It didn’t take long for Dave Chappelle’s sixth Netflix stand-up special The Closer, which dropped early Tuesday morning, to have critics and some fans shaking their heads by the afternoon.
The 48-year-old was quickly taken to task by the LGBTQ community for wading into the controversy surrounding rapper DaBaby, who inexplicably spewed homophobic comments during his performance at Miami’s Rolling Loud festival over the summer.
Chappelle also took a stand for Harry Potter author turned anti-trans activist J.K. Rowling. “Effectively, she said gender was a fact, the trans community got mad as fuck, they started calling her a TERF,” he said, adding, “I’m Team TERF. I agree. I agree, man. Gender is a fact.”
And, as he began to close the show out, Chappelle launched into a story about his friend and fellow comedian, Daphne Dorman—a transgender woman he’d struck up a friendship with after bonding over their shared humor and their ability to have an open conversation about identity.
He had previously referred to their friendship in his 2019 Netflix special Sticks & Stones, and credited Dorman for defending him against similar admonishment after some of his jokes in the set were labeled transphobic.
The crowd let out a slight gasp when Chappelle stated that Dorman had taken her own life in October 2019, a few weeks after sticking up for him online. “I don’t know what the trans community did for her,” Chappelle said, “but I don’t care, because I feel like she wasn’t their tribe. She was mine. She was a comedian in her soul.”
Chappelle finished the show by declaring he'd be hitting pause on jokes about the LGBTQ community until he and the LGBTQ community could both be laughing together again. “I’m telling you, it’s done. I’m done talking about it,” he concluded. “All I ask of your community, with all humility: Will you please stop punching down on my people?”
And while some voiced concerns that Chappelle may be using his relationship as a cheap get-out-of-jail-free card to validate his earlier line of commentary, Dorman’s family believes there should be no offense taken, for they certainly aren’t.
Two of Dorman’s sisters told The Daily Beast they were outraged at the suggestion that Chappelle’s set was transphobic or derogatory toward the LGBTQ community, saying they wanted to make clear they supported the comedian.
“Daphne was in awe of Dave’s graciousness,” Dorman’s sister Becky wrote in a text. “She did not find his jokes rude, crude, off-coloring, off-putting, anything. She thought his jokes were funny. Daphne understood humor and comedy—she was not offended. Why would her family be offended?”
“Dave loved my sister and is an LGBTQ ally,” Dorman’s younger sister Brandy added in a text message. “His entire set was begging to end this very situation.”
“At this point I feel like he poured his heart out in that special and no one noticed,” Brandy wrote in a separate Facebook post. “What he’s saying to the LGBTQ family is, ‘I see you. Do you see me? I’m mourning my friend in the best way I know how. Can you see me? Can you allow me that?’... This was a call to come together, that two oppressed factions of our nation put down their keyboards and make peace. How sad that this message was lost in translation.”
Dorman, a San Francisco-based activist, software engineer, and aspiring actress, had met Chappelle on the comedy circuit; he recalled in a “hidden extra” of Sticks & Stones that Dorman had been “laughing the hardest” at some of his jokes that many deemed transphobic.
The two developed a friendship, with Chappelle offering to give Dorman pointers as she launched her stand-up career, even inviting her to open a show for him while he was in San Francisco.
Thrilled by the shoutout in Sticks & Stones, Dorman confirmed in an Instagram post that she was the woman Chappelle was talking about, happily freaking out that her photo appeared after former President Barack Obama’s photo.
But as the backlash against Chappelle grew, Dorman felt moved to speak out. “Punching down requires you to consider yourself superior to another group. He doesn’t consider himself better than me in any way. He isn’t punching up or punching down. He’s punching lines. That’s his job and he’s a master of his craft,” she wrote, a line Chappelle repeated in The Closer.
Dorman took her own life on Oct. 11, 2019 at the age of 44, and The Closer was released a few days shy of the second anniversary of her passing. “To those of you who are mad at me: please forgive me,” she had written in a final Facebook post. “To those of you who wonder if you failed me: you didn’t. To those of you feel like I failed you: I did and I’m sorry and I hope you’ll remember me in better times and better light.”
Becky wanted to make clear that her family does not blame Dorman’s death on Chappelle. “After she committed suicide, all I saw all over social media was Dave Chappelle-bashing,” she said. “I commented on so many posts, which is something I do not do. I commented to defend Dave.
“No one knows what life was like for my siblings and I,” she added. “We are products of how we were brought [up]. Dave was the biggest bright spot for Daphne; she was enamored for the first time. Blaming Dave is beyond the wrong thing to do. He helped her and let her be comfortable while talking with him. She had many demons; Dave Chappelle was NOT one of them.”
Becky confirmed that over the summer, Chappelle had finalized setting up a college fund for Dorman’s young daughter, adding that she had planned to watch the special later that night. “I saw his first special and was thrilled for my sister and even more so after we got to talk about [it] together,” she wrote.
“The man loved my sister and felt empathy towards her human experience and, yes, he makes terrible jokes that are also funny,” Brandy added in her Facebook post. “News flash, our whole family does that. Our funerals are laughter through tears, we mourn by remembering the times we laughed together, and yes, some inappropriate humor, too... As often as Dave stands up for Daphne, we will be there for Dave. This man is our tribe, and we mourn alongside him.”