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Sometimes Offensive Comedy is Just Llazy Laughs

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

When Dave Chappelle was announced as the host of this past weekend’s “Satuday Night Live,” I wondered how he was going to handle it.

Was he going to make fun of the backlash he continues to receive since his 2021 Netflix special, “The Closer,” which led to protests by some Netflix staff and a petition by students at his Washington, D.C., high school against a theater being named after him?

Or would he sharpen his rapier wit enough to do what I think he does best: hilarious social-political truth-telling that hits its targets and avoids the punching-down cheap shots against groups that are least able to defend themselves — such as transgender folks, the target that sparked protests?

I knew that he knew what was on our minds when he began his monologue by readying a brief statement: “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community.”

As the audience chattered a tentative laughter, he put the statement in his pocket, saying, “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.”

Chappelle bought himself enough time for his knowledgeable audience to laugh and clap. Then he continued his 15-minute monologue, riffing on the recent headline-making antisemitic nonsense expressed by rap star Kanye West, now called simply Ye, and NBA star Kyrie Irving.

 

It was mostly funny, although parts of it sounded to me like blurring the line between minimizing the offensive statements and excusing them.

Noting how many Jewish people work in Hollywood, he observed “you might go out to Hollywood, you might start connecting some kind of lines, and you could maybe adopt the delusion that the Jews run show business.”

But then he diminishes the significance to a question of self-censorship. “It’s not a crazy thing to think,” he said. “But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.”

Actually, as I see it, the issue isn’t whether the observation is “crazy” but that it is dangerous and unfair regurgitation of an old prejudice about Jewish people running major institutions, implying some sort of conspiracy — and encouraging the sort of bigotry that led to the Holocaust, among other historical atrocities.

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