Sammi Bray ’25
I’m not overly sensitive. I can take a joke, and I can deal them too. There’s an understanding in comedy, spoken and unspoken, that audiences won’t take everything too personally and jokes are understood to be jokes. Once in a while though, a joke crosses a line and ends up hurting an entire population. Other times, it’s the behavior of a comedian off-screen that goes too far.
Scrolling through the comedy section on SeatGeek the other day, I was certain I had misread the title for a performance.
Louis C.K. (Postponed from 4/4/2020). What?!
I thought maybe I had my facts wrong or had seriously missed something. I switched to Google and typed in the comedian’s name. Nothing had changed; this was, in fact, the Louis C.K. who admitted to sexual harassment allegations years ago. Suddenly, he’s back on tour and in 2020, he released a new stand-up film.
This is a pattern we’ve seen too many times. Celebrities, specifically men, get a free pass and their allegations are simply swept under the rug. Look at Woody Allen, who has continued to have a successful career in film and comedy, despite accusations of sexually assaulting his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow.
Some can separate the art from the artist, but I argue that if the perpetrator can go on to live a seemingly normal life after allegations AND continue to profit from the work, then consumers are part of the problem. Buying tickets for a Louis C.K. tour signals an approval and support of the comedian’s disgraceful behavior, just like buying tickets for a new Woody Allen film.
Making headlines more recently is Dave Chappelle who crosses the line in a different way. For most of his career, Chappelle has used the trans community as the butt of the joke.
Chappelle’s newest project, The Closer, a Netflix stand-up special, prompted many Netflix employees to threaten a walkout.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an organization speaking up against derogatory portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community in media, also commented on the piece, sharing that they felt the conclusion, where the comedian claims to finally drop the jokes until everyone “can laugh together,” feels like an insignificant attempt in regard to the series of jokes Chappelle has already made.
In the very same special, Chappelle makes a comment about a friend of his, Daphne Dorman, a trans woman who died by suicide. Chappelle says her suicide was something only a man would do, then claims the joke would’ve been loved by Dorman. Chappelle also says that one day, he will tell Dorman’s daughter that he knew her father.
Even with the possible approval of Dorman, Chappelle’s jokes cross the line. Chappelle fails to recognize his platform and the depth of his audience. Dorman may have loved the jokes, but the entire trans community won’t, and the damage caused by this can be irreversible.
Some activists argue that Chappelle’s perspectives as a black man should aid him in helping another minority community, but Chappelle does not seem ready for this change. On social media, users have commented that they are outgrowing Chappelle’s brand of liberalism because it fails to look beyond the issues that affect himself.