The Hypocrisy of Dave Chappelle’s Power Play

He convinced Netflix to pull his old sketch show from streaming by saying it made him feel bad. Funny how that works.

David Dennis, Jr.
LEVEL
Published in
4 min readNov 25, 2020

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Dave Chappelle. Photo: NBC/Getty Images

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In a vacuum, the story of Netflix pulling Chappelle’s Show from the platform at the request of its star and creator is a feel-good story. Of course it is. Dave Chappelle left Comedy Central when he felt he was creatively compromised. After a period of relative exile, he’s now making as much money with Netflix as he left on the table before and wields enough power and respect for the multibillion-dollar company to honor his wishes.

It’s a story of perseverance, betting on yourself, and leveraging your gifts to write your own legacy. Again, in a vacuum. But Chappelle, one of the most dissected and gravitational figures in pop culture, will never live in a vacuum. And in order to properly contextualize his power move — as related in “Unforgiven,” an 18-minute performance the comic uploaded to Instagram yesterday — we have to establish its deep irony.

For the past few years, since his return to mainstream consciousness, Chappelle has taken it upon himself to wave the flag of comedians’ right to tell any types of jokes they want, no matter whom they offend. To prove this point, Chappelle has peppered his stand-ups with jokes at the expense of the trans community. And as members of that community have voiced their anger and hurt over these jokes (which are among the least funny or creative in his arsenal), Chappelle has only responded with defiance and more disregard. He’s labeled the backlash as censorship or cancel culture instead of thoughtfully addressing the feelings and worries from a community continuously terrorized by prejudice and hate.

So it’s quite the plot twist that Chappelle is engaging in the same sort of behavior he’s railed against for the past few years. Sure, Chappelle’s initial anger over Chappelle’s Show being streamed on HBO Max and Netflix came from the fact that he wasn’t getting paid for it. But that ship has sailed. Chappelle will never see another dime from Chappelle’s Show. No, the reason he reached out to Netflix was, by…

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David Dennis, Jr.
LEVEL

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us