"I'm like the rap version of Dave Chappelle. A lot of times, I'll make you laugh to keep from crying. I always think about entertainment first."
In 2005, after releasing his second album, Late Registration, Kanye drew comparisons to himself and famed comedian Dave Chappelle, noting that the two would locate the nexus of humor and entertainment in complex social situations while also tunneling to the very core truth of an issue. In my own personal case, when Kanye said she couldn't afford a car so she named her daughter Alexis, he spoke my truth.
For a long time, it felt like Kanye and his ego found themselves routinely crashing into the righteous truth of a situation, however brass and inelegantly they made their way there. Though the public wouldn't typically like the way Kanye declared whatever bit of information he suddenly had to share, usually upon months or even years of reflection, we could determine that there was credence to what Kanye had to say (see timeskanye.com/timesright). Of course, his outbursts became more and more regressive to the point where none of his headline-making quotes felt justifiable, and he became a much more difficult to figure to support. And while there's no reducing the dissonance shared by Kanye's fans and consumers to a singular starting moment, I know that my image of him was irrevocably altered the moment he dawned the MAGA hat, and it's really been a mess ever since.
As far as TimesKanye's go, this is a tricky one in terms of category. Technically, this is a time Kanye was logically right, but the parallels between Dave Chappelle and Kanye in recent years have been Bad Reasons (TM). Dave Chappelle, while perhaps not as extreme, follows a similar arc in his success and his moral devolution. Like Kanye, Dave has been called the GOAT of his field, albeit in both of their cases, on many occasions that title has been self-imposed. Both artists have not shied away from their respective accolades. During his Netflix run, Dave noted that he's reached a point in his career that he no longer wants to do comedy solely because he's just too good at it, there's no longer a challenge or risk factor. Kanye has been even more vocal in his self-congratulatory remarks, uttering classics that would embarrass John Lennon, who famously said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
If we could extract all of the pure self-confidence from a single earlobe in Kanye's body, filtering out the ego and deep-seated insecurities that drive some of his more bizarre behavior, and infuse all of that confidence into the world's teenagers I'm pretty sure we would end all wars, toxic workplaces and broken families, if any scientists or doctors are looking for a new project.
Alongside all of this pride, both Dave and Kanye (whose names both only contain the vowels A&E like the TV station. Coincidence? I think so, absolutely, yes.) have for themselves and their work, bolstered by society's head nodding in unbridled approval, it seems that both these men have reached a point where they feel they can do no wrong, especially when it comes to their own creative crafts. Yes, Kanye may in fact be the rap Dave Chappelle, which is no compliment to either of them.
Dave prides himself in breaking through to the truth. He was always considered one of the greatest at distilling the realities of our society through a variety of lenses, racial and socioeconomic most notably, but just generally he took on the general comedy-philosopher role. When Louis CK was exposed for his past behavior, Chappelle's figure as the all funny truth-teller loomed even larger. While Louis didn't disappear (in fact apparently he headlines all over Europe, notably war-torn capital cities), he lost the moral authority necessary to fuel what had made his work so brilliant. He was honest and reduced our bullshit to a small palatable sliver, understanding our society in ways that even the best of us seemed incapable of doing. His diatribe on the English language made me feel like he knew me better than I knew myself. Of course, his own failings were much larger than the ones he tried to condemn on-stage and the posture that made his work so instructive and refined immediately vaporized. Dave seemed to be another person we could turn to, someone who could us help us understand our world and make us smile while doing it.
And then Dave got real dumb.
In recent years, Dave has taken on a much-reported one-sided rivalry with the Trans community, in which he spews dangerous rhetoric about trans folk on a national level and the Trans community in return... does nothing to him beyond simply asking to be left alone. However, Dave in his infinite wisdom that we've attributed to him, feels he can do no wrong. So rather than admit flaws in his perspective, he's doubled down on his incredibly dangerous speech.
Truthfully, Dave doesn't deserve this post and Kanye probably doesn't deserve this blog, but we're working out what it means to be a society with fallen heroes together so here we are. It is worth noting, however, that not only were Dave's jokes offensive, they were markedly not funny. There was no GOAT-like behavior in really any of Dave's past few specials. Jokes can be offensive and still be a strong piece of comedy. A great example of an offensive yet funny joke can be found in Dave's most recent special, although it isn't even his. He tells a story of an interaction he had during the first Women's March in 2017. He had texted a friend, a black woman named Angie asking if she would be attending the seeming display of feminist solidarity. Angie responded, "Man, I hope those white bitches get tear-gassed." White women, while they experience oppression in our society, they are not at the same level of vulnerability as Black women, and their brand of feminism has historically left Black women behind. The joke is dark, but it highlights a truth about our country in a way that inevitably makes you smile at such a bold sting.
Of course white women occupy a position of privilege in our society, this is especially true in relation to the experience of trans people generally and trans folk of color. However, jokes about people doesn't have to be relative to whether or not they are generally privileged in society or whether they occupy more privilege than me. There's the age-old distinction between punching up or punching down in comedy, where it's much more palatable to mock someone who holds more power than you do than vice versa. That's true, and it's an easy formula but I think it's an oversimplification. You don't get a green pass if you mock someone who has more and influence than you do but doing so by honing in on an aspect of their identity that has historically put them in danger. There are ways to find comedy in tragedy, in the experiences of those who have been rendered most vulnerable within our society without up-charging the danger the stigma attached to some of their identities. It's not that Daves's jokes weren't funny because they were about trans people, it's that they were illogical. They drew on the same frivolous bullshit that makes life for trans people extremely challenging, let alone dangerous. For example, a recurring theme in Dave's issues with the LGBTQ+ community was the speed at which they had mobilized and garnered support for their cause, outpacing the nation's action on Civil Rights regarding Black folks. Dave highlights how lopsided he feels the equation is, and it's clear he feels it's an us and them situation, with Black people on one side and the Queer community on the other. Starkly absent in his analysis is that huge swaths of our own Black community are also trans, are also gay, are also Queer. Dave's notions of Black liberation were reserved only for people like him, cis and male. You can't be the GOAT if your logic is predicated on something so basically flawed. That's just the start of Dave's logical flaws. None of his material related to the Trans community really makes sense. It's clear he's sitting with some personal uncomfortability, and he's working it out in the worst way possible while dragging us along with him. It's embarrassing. It's material that never should have seen the light of day, never mind repeated inclusion in a series of specials on the most popular streaming platform. When Dave received immense pushback on each and every special released by Netflix, he responded to the criticism by further entrenching himself. He repeatedly noted that critics were overreacting, that members of the LGBTQ+ community needed to calm down. In short, he did what he's complained about white people doing to Black people for generations. He became the arbiter of power in a power imbalance, and rather than allow his own experiences to impact his response, he allowed his limited perspective to rule his response. He became White.
Then of course, there's also the danger element to Dave's discourse. Trans people are extremely vulnerable in our society. An oft-quoted statistic is that the average life span of a trans woman is 35 years old. While this number may not necessarily be accurate, many people tend to use it to describe how charged and vulnerable the experience of trans people can be in our society. The trans community also sees higher rates of poverty in the US. 29% of trans folk live in poverty, and those numbers become more stark when controlled for race: 39% Black trans adults and 48% of Latinx trans adults and 35% of Alaska Native, Asian, Native Americans and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander trans adults live in prove. More than half of trans people report experiencing intimate partner violence and 47% report experiencing sexual assault in their lifetimes. 375 trans people were murdered the year Dave released the final installment in his Netflix series. Of course, Dave is not directly responsible for the murder of these people; however, his rhetoric does not exist in a vacuum. Culture matters, and when someone as lauded as Dave Chappelle (the day Dave won the Mark Twain prize it felt like they had resurrected Jesus, Albert Einstein and Harriet Tubman to honor them all in one big extravaganza) uses their immense platform to further subjugate the identity of vulnerable communities, they become complicit in the violence Trans folk experience.