Dave Chappelle's new Netflix special is an hour-long rant on LGBTQ culture that falls short

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle's six-show run for Netflix has mirrored a tumultuous period in American history. Over the last four years, Chappelle's specials have covered the Trump presidency, social unrest following the murder of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wedged between the specials, in 2020, Chappelle delivered a solemn commentary on the death of Floyd entitled "8:46."

Throughout his Netflix run, Chappelle has unapologetically tackled third-rail topics such as cancel culture, sexual abuse in Hollywood, race relations, the opiate epidemic among "poor whites" and LGBTQ issues.

And he's often done it with brilliant humor and grace. This time? Not so much.



This string of specials has come during an uncertain time for comedy when social media and political correctness have had a chilling effect on what a comedian can say. Or, at least what some comedians say they are allowed to say. One of the main goals of comedy is to figure out where the line of appropriateness is at a given time and to prove it by leaping over it.

Comedians deserve a lot of leeway for what they say because their job—when done correctly—is essentially jumping off a cliff to give the rest of us a better understanding of the current state of humanity.

Chappelle's Netflix specials have been refreshing because they've pushed the cultural envelope at a time when social media backlashes can ruin a career.

In 2017's "Equanimity," the comic begins by saying that he doesn't, "as a policy," feel bad about anything he says onstage. He later expounds on his point, saying:

Everybody gets mad because I say these jokes. But you have to understand this is the best time to say them. Now more than ever, I know there's some comedians in the back—motherfuckers, you have a responsibility to speak recklessly, otherwise my kids might not know what reckless talk sounds like. The joys of being wrong. I didn't come here to be right, I just came here to fuck around.

This week, Netflix released Chappelle's final show in the series, "The Closer," which promised to tie a bow around the entire project. The promise was enticing.

"I need you guys to know something, and I'm gonna tell you the truth, and don't get freaked out: This is going to be my last special for a minute," he said, later explaining that "The Closer" will complete his "body of work" for Netflix.

One brilliant riff about rapper DaBaby early in the show highlighted America's lopsided view of race relations and LGBTQ rights. But it also kicked off a recurring theme that would haunt the rest of the performance: the idea that the Black and LGBTQ communities are pitted against one another in the fight for social justice.

Ten minutes into the show he began an hour-long rant about gender where he hit back at critics who've called him transphobic.

"Any of you who have ever watched me know that I have never had a problem with transgender people. If you listen to what I'm saying, clearly, my problem has always been with white people," he maintains.

This would make sense if all trans people are white. But that's far from true. In fairness, earlier in the special, Chappelle does make a joke about the differences he sees between white and Black gay people when it comes to their experiences with the police. However, a bit about gender wasn't on solid ground:

"Gender is a fact," he reasons. "Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. That is a fact. Now, I am not saying that to say trans women aren't women, I am just saying that those pussies that they got … you know what I mean? I'm not saying it's not pussy, but it's Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy. It tastes like pussy, but that's not quite what it is, is it? That's not blood. That's beet juice."

Dave Chappelle on Transgender (The Closer) www.youtube.com

Chappelle is wrong here, too. Gender and sex are two different things. Sex, according to the World Health Organization, refers to "the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons"; whereas, gender is "the socially constructed characteristics of women and men—this includes norms, behaviors and roles."

Over the next half hour or so he discusses hitting a lesbian woman in the breasts, confronting a trans woman who was bothered by his work and the "frumpy dykes" of the #MeToo movement.

In the end, he tries to claim a moral high ground and fly above the fracas he created by recalling a night he let an inexperienced trans woman, Daphne Dorman, open for him at a show in San Francisco.

After the show, they discussed his views on transgendered people.

"She said, 'I don't need you to understand me.' She said, 'I just need you to believe that I'm having a human experience,'" Chappelle said.

"I said, 'I believe you, bitch.' Because she didn't say anything about pronouns. She didn't say anything about me being in trouble. She said, 'Just believe that I'm a person and I'm going through it,'" he continued.



Later, Dorman died by suicide. Chappelle doesn't examine why she would have taken her own life. Or contemplate the fact that trans people are ten times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are not.

Instead, he tries to smooth things over by saying we all need to have empathy for one another and that means that LGBTQ people should take it easy on comedians such as himself and Kevin Hart who've been chastised for anti-LGBTQ jokes.

"Empathy is not gay. It is not Black. Empathy is bisexual. It must go both ways," he said. "Will you please stop punching down on me, people?"

Yes, multimillionaire Kevin Hart may not have been able to host the Oscars for some homophobic jokes he made a decade ago. But that doesn't equate to the type of discrimination that pushes many people like Dorman to die by suicide.

Chappelle is one of the rare comics who's talented and honest enough to help us make sense of one of the most divisive eras in American history. Unfortunately, "The Closer" shies away from the job. Instead, we are treated to a man who professes not to care about his critics, going the extra mile to provide us with a muddled, sorry-not-sorry explanation for his jokes that fails to convince.

A comedy club is not a court of law and comedians should be able to win on an emotional appeal instead of making an intellectual argument. But Chapelle's most recent special plays out more like an act of stubborn defiance than an honest assessment of gender in the United States.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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