Dave Chappelle spoke to his alma mater and Netflix has decided to broadcast the occasion.
This is news because Chappelle has been at the center of several dramas lately, but none that he is afraid to address. In fact, his 40-minute speech at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts tackled one of those topics. The Netflix version of it is entitled What’s in a Name?
Chappelle was speaking at the Washington D.C. school, which is renaming its theater in his honor. The Netflix special dropped on June 7, and without any sort of prior announcement to boot.
“The choice by the school was widely criticized due to Chappelle’s inclusion of jokes targeting the transgender community — particularly trans women — in his recent projects like 2021 standup special The Closer,” Variety wrote. “Chappelle also had a combative Q&A with Duke Ellington students following the release of the special in November, during which many criticized him for failing to listen to the objections of the LGBTQ community regarding his material.”
Chappelle spends about the first 30 minutes of What’s in a Name? describing his years as a student at Duke Ellington. The last 10 minutes consist mostly of him defending himself for The Closer. Or more accurately, to the students’ reaction to the special.
“All the kids were screaming and yelling,” he said. “I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, okay, well what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art. And this is my biggest gripe with this whole controversy with The Closer: That you cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words. It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, ‘Man Shot in the Face by a Six-Foot Rabbit Expected to Survive,’ you’d be like, ‘Oh my god,’ and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon.”
He went on to call the students “instruments of oppression” and admitted he was even a little hurt by the whole thing.
“When I heard those talking points coming out of these children’s faces, that really, sincerely, hurt me. Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words,” he said. “I’ve heard those words before. The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. And it has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right, my freedom, of artistic expression. That is valuable to me. That is not severed from me. It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble, noble professions.”