Dave Chappelle Goes For Broke With The Anti-Woke Special ‘The Closer’


Sticks and Stones is the funniest stand-up I’ve seen. A comedian working at the top of his craft while pretending to not care what other people think. It felt like he was discovering along with the audience. It’s the best standup he will ever do. In ‘The Closer’ he proves it by dropping the act.

It’s going to be his last special for a while and if you watch it you’ll be relieved. Dave has become someone who cares too much what other people think and leans into his worst tendencies.

If Chappelle wants to draw lines, I’ll root for the other team. Although he ends his special on a “neutral” note after making fun of them for an hour. When you joke about threatening to punch someone in a club and make a point of them being Trans, I can see why someone would take offense. Dave is usually very clever in the way he offends but in this special coasts on his reputation. Recycling old material, heavily referencing other specials Dave has long left the real world and is now floating in the DCU (Dave Chappelle Universe).
 
More time than usual time is spent leaning between jokes, waiting for the audience to laugh. “Did you get that?” It’s the kind of lazy self-satisfied grinning SNL and other tired late night comedians do. Chappelle talks about getting older in his perspective, but he’s not the first pick for someone who would become an old bigot. To laugh requires setup, which Chappelle is usually excellent at but his frustration with his own perception gets the better of him too often. Chappelle doesn’t paint a picture so much as he plain rants the entire special. Trans people aren’t above being made fun of more than anyone else as comedian Nikki Glaser has shown. But it’s hard to get behind a comedian when they don’t to bring punchlines to their comedy.
 
It doesn’t help that it’s Netflix has shown in the past they have no qualms about splitting the quality of a show into two. (See the upcoming two-part season of Ozark, or in the past Arrested Development). Their comedy specials don’t have the polish or tightness of HBO that can even make you laugh let alone watch Amy Schumer.
 
He’s getting more attention now from LGBTQ rights groups compared to previous specials because his joke to politics ratio is at an all-time low. Where Sticks & Stones was funny and you didn’t have to be with Dave the whole time to laugh, The Closer demands you to take his side. It’s heavy terms to make for a comedian. But Chappelle has earned it. He’s earned the scorn too.
 
In earlier specials, Dave mentions regret at turning down a pile of money for the third season of his show. At least the way he did. Hilariously, he’s a person of many regrets. Like one of his funny bits here where he recounts engaging with a stranger he’s unsure knows him.  There’s a strong sense of fear throughout these routines. And as we know fear is the mind killer. It is where all creative thinking stops and where comedy goes to die. I can’t wait for his next special where he trips over an apology to the Trans community. He seems to know he’s on the wrong side of the argument. Even though he tries to frame his side of it as something of reasonable thought (rather than comedy).
 
One of his more successful rings of comedy is his discovery of the true definition of Feminism. He is shocked to know they believe in equal rights for women AND MEN. Which by definition makes him a Feminist. In one of the two funny jokes in his special, he manages to ring comedy out of a lazy setup. I won’t spoil the punchline but all good comedy comes from being progressive.
 
Dave is a good storyteller, but his success in recent years leans toward the tendency to ramble off C material. There’s a reason he went to Detroit to film his last special. It is full of the most generous and good-hearted people on the planet. So they’re willing to laugh at anything. Not sure where he can go from here.
 
But having bad material is only half of it. You have to perform it too. And here’s where Dave stumbles further. He’s too self-satisfied waiting for forced laughter than to tell funny jokes in-between. And because we know him so well at this point, he lacks credibility in some of his stories. He leverages this successfully once in comparing what he would’ve said versus what he actually did and successfully reverses it, but during his most dangerous bit where he gleefully talks about throwing a punch at a transgender person. Does he really seem like the kind of guy who has successfully thrown a punch in his life?
 
Old Dave at least did in his comedy. He had an edge to him. There’s a reason this special has gotten so much attention and been so revered. This is the only comedy special review I have ever done. How’s that for a marker of success. This is someone with a lot of industry respect and affects the way people think. Can people get the wrong idea to laugh at violence against Transgendered people? Does Dave know this? Is it in pursuit of comedy? If the answers to all this were yes Dave would be forgiven But when he says he misses the Stonewall gays and wonders where they went without a trace of irony. It makes you want to flip to his old material. He frequently mines previous misgivings and recycles old material rather than follow through on a new premise.
 
If Dave spent more time talking about new relatable things like COVID vaccines (where his funniest joke is) his series might have ended on a high note. For someone who got COVID, he has very little material on it. Maybe it’s a side effect or maybe all his jokes were making fun of Trump for getting it. Is it surprising that after all this time Dave has become the old man yelling at the clouds?
 

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