Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special has everyone question what does it mean to have artistic freedom and when is someone crossing the line. The Closer, his “last” stand-up for Netflix, took a particular stance against trans people and the LGBTQIA+ community and many have called for Netflix to remove the special. The company is reportedly backing the comedian however, and keeping the special up. While some focus on Chappelle, others wonder if comedians are being scrutinized like never before in this era of cancel culture.
The Closer will remain on Netflix according to a statement from the streaming giants CEO Ted Sarados. Sarados sent out a memo to the company staff in support of the special and Dave Chappelle artistic freedom. In it he said, “Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him. His last special, Sticks & Stones, also controversial, is our most-watched, stickiest, and most award-winning stand-up special to date. As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom – even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful.”
He goes on to list other properties like Cuties, 365 Days, 13 Reasons Why, and My Unorthodox Life that have all faced a level of criticism. He then says that “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.” Sarados was sure to point out that stand-up comedy is made to push boundaries and that he understands sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish the difference between harmful content and real-world commentary.
The memo went out today and coincided with some employees at Netflix being suspended. While it was initially believed that trans employee Tarra Field was suspended for tweets issued on October 6th about Chappelle, it was later revealed that she and several other employees actually stormed a meeting in protest of The Closer that they were not supposed to attend. Her 10/6 tweet read, “I work at @netflix. Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community and the very validity of transness – all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups.” While rumors of her and other staff crashing a meeting have yet to be confirmed, she did retweet someone saying, “I can’t imagine that anyone who organizes at work or speaks up about the negative stuff their employer does is expecting that it’ll go off without a hitch and the employer will be like ‘ah yes, cool, you were right”.
While so much of the focus is rightfully on Chappelle and his special, the true ramifications of this can eventually affect how comedians operate going forward. Chappelle is not the first under fire but one of the few who has been defended publicly under the idea of artist freedom. Artist freedom is defined as “the freedom to imagine, create and distribute diverse cultural expressions free of governmental censorship, political interference or the pressures of non-state actors.”
It is great to see that Netflix has given Chappelle full support. Recent years have seen several others completely canceled. Roseanne Barr was set for a massive comeback in 2017 with the reboot of her self-titled series. However, a racist tweet derailed this for her. ABC promptly severed ties with the comedian and wrote her off her own show. The Roseanne Show was rebranded as The Connors and has been going strong ever since.
Dennis Miller was also canceled well before cancel culture was properly a term. The former Weekend Update host made some outlandish and Islamaphobic jokes in 2011. While appearing on the Bill O’Reilly show, he said “I just flew five hours from L.A. to New York next to an Islamic kid who was in his 30s. I couldn’t even watch the movie. I just fantasized [about] hitting him in the head with an elbow if he went up.”
Dave Chappelle’s friend and fellow comic Chris Rock spoke on how cancel culture is hindering comics. Speaking with the Breakfast Club, he acknowledges that while some things should not be said and certain communities should most certainly be looked after, comedians still need to be able to push buttons. “When everybody gets safe and nobody tries anything, things get boring. I see a lot unfunny comedians, I see unfunny TV shows, I see unfunny award shows, I see unfunny movies ’cause no one’s — everybody’s scared to, like, you know, make a move,” said the SNL alumni.