I watch the signature stand-up specials on Netflix and elsewhere, but I rarely bother to review them because they aren’t movies — for the most part.
Not in the sense of “Eddie Murphy: Raw” or the various Richard Pryor concert films of legend. They lack cinematic qualities, story (Pryor’s films had that), etc.
But all the online hullabaloo over Dave Chapelle’s latest “Sticks & Stones” drew me to the reviews that his fans were ridiculing, and then to the special itself. That’s worth tapping out a few lines about.
It struck me that the complaining fans have a few legit beefs, that other critics were groping for things to hate on. And it struck me that “fans” weren’t facing up to whether or not this was Chapelle’s weakest special yet.
Comics get a LOT of license and leeway with me, and always have. Jackie Mason was a hate-mongering slur slinger. Andrew Dice Clay, Eddie Murphy both crossed a lot of lines.
Ever hear George Carlin’s nuclear assault on bulimia and anorexics?
So Chapelle gets a pass or at least, “Well, that was a bit that didn’t come off” on a lot of this from me, just by default.
To the first point, several reviews I noticed label Chapelle “a truth teller,” somebody who “tells it like it is.”
Really? He’s a stand-up. Whatever other pointed observations he’s made about the culture, mainly in his Comedy Central “Chapelle’s Show” way back years and years ago, he’s played stoners in movies and he makes up bits for laughs. “Truth” rarely enters into it. He’s a storyteller.
He shoves a big “gun story” in the middle of “Sticks & Stones.”
He’s making a point about African Americans buying guns to finally force racist America to do something about gun violence and mass shootings (especially in schools, which is his most pointed observation of the night). He talks about buying a shotgun for protection, and shooting an intruder with it in his house. Near as I can tell, it never happened (Internet searches).
“Truth teller?” It’s a BIT. Do not take a “bit” literally.
So when he kicks off a long routine about Michael Jackson’s accusers in “Leaving Neverland” with “I do NOT believe it,” declaring that he is a notorious “victim blamer,” that “somebody’s gotta teach these kids, ‘There’s no such thing as a free trip to Hawaii,'” he’s simply going for shock value laughs.
The evidence against Jackson is overwhelming — the payouts to victims for their silence was in the millions. Chapelle not “believing” that is like him advocating that the Earth is flat. He’s not in the NBA. It’s just a bit. Do not take it literally.
He throws a pedophile version of the Trump “not my type” defense in bringing up Macaulay Culkin, as if Jackson didn’t molest Culkin, he must be innocent. A bit. Stupid, but a bit.
Anthony Bourdain’s suicide? Fair game and just funny enough to be worth the grimaces.
When Chapelle gets into the funniest portion of the act, the last third, he comments on the Jussie Smollett fake hate crime, exaggerating and ridiculing the actor’s name in a fey-French fashion. That sounds a tad homophobic there, Dave, but no matter.
He claims “black folk” never believed Smollett from the start. Not just black people, Dave. One of the attacks on this bit came from this conservative critic, who used the Rev. Al Sharpton “took Smollett’s charges seriously” to puncture Chapelle’s thesis.
Kyle Smith, who used to write for The New York Post, is being disingenuous or at the very least, is using Rev. Al — who is black — to beat up another black person — a favorite conservative tactic. Rev. Al came into the public eye by virtue of his defense of Tawana Brawley, the Jussie Smollett of her day. Rev. Al is a racialist, willing to legitimize any claim that fits into his outrage. He’s a sucker for a good hate crime fabrication. Always has been.
When Chapelle describes his friend Kevin Hart as “damn near perfect,” you realize he’s too close to the subject to have an impartial take on the “cancellation culture” that “the alphabets” — the LGBTQ “social justice warrior” twitter outrage machine — used to take Hart’s “dream, hosting the Oscars,” away from him.
Hart’s a scandalized womanizer, which has cost him his share of payoffs, a standup who has let his “fat and happy” years of success deflate his stand-up act. And like too many African American comics to count, he’s pandered to his audience with homophobic remarks, tweets about “beating” his son if he found the kid exhibiting gay tendencies.
Granted, this was YEARS ago. But not that many.
As Chapelle has been attempting to reclaim the word “faggot” as acceptable for him to use in his act earlier in the show, you can see why people are upset about that. White comics don’t pepper their acts with the N-word. Not allowed. A straight black Ohio comic doesn’t have permission, nor should he seek it, to hurl that slur into the ether.
Even in front of an audience in Atlanta.
You want to be daring, Dave? Here’s an idea for a future bit. You know who ELSE went down the homophobic route in African American stand-up? Tracy Morgan. And what ELSE do Tracy Morgan and Kevin Hart have in common? They both followed that “scandal” with an awful car accident.
There’s a bit. You can’t be black and slur “the LGBTQ alphabets” (“The T’s hate my f—–g guts!”) because, if you do, you wind up in the hospital.
Drive carefully, Dave.
The overarching grievance I see expressed about this special is the power imbalance on display here. The contrite, self-skewering Chapelle of his post “break down” and “quit my TV show” years is long gone. He’s an older, popular, rich comic punching down at some targets. He’s lost some empathy.
That’s not a cardinal sin, by the way. A lot of comics (Seinfeld comes to mind) never had any.
When Chapelle opened his “alphabets” bit by warning us that he was about to, like Hart and others, violate “an unwritten and unspoken rule of show business,” I leaned in a bit. Is Dave going after Jews?
Naaaah. He’s punching down at LGBTQ. But swap “Jews” for pedophilia victims, or LGTBQ activists, for the #MeToo movement (which he states, flatly and laughably, is responsible for the tidal wave of anti-abortion legislation in conservative states like Georgia). Or for that matter, swap “N—gas” for any of those. Maybe he’d get it. Pointlessly speaking on these subjects in those ways brings out the worst in some listeners. It gives them comfort in their bigotry or denial.
Yeah, there are people in the audience in Atlanta, and Netflix viewers, who hoot and holler and feel validated when Chapelle belittles pedophilia, gay bashing and the like.
Sometimes, the shock value isn’t reason enough to “go there.”
More to the point, it’s no substitute for material that kills. I only laughed a few times at “Sticks & Stones” — yeah, the Culkin bit was funny in addition to taking one aback. Same with Bourdain (he found a payoff) and Smollett, and the whole racist crack vs opioids epidemics connection has been made elsewhere, but still stings.
You got our attention, pal. But for the most part you didn’t deliver the funny.
You’re just doing what those of us reviewing you are doing — trolling.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, crude sexual humor, profanity, and lots of it
Cast: Dave Chapelle
Credits: Directed by Stan Lathan, written by Dave Chapelle. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:02