As a standup comedian, Dave Chappelle has frequently caused controversy when mining near-the-knuckle humor out of dark situations. His latest standup special, released via the comedy arm of Netflix and available to watch on YouTube, is a response to the on-going Black Lives Matter protests occurring in the United States and around the world following the killing of George Floyd.
“I want to shout out all the young people who have had the courage to go out and do all this amazing work protesting,” he says at the top. “I am very proud of you.”
In the film (entitled 8:46, for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, leading to his death), Chappelle delivers an excoriating set to a socially distanced audience, in which he rails against police brutality.
“I didn’t watch the tape for a week,” says Chappelle, referring to the footage of Floyd’s death. “I didn’t want to see it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to unsee it. But when I finally watched it, I understood nobody is going home. Anyone who sees this, well they’re gonna be furious.”
The special sees Chappelle reckon with the idea of celebrities involving themselves in these events in unhelpful ways by doing things like singing (referring obliquely to that viral “Imagine” video and other tone-deaf offerings).
“Answer me. Do you wanna see a celebrity right now?” He asks. “Do we give a fuck what Ja Rule thinks? Does it matter about celebrity? No. This is the streets talking for themselves. They don’t need me right now. I kept my mouth shut, and I’ll still keep my mouth shut, but don’t think my silence is complicity… Why would anyone care what their favorite comedian thinks after they saw a police officer kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds?
He also criticizes conservative pundit Candace Owens, who aided in demonizing George Floyd in the public eye as a criminal, and the “lying” public figures and institutions which uphold the status quo. This, he realizes, is why people might turn to him, and want to hear him speak.
“You don’t expect me to be perfect, but I don’t lie to you,” he says. “I’m just a guy.”
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