If Dave Chapelle doesn’t mind being hated for his jokes, maybe you shouldn’t mind that either

I tried to tell myself that I could stay out of the Dave Chapelle controversy by not watching it, which meant I wasn’t qualified to have opinions on it. Then I started having opinions on the controversy anyway, and then I found myself watching the damned thing.

And laughing. And feeling uncomfortable about the fact that I was laughing. And laughing anyway. And starting to relax. “Maybe the reaction to his comedy special really is just an overreaction by people who are keen to be offended,” I thought.

And so, when he started talking about The Alphabet People, I trusted him. I thought it was pretty cool when he said “I have friends who are Ls, I have friends who are Bs, I have friends who are Gs. The Ts hate my fucking guts! I think I know why! I can’t stop telling jokes about em!”

As a T (insofar as any letter of the queer alphabet fits me, it fits me best), I started to feel suspicious at this point. But, frankly, I know that we have earned ourselves a reputation for being thin skinned.

And Dave is right about a number of things! LGBT (and Q, and the rest) are not one movement. And the Ts are in the back of the car. And “There’s not a bathroom for you for four states!” That’s a joke about trans people, but it’s a joke that recognizes the pain of trans people. At that point, I felt convinced that the negative reaction really was an overreaction.

And then he talked about how transgender people are inherently funny. “If that happened to me, you’d laugh!” He reminds me of that insight from Mel Brooks: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

When he told that joke (and capped it off with his awful impression of a Chinese person) I knew that Dave Chapelle would never be my friend. I try very hard not to hate people (too hard, according to many people who love me). I don’t know that I hate him, but I do know that his jokes (including ones I laughed at previously) don’t seem the slightest bit funny anymore.

Because the tragedy of my experience is comedy to him. Because transgendered people are being beaten and murdered around the world, and his response is to point and laugh and say “Look how hilariously confused they are!”

Imagine for a moment that you fell into an open sewer, and your mouth and nostrils filled with shit, and you started to choke. Imagine if someone saw that, and pointed at you, and said “That, ladies and gentlemen, that right there is the DEFINITION of comedy.” And the passers-by agreed, and they laughed.

Dave Chapelle knows that his comedy takes the most painful aspects of trans life and celebrates the fact that we don’t have solutions for these problems. Meanwhile, trans people are dying (their life expectancy is substantially shortened) because we don’t have solutions to these problems.

He has freedom of speech, and I don’t suggest for a moment that he should not be allowed to say what he has said. After all, a lot of people are thinking it. And without his provocation, my reply would be meaningless. He also has the maturity to understand that he has earned hatred from me, and people like me.

Some people who aren’t targeted by his jokes also find them offensive. A popular way to describe taking offense in that way is ‘virtue signaling’. And if you saw a bunch of people laughing at someone who was drowning in sewage, then being angry at the people who are laughing? That’s not a bad thing. (Although sometimes, I’d prefer allies to spend less effort telling off the comedians and more effort helping me and mine climb out of the sewer. That’s a different complaint.)

In summary:

Having a problem that you can’t explain or solve is not an entertaining experience.

Laughing at people with unsolvable problem isn’t exactly helpful, but it’s human nature.

Virtue signaling by attacking the laughter is better than laughing, but not by as much as you might think.

Attacking the people who are virtue signaling, when the comedian acknowledges that they asked for it? The generous assumption is that you simply weren’t paying attention. Although, if you’ve made it this far, you don’t have that excuse anymore.

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Nick Argall is an organization engineer, structuring activities to help businesses achieve their goals. nargall@gmail.com

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