"I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go astray. But when I woke up this morning, could've sworn it was judgement day." -The Artist known as Prince, "1999"
Dave Chappelle is on a roll. Having released his newest stand-up special on Netflix brazenly titled, “Sticks and Stones.” During the hour-long set, Dave pokes fun at everyone from Anthony Bourdain to opioid users to “the alphabet people” and gives courageous defenses of “canceled” celebrities like Louis C.K, Michael Jackson and Kevin Hart. The show is outrageously funny. It proves Chappelle has never been better than he is right now. And it also proves that in the culture war we seem to be having in 2019, the only person winning it, has to be him.
What’s so unique about Dave’s special is how effortlessly he weaves in elegant, thought-provoking commentary with well-timed humor and brazen hostility. It’s what makes Dave’s jokes work. He starts out by reminding us all that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. He then precedes to tell us a story about a guy he knew from the hood. Interspersed with a carefully chosen lyric from Prince’s hit song “1999”.
"They say 2000 zero,zero party's over, oops out of time. So tonight, I'm gonna party like it's 1999."
When he reaches the punchline, the effect is gut-busting hilarity. It’s an interesting window into how Dave’s creative mind works. He’s setting up a story, by telling another one in relation to something we’re already familiar with, and throws in a brief excerpt of a song, with seemingly no bearing on the actual story, but more so on the evening, we’re about to experience. It’s deliberate and meaningful.
To explain it more clearly, I’d have to compare Chappelle’s comedy to a delicious meal. It leaves you full, satisfied, yet craving more and eager to return once you’re done digesting this one.
"Tell me something. You mother f****** can't tell me nothin'. I'd rather die than to listen to you." -Kendrick Lamar, "DNA" Pulitzer Prize Winner
The rest of the special is a non-stop master class on comedy. And specifically, a type of comedy we haven’t seen in a while. Gone are the days of the unrestrained filth of Eddie Murphy, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, or Andrew Dice Clay. Or the daring, insightful social commentary of George Carlin, Bill Hicks, and Chris Rock. Without realizing it, we’ve allowed our comedy to be sterilized. Sensitized. It’s very concerned about not hurting anyone’s feelings, or upsetting anyone when this never used to be the case.
Comedy was meant to offend everyone because it is a form of escapism, it is the moment in which we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we learn to laugh at ourselves. Chappelle is comfortably aware of this and has decided to take on the mantle of the dissident, armed with comedy so sharp that all who come against it look like toddlers throwing tantrums.
Within the first few minutes of his special, he tries an impression of a simple-minded person threatening to end people’s career if they find out anything about their past, and he asks his audience to guess who it is, and when they inevitably guess wrong, he points out that it’s actually us. He says, “That’s what the audience sounds like to me.” And he’s right. In the age of social media, where celebrities and public figures, are more accessible, the pseudo-woke crowd is in a frenzy to catch anyone doing anything they deem wrong at any time and they are ready to heckle, shame, and boycott them out of existence.
It’s this point that makes Chappelle’s stand-up so relevant. When a comedian can so accurately pinpoint the times we’re in, and find creative, nuanced ways to find humor in it, that is what makes them one of the greats. “Sticks and Stones” isn’t without its flaws though. His inaccurate depiction of the transgender community is still displayed in one joke where he acts like he’s Chinese, and finishes the joke by saying, “This is how I feel inside.” It’s probably the weakest joke of the entire set and of Dave’s last 5 specials, but its weakness is brought out because of the other impressive trans-community jokes he delivers in this special including a story he tells about a trans-woman named Daphne (which is in the 22 min epilogue at the end and is definitely worth sticking around for.)
Then there are moments of just pure laughter, when he recounts the story of Jussie Smollet, (which he pronounces “Juicy Smoo-yay” and it’s funny every time he says it.) or when he tells of defending his home with a shotgun against heroin addicts, and there are more and more examples of that throughout the entire special.
What’s got to be infuriating, or possibly motivating, for Chappelle is how little people actually listen to his comedy and simply just interpret the negatives to suit their narratives. And that’s exactly why this special was so genuine because it shows us what Dave has been trying to tell us all along: Comedy is not a lecture. He’s not a philosopher or a politician. He can’t do anything that will affect your life positively or negatively except make you laugh. So why the hate? Why blame the comedian? Why center all your frustration and aggression and twitter fingers towards someone who’s just telling jokes? Because maybe you’re so brittle that sticks and stones aren’t the only things that will hurt you, and that, like Dave Chappelle also said, is not his fault.