If you’re ever lost in the woods, say that people who don’t get offended at jokes which are not targeting them aren’t particularly rational or special and they will find you so they can tell you you're ruining the world. That’s what happened to me when I suggested Dave Chappelle’s hot takes like “I don’t want to believe childhood rape survivors because Thriller is a good album” and “trans people are annoying” in his latest Netflix special Sticks and Stones were just mean garbage and not really cutting edge take downs of cancel culture like so many of his fans assumed it was.
I could write an entire musical based on my hate mail from this piece alone, but one thing that struck me was people claiming that Dave Chappelle is an equal-opportunity offender. Wall Street Journal said it, as did Chappelle Show writer Neal Brennan.
He’s not, though. No one is. No, not even South Park.
What this phrase is supposed to indicate is that there is nothing safe from the edgy Jokerman. No sacred cows, no holds barred, no sleep till Brooklyn. It’s a rebel yell, and like most rebel yells it’s the sort of thing you hear from people who aren’t thinking things through very far.
It’s a lie because all art is a choice. Being that there are a near-infinite number of things to joke about and an equally near-infinite number of ways to tell those jokes, at some point a comedian must by necessity narrow that field down to what they care the most about. Neither Chappelle nor any other comedian have some sort of weird social duty where they simply must comment on every single thing they see lest they be accused of the dreaded bias.
Side note: it’s fine to be biased. Anyone who says it isn’t just doesn’t like your particular bias.
Their work is curated and workshopped. It’s a craft, and the jokes you hear in a Netflix special are the final product. That means that Chappelle chose to tell those specific jokes for personal reasons. They aren’t an obligation he is discharging, but an act of creation that he meant to do. No one gets an hour-long televised comedy special by accident. The opportunities he seizes are punching-down offal.
That choice is what invites criticism. When you say “I am going to mock trans people instead of X” it implies that’s where your priorities are. The time that is spent disbelieving rape survivors could be spent on, say, how fragile white dudes are when you use the word privilege. It would be equally offensive, just as the phrase promises, but lots of comedians choose not to go there. It’s because they don’t want to, not because they have achieved some sort of zen-like state of perfectly aware offense understanding. Jokes aren't a weather event that just happens; comedians say them on purpose.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
What is the obsession with “balance” when it comes to offense? It’s supposed to imply nuance but really just comes off confused and disturbed. People who rake Scientologists over the coals then turns around to sneer at feminists are not actually displaying balance. All they’re doing is listing two separate things that annoy them to the point of professional irritation. It’s not “fair.” You don’t have to blast LGBT people every time you tell a mean joke about Fox News in order to achieve sacred harmony. You could, instead, just tell the jokes that express your art and how you feel about the world.
It’s partially about agendas. Being willing to take pot shots at anyone is supposed to relieve a special of the specter of having apolitical agenda. That’s ridiculous. Something is not not-an-agenda just because it isn’t politically correct. It’s as much an agenda as anything else. The absence of sensitivity is not apolitical. It’s just the politics of the privileged, who are used to being considered “normal.”
What's the agenda of the "everyone is too easily offended crowd?" Could be a lot of different things. I'd say it's probably in part to capitalize on the niche of alt-right dollars that flow so freely in the Era of Trump. Or maybe it's an honest confession of feeling unmoored in a world that cares more than you're able to. You also can't rule out the possibility that they simply don't like rape survivors coming forward or trans people taking up space, even if they say that's not the case. Regardless, there is something behind who they choose to offend.
Hiding behind the idea of “equal opportunity offender” is a yet another way for cruelty to masquerade as humor. It fundamentally denies the obligation of comedy to tell hard truths instead of shoring up oppressive status quos. Every person saying the “equal opportunity offender” line has an agenda. They just don’t have the courage to state what that agenda is. It’s cowardly nonsense.