Dave Chappelle would not have been invited to speak on Friday at Radio City Music Hall had a growing chorus of critics failed to persuade the Recording Academy to rescind the comedian’s “record of the year” nomination for 2017’s universally praised set. If Chappelle had lost out on an award, that would be one thing. But the willingness of the Academy to let the controversial comedian, who dropped out of touring amid allegations of sexual misconduct, speak at all has brought attention to not only the Golden Globes’ all-black protest earlier this year and this year’s Anita Hill/ Clarence Thomas U.S. Supreme Court hearings joke, but the other 2019 awards-season nominations for Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari (both of whom have been similarly criticized for sexual misconduct).
More recently, Louis C.K.’s cultural notoriety was revived after it emerged that comedy friends, including Chappelle, had failed to respond to his alleged sexual assault in 2014. C.K. turned down the chance to participate in this year’s televised Oscars and used the proceeds to give back to women’s rights organizations. But despite that and the insults hurled by his audiences, he still led with his awards’ statue, handed out to him onstage by Ellen DeGeneres. “I made some mistakes,” he said. “And I’ve learned from them.”
“It’s really the stuff that Dave has taken on that I think is so powerful,” Roquette ‘s Vandal creator and star Vinay Menon told Vulture. “It’s really the stuff that Dave has taken on that I think is so powerful. ‘In The Heights’ made me fall in love with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Aziz Ansari and Dave Chappelle — their work is funny. Their work is more than funny, which, I mean, as a comedian, it’s rare. It’s unusual to be working in this genre of comedy that’s at its highest level.”
With this point, Seuge agreed, “Dave has these incredibly strong convictions. Dave’s comedy is not only funny, it’s about political ideology, it’s about our responsibility as human beings. And we’re seeing him speak up with intent. He was wanting to make a statement. And the political statements that he makes in his act are not soundbites that everybody takes away. They’re about a discussion, it’s about a debate, about advocacy.”
On this point, “the rap on Dave is him being malicious,” noted Veena Sud, who created FX’s The Americans. She added, “It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re telling people that ‘shut up’ is an insult? And all of a sudden, how old-fashioned is that? You can’t say that, you can’t lecture people that way.’ It’s a coward’s way out of this.”
Not all of Chappelle’s peers have been bemused. Louis C.K. made a statement after he was nominated, saying, “These nomination are disgusting. And they’re indicative of a music industry that traffics in blackface.” And the seemingly confrontational Louis C.K. made a series of vulgar jokes at a Los Angeles show: “I felt the same way when I was 13.”
Perhaps recognizing that for himself, Chappelle, having been overlooked by Comedy Central’s Saturday Night Live for its 40th anniversary show, said, “There’s nothing wrong with ‘shut up’ as long as you don’t … think you know anything.”