Comedian Dave Chappelle is doing a limited run of stand-up shows on Broadway, and a review of his opening night performance made the front of the New York Times Arts section on Thursday. But critic Jason Zinoman wasn’t laughing: “The Joke Is Getting Old – An unswayed Dave Chappelle defends the wealthy and mocks the marginalized.” “Unswayed” by social justice rants and pressure from liberal journalist scolds like those at The Times. According to the jump-page headline, “The Joke Is Cruel, And It’s Getting Old.”
What did comedian Chappelle do to merit The Times’s sour-faced censure? He insists on telling jokes about people that Zinoman doesn’t think he should be telling jokes about -- in this case, transgenders.
The online deck of headlines was solemn accompaniment for an ostensible comedy show review: “Dave Chappelle on Broadway: The Joke Is Getting Old -- The comic hasn’t adjusted his material for the setting: he’s still defending wealthy, famous peers and joking about transgender targets”:
After he was criticized for mocking transgender people in two 2017 specials, Chappelle seems to have become fixated on the subject, alternating between lukewarm jokes about this marginalized group and defensive justifications for them and even apologies. “Got to stop with the trans jokes,” he tells himself at one point.
But the time spent on this subject is overshadowed by his other favorite long-running pastime, expressing sympathy for rich and powerful men enmeshed in scandal....
This next puzzling bit seems awfully hostile to comedian Kevin Hart, dropped from the Oscars when old “homophobic” tweets were thrown back at him, and who Zinoman’s insinuates is not so innocent (click “expand”):
In his new show, he does Louis C.K. few favors by defending him limply. He also speaks up for Kevin Hart who, in his telling, lived a blameless life when his dream of hosting the Oscars was dashed because of a few tweets....
As he has told audiences many times, Chappelle says he is not in “the being right business.” He often adds qualifications to these provocations, but it’s hard not to notice that he sympathizes so much with his peers in wealth and fame....
The extensive Playbill bio noted that Chappelle’s comedy has “often shocked his audiences into laughter.” But there’s nothing shocking anymore about his making fun of transgender people. He does it so relentlessly that it has become blandly familiar. And the way he pairs this material with constant justifications, explaining how these marginalized groups, which he calls “the alphabet people,” have disproportionate power in Hollywood, is defensive, predictable and ultimately cruel.
As the self-appointed King of Comedy, Zinoman ruled Chappelle’s jokes were beyond the bounds of propriety:
Chappelle would argue, rightly, that comedy contains cruelty, and no one has demonstrated the comic potential of punching down better than him (see his sketch about beating a kid with cancer in a video game on “Chappelle’s Show”) But the bar for such jokes is higher, and he doesn’t scale it.
Zinoman was getting his own "comedy roast" on Twitter for being such a censorious scold and advising comedian Chappelle what he can and cannot joke about.