Actor-comedian Dave Chappelle may be in the midst of enjoying a 16-show residency at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, but the success of his performances has been offset by reports of vehement transphobia.
Controversial remarks are, of course, par for the course when it comes to Chappelle. Earlier this year, the actor-comedian released two Netflix specials, “The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas: Live at Austin City Limits,” which grabbed headlines for featuring gay and trans jokes that were decidedly not politically correct.
But in an Aug. 23 interview with The Washington Blade, Chappelle himself elaborated on his live act, shrugging off the suggestion that he’s transphobic. “I wouldn’t consider myself that because I’m not even sure what the term means,” he told the Blade’s News Editor Michael K. Lavers. “Do I discriminate against somebody because they’re trans? I would like to think absolutely not.”
The 43-year-old then added, “I’m not an obstructionist of anybody’s lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or people I love and I don’t believe that lifestyle does.”
Critics, however, feel a bit differently. In his Aug. 2 review for Vulture, Jesse David Fox wrote that Chappelle cracked insensitive jokes about President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender officers in the military at Radio City.
Though telephones and other audio recording devices were prohibited during the show, Fox’s review quotes Chappelle as saying, “If I was in ISIS in the trenches fighting against the United States and all of the sudden I see a man with a beard and big D-cups titties just rushing my foxhole and shit, I’d be horrified.”
Later in the Radio City show, he apparently offered his take on since-debunked reports that Caitlyn Jenner would be posing nude in an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated. “I figured I’d just say it for everybody — yuck,” he said, according to Fox’s review. “Fuck, man, I just want to read some stats, like why are you cramming man-pussy in the middle of the sports page like that?”
Chappelle explained to The Washington Blade that comedy which touched on minority issues was, simply, a “reconciliation of paradox.”
“These are true things that shouldn’t be true and I’m certain that in the trans narrative, there is also a lot of paradox,” he said. “I’m learning like the rest of the population is and now they have a platform. They’re articulating these things and we’re all here... this is news to many of us.”
Still, many LGBTQ rights advocates aren’t buying it. Texas-based transgender activist Monica Roberts likened Chappelle’s most recent comments to those of comedian Lil Duval, who ignited a media firestorm in July when he joked that he would “kill” a woman if he found out she was transgender after having sex with her.
“Being transgender is not a ‘lifestyle,’” Roberts told the Blade. “It’s the essence of who we are as people. And some transgender people are unapologetically black and catching hell for being both.” Longtime LGBTQ rights advocate Rev. Merrick Moise, who is also trans, felt similarly. “Dave is an example of many who just don’t get it,” Moise said. “Clearly he needs more education and conversation with black trans people to understand the gravity of his jokes made in poor taste.”