. “Sometimes the funniest thing to say is mean. I’m not saying it to be mean, I’m saying it to be funny.”

Unfortunately for the stand-up comic, many have found his latest set to be anything but funny, with Chappelle receiving backlash for comments he makes throughout The Closer that are offensive to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Over the course of his set, Chappelle remarks that controversial rapper DaBaby, who recently found himself in trouble after also making homophobic comments, “punched the LGBTQ community right in the AIDS.”

He also remarks that he aligns with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and others who don’t believe that transgender women are women.

“Gender is a fact,” Chappelle says. “Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact.”

He also references the backlash he received after making jokes about Caitlyn Jenner and other trans people in previous specials, notably his 2019 special Sticks and Stones in which he joked about the Michael Jackson and R. Kelly sexual abuse scandals, as well as the LGBTIA+ community and cancel culture.

Among the people who shared their concerns and outrage over Chappelle’s comments were several Netflix staffers, including trans employee Terra Field who cited the danger in the comedian’s “jokes”.

“Promoting TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) ideology (which is what we did by giving it a platform yesterday) directly harms trans people, it is not some neutral act,” Field wrote on Twitter. “This is not an argument with two sides. It is an argument with trans people who want to be alive and people who don’t want us to be.”

Field concluded her thread with the names of 37 trans and gender non-conforming people who’ve been killed throughout 2021.

She is now one of three employees from the streaming giant to have been suspended for “attending a virtual meeting of directors and vice presidents last week without notifying the meeting organizer in advance.” The meeting in question was one that Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos was running to offer guidance on how managers should handle upset employees and angry talent speaking out against Chappelle.

Netflix denies that the employees were suspended for being vocal about their displeasure about The Closer. 

“It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for Tweeting about this show. Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so,” a Netflix spokesperson told CNN. 

In a company-wide memo sent by Sarandos, the co-CEO defended the decision to keep Chappelle’s special on the platform writing, in part, “Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him. His last special Sticks & Stones, also controversial, is our most-watched, stickiest and most award-winning stand-up special to date.

“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.

“Particularly in stand-up comedy, artistic freedom is obviously a very different standard of speech than we allow internally as the goals are different: entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace,” he said.

Usually known for his searing commentaries on race, politics and inequality, Chappelle signed a massive deal with Netflix in 2016, which saw him earn USD $20million per special under a three special deal. The contract was then extended for a fourth and fifth stand-up exclusive in 2017.

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