By Claire Joanson
While most celebrities shy away from controversy, Dave Chappelle bathes in it.
On Aug. 26, Netflix released its fifth stand-up special with the creator, aptly titled “Sticks & Stones,” a quick-witted display of Chappelle’s comedic prowess.
At this point in his career, Chappelle has earned his elite status in the comedy world. He is a writer, actor, comedian and producer who has been featured on “Saturday Night Live,” starred in many movies and, of course, was the host of his self-titled series, “Chappelle’s Show.” With an illustrious career that has generated two Grammys and Emmys, Chappelle could have stopped there.
He could have written a set that played it safe within the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable, or worse — he could have fallen into the fate of many older comedians, where their jokes never align with the progressions time has made.
But his flow is impeccable. “Sticks & Stones” is an astonishing tribute to the craft of comedy — Chappelle has nothing to prove, everything to lose and still pulls absolutely no punches. In Chappelle’s act, everything is a target. Race, gender, sexuality and wealth — sensitive descriptors that have fallen subject to censure and disapproval in 2019 — are allowed to be funny again. The comedian does not discriminate in his discrimination, which, in turn, allows everyone to be in on the joke.
Chappelle touches on many American topics of contention within his hour-long performance. He offers his unsolicited advice on abortion, gun control and the #MeToo movement, making light of ideologies and policies sure to divide a room. In addition, Chappelle mentions recent scandals that have deeply impacted Hollywood and the ramifications of a “cancel culture” on society as a whole. To start the show, he shames the audience.
“Everyone is doomed,” he says. “This is the worst time to be a celebrity.”
He supports his saying by mentioning some big names in the industry who recently fell victim to “cancel culture,” such as Kevin Hart, Louis C.K. and Michael Jackson. The Jackson jokes come as a result of the controversial documentary from earlier this year, “Leaving Neverland,” where the pop star was accused of molesting two young boys.
“I’m known as a victim blamer,” Chappelle says. “What were those kids wearing at the time?”
Though his set received some backlash from critics, who saw his performance as lazy and too dependent on shock value, the public has reacted in a surprising way to this special. Shockingly, the “Sticks & Stones” performance has a 99 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to the meager 23 percent of critics who liked it, as of Sunday, Sept. 8. It shows the complicated relationship between what’s publicly acceptable to find funny and what people actually laugh at.
His performance is peppered with tongue-in-cheek comments about the worst possible topics. It’s vulgar, brash and downright offensive, but oddly refreshing to hear someone reinforce the issues by taking the most ridiculous stance possible and turning it on its head.
“Sticks & Stones” is unapologetic in a time defined by apologies and walking on eggshells. As we move to become a more considerate, thoughtful society, performances like Chappelle’s will find their place with both the offenders and the offended.