Comedian Dave Chappelle is standing by his jokes but is open to dialogue with those who were offended by the controversial remarks he made in his new Netflix standup special, “The Closer.”
The Emmy-winning comic has been at the center of a public-relations firestorm since the special premiered earlier this month and was immediately criticized for jokes widely deemed transphobic. The controversy culminated Wednesday in several Netflix employees walking out on the job, with Chappelle’s fans also showing up at the protest to defend him.
The fallout has forced Netflix into a corner, divided the comedy community and led many to reassess Chappelle’s brand, cancel culture and freedom of speech. Netflix has refused to pull the hit special or brand the jokes as hate speech, which were among the demands that some of the streaming giant’s employees set forth.
Chappelle is listening, though, and willing to talk about the jokes and the harm his commentary inflicted.
“Dave stands by his Art. Both sides of the street are talking and Dave is listening. At some point, when everyone is open, I’m sure our communities will come together,” his publicist, Carla Sims, told the Los Angeles Times in an emailed statement.
However, Ashlee Marie Preston, who organized Wednesday’s rally outside Netflix’s Los Angeles offices, has said she invited Chappelle “to have a transformative dialogue about the harm that was committed,” but he “chose not to show up.”
Sims said that neither she nor Chappelle received any direct contact from Preston about the protest.
Transgender Netflix staffers and their allies have demanded that Netflix acknowledge the harm the special has caused the trans community. They want references to and imagery of Chappelle, such as murals and posters, removed from the workplace.
They also want the company to commit to setting aside a fund specifically aimed at cultivating trans and nonbinary talent, investing in more content from trans creators, hiring more trans people in leadership roles and reforming “internal processes” leading up to the release of “potential harmful content.”
They also demanded that the streaming service attach a disclaimer to “The Closer” saying it “contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech.”
Chappelle hasn’t said much about the fallout himself; in fact, Netflix has shouldered much of the PR crisis. He did acknowledge the backlash earlier this month at a Hollywood Bowl screening for his untitled documentary. The veteran comedian received a standing ovation and a raucous fireworks display.
“If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” the 48-year-old Chappelle said onstage at the Bowl, according to several reports.