Dave Chappelle thinks the #MeToo movement may have gone too far, especially when it comes to his friend and fellow comedy legend Louis C.K.
In The Bird Revelation, one of two new stand-up specials that landed on Netflix this New Year’s Eve, the comedian dives head first into the social movement that dominated the culture for the final three months of 2017.
“Sometimes, the funniest thing to say is mean,” Chappelle says at the very top of his newest hour. It’s a trigger warning of sorts for those in the audience. “You guys gotta remember, I’m not saying it to be mean. I’m saying it because it’s funny. And everything’s funny until it happens to you.”
Taped barely a month ago, on the weekend before Thanksgiving in front of a tiny crowd at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Chappelle’s newest special is infinitely more relevant than his previous two Netflix offerings that were taped in 2015 and 2016. With jokes about Ebola, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling, those specials had their moments, but felt like they were from another era.
There were also his outdated Caitlyn Jenner jokes that were widely viewed a transphobic. Chappelle addresses that controversy directly in his other new special, Equanimity, by reading aloud a letter from a trans fan who was offended by his comments.
The Bird Revelation, by comparison, is wholly of this moment, even if Chappelle’s assessment of #MeToo is not quite as progressive as some fans might have hoped.
“Well, here we are in Los Angeles,” Chappelle tells his audience. “The world capital of rape and dick breath.” It’s less than 90 seconds into the 49 minute special and he’s already gone there. “What the fuck has been going on out here?!” he asks, laughing as he lets his mic fall to his knee. “Just when you think things couldn’t get worse, they got Charlie Rose today.” That joke places Chappelle’s bit after Louis C.K. and Al Franken but before Matt Lauer and Russell Simmons.
“Charlie Rose! Who’s next, Captain Kangaroo?” the comedian says, echoing Stephen Colbert’s monologue after the Franken news broke. “Everybody is raping like hotcakes! You know, I’m starting to get worried. I’ve been in show business for 30 years, I had no idea how much danger I was in.”
Chappelle goes on to go after Harvey Weinstein’s looks, saying he was the first person whose picture he looked at and immediately thought, “Yeah, he rapes. I’m not sure this fucker has a choice.” He adds, “If it was Brad Pitt doing that shit, you wouldn’t have heard a peep.”
Then, just as you think Chappelle might turn serious for a moment, acknowledging the complicity of men or even taking responsibility for his own behavior, he swings back in the other direction.
“And yet, It is important that I acknowledge, ladies, you are absolutely right,” he says. “We’ve got to all be mindful of that, guys, because this could happen to any of us. It could happen to me.” We think he’s talking about getting accused of sexual misconduct, but then he makes a turn that almost no other comic could get away with. “I could see myself showing up: ‘Hi, I’m here for my 3 a.m. with Mr. Weinstein.’”
Chappelle imagines what it would be like, for him, if he was in a business meeting and a “motherfucker pulled their dick out.” He would be like, “Yo! This is the most unprofessional shit I’ve ever seen in all my days!” On the one hand, he’s empathizing with the plight of woman, but of course, the point is that these men weren’t engaging in this type of behavior in front of Dave Chappelle.
“Wow, I mean it is really bad out here,” he adds. “Kevin Spacey’s out here grabbing men by the pussy! I didn’t even know that was possible!” Chappelle’s take on the story that broke open that scandal? “I’ve been to a lot of parties in my day. Never been to a good one that had 14-year-old boys in it.”
The irony of the situation, he says, is that actor Anthony Rapp “grew up to be gay anyway,” which means “Kevin Spacey sniffed that shit out like a truffle pig.” At least he didn’t try to say that Spacey “turned” Rapp gay. “And not to victim-blame, but it seems like the kind of situation that a gay 14-year-old kid would get himself into,” Chappelle adds, before moving onto a bit about how gay adolescents are more mature than their straight peers.
“All joking aside, Kevin Spacey shouldn’t have done that shit to that kid,” Chappelle says. “He was 14 years old and forced to carry a grown man’s secret for 30 years.” But again, as could be expected, it’s a set-up for a particularly ruthless joke. “The saddest part is, if he had been able to carry that secret for another six months, I would get to know how House of Cards ends.”
From there, Chappelle moves on to one of his own: Louis C.K. Instead of using his comedy to condemn his contemporary, Chappelle makes fun of the way The New York Times used its “Pulitzer Prize-winning” style to describe C.K.’s ejaculations: “Louis C.K.’s semen shot out like a volcano of misogyny, slowly drizzling down like lava, covering his freckled penis as it slowly dripped down to a crown of red hair.”
To those who come up to him and ask if he knew about C.K.’s behavior, Chappelle says, “No, bitch, I did not know. What the fuck do you think we talk about at the comedy club?” Acknowledging that he “shouldn’t say this,” Chappelle says the allegations against C.K. were “the only ones that made me laugh.” He cracks up uncontrollably as he imagines all of C.K.’s comedian friends reading the details of his actions in the paper and saying, “Word…?”
“It’s terrible, I know it’s terrible,” Chappelle says. “Ladies, you are right. But at the same time, Jesus Christ, they took everything from Louis. I think it might be disproportionate. I can’t tell. This is where it’s hard to be man.”
To the female comedian who has said that Louis C.K. masturbating in front of her ruined her comedy dreams, Chappelle replies, cigarette in hand “Well then I dare say, madam, you may have never had a dream. C’mon man, that’s a brittle spirit.”
“You think if Louis C.K. jerked off in front of Martin Luther King, he’d be like, ‘I can’t continue this movement?’” he asks. “How the hell are you going to survive in show business if this is an actual obstacle to your dreams?”
As a “black dude,” Chappelle says he is just “held to a higher standard than these women.” But he also says that he “feels bad” and wants women to “win this fight.” 10 years ago, he says, he “might have been scared.” But now that he’s got a daughter, he tells women, “if you win, she wins, and I’m rooting for you.”
His most concise joke on the topic comes about midway through the special. “I can’t even say the words ‘me too’ anymore,” Chappelle tells the crowd. For instance, when someone told him they were going to the comedy club recently, he says he replied, “I... am also going to the comedy club.”
Chappelle’s deliberately controversial take on the #MeToo movement should not exactly be surprising given his history of pushing his counterintuitive takes to their outer limits. And it’s not as though there has even been anything particularly feminist about his comedy.
During an interview with Vulture’s Jesse David Fox back in February, longtime Chappelle collaborator and stand-up comedian Neal Brennan admitted that Chappelle’s Show was a lot more “sexist” than people remember. “There were a lot of boob sketches,” he recalled. “When you give two 29-year-olds a show, there’s going to be many boob sketches.”
15 years after that seminal Comedy Central series first premiered, Chappelle is now a 44-year-old father of three who has done a lot of maturing, both as a man and as a comic. His latest material may be more nuanced, but it is no less problematic.
By choosing to release this special on Netflix just as 2017 is coming to a close, Chappelle is telling us that he likes it that way.