Dave Chappelle on Monday spoke out about the backlash he’s received following what critics have decried as the transphobic jokes he has told during his routines on stage in recent years.
The comedian was visiting his high school alma mater in the nation’s capital when he revealed that he was declining the honor of having a school theater named for him, according to a report from the Washington Post. He suggested that doing so was a byproduct of the criticism he’s faced because of the comedic material that has offended the transgender community.
The Post quoted Chappelle as saying he was “sincerely” hurt by the response to his performances that include “The Closer,” a Netflix special that aired in October of last year and was met with fierce opposition from the LGBTQ community.
That opposition was widely documented by the media, which also covered how students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., didn’t take kindly to Chappelle’s jokes.
It was in that context that Chappelle decided the theater should be named for someone else.
“Chappelle told the audience Monday that while he thought the backlash against him lacked nuance and wasn’t about his work, he didn’t want a theater bearing his name to distract from students focusing on the meaning of their art,” the Post reported.
The facility is now set to be named the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.
Chappelle said last year when it was announced that the theater would be named for him that it was “the most significant honor of my life.” The renaming had been postponed because of the uproar over “The Closer.”
During “The Closer” controversy, Netflix stood by Chappelle, who has been great for the streaming app’s ratings. However, Chappelle’s material about the LGBTQ community prompted a subsequent walkout of Netflix employees around the time “The Closer” debuted last year. In the special, Chappelle repeated his controversial beliefs about trans women, in particular.
Activist Ashlee Marie Preston told Netflix employees during the walkout that they didn’t want Chappelle canceled. Instead, they wanted accountability.
“I thank all of you for being here in support of the employees at Netflix of trans and non-binary experience and their allies and accomplices,” Preston said at the time. “I think the message that many people expect for us to deliver today is one around ‘why it’s important to cancel Dave Chappelle.’ And so I want to make it very clear, this isn’t an instance of cancel culture because I’ve invited Dave Chappelle to have transformative dialogue with us on multiple occasions and he has made it clear that it is not of interest to him. So just to be clear, this isn’t cancel culture but an avoidance of accountability when we’ve invited you to be a part of the repair that it takes to not only hear a culture but to move all of us forward.”
Despite the backlash to “The Closer” — or because of it — Chappelle doubled down on his LGBTQ sentiment expressed during his routines and less than a month later was accused of making transphobic jokes.
“The 48-year-old had a running gag about pronouns, said the f-slur, joked about claiming to identify as a woman to get a cushier prison placement, and waved off a previous declaration that he would stop making jokes about the LGBTQ+ community, saying that rule only counts when cameras are rolling,” the Daily Beast reported of Chappelle’s show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in November.
Chappelle also told jokes criticized as transphobic back in 2019 during a Netflix special called “Sticks & Stones.” At the time, Chappelle swore he was “done” telling those types of jokes.
“I’m telling you: It’s done,” Chappelle said at the time. “I’m done talking about it.”
Aside from the Netflix controversy and the theater at his high school, there have been other repercussions following Chappelle’s material.
One of them was when a man named Isaiah Lee attended Chappelle’s show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles last month. Video footage shows Lee jumping on the stage and physically attacking Chappelle. It was later revealed that was upset about Chappelle’s jokes.
“I identify as bisexual…and I wanted him to know what he said was triggering,” Lee told the New York Post from LA’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility. “I wanted him to know that next time, he should consider first running his material by people it could affect.”