I’m going to go ahead and predict this to be the weirdest review of a comedy show ever written. The whole thing is probably a reach, but it’s how my mind works, so here goes.
I was sitting in the fourth row of my favorite theater venue in existence–the opulent and historic Palace of Louisville Kentucky. I watched Lecrae & Andy Mineo rap this room into a frenzy a few months ago, and as a long time comedy buff, I once crossed off a bucket list item here by finally seeing Jerry Seinfeld live. Tonight it was Dave Chappelle, and as a bearer of the Holy Spirit I knew it wasn’t going to be the same as it once was, but decided to spend an hour and observe it anyway.
I don’t have a great answer for why I was there. I was offered a ticket for free and comedy intrigues me greatly. Dave Chappelle disappeared for years and part of me wanted to hear from him again. I was a super fan—one of the many who purchased those Chappelle Show dvd’s that lead to the massive payday he wound up “running away from”.
For those who don’t know, Dave Chappelle had one of the most successful sketch comedy shows of all time. As his fame skyrocketed through the roof, Hollywood showed up with a silver platter of an offer they thought he couldn’t refuse, but Chappelle genuinely saw the evils of the industry. He shocked the world by refusing and then went on hiatus in Africa just to get away from the crazy people who were calling him crazy for turning the offer down. Frankly, to this day I admire him for it, and was very curious about why he was jumping back into the spotlight. I still don’t know the answer to that, but have to assume he loves what he does and has figured out how to do it while keeping Hollywood at a distance.
To me, a great joke is often a unique take on the truth that happens to make me laugh. Seinfeld made a fortune with a “show about nothing”. They literally filmed nine seasons of unique, often meaningless observations about life that happened to be hilarious to a lot of people, but that’s all it was. I’m not making light of it at all–to me that’s why it’s brilliant, but as I sat there Thursday night with a Christian worldview intact, it occurred to me that the job of a comedian is getting easier every day. It’s crazy, but think about it, when the world decides that truth is whatever you would like it to be, then it also decides that lying doesn’t have consequences.
When someone starts telling a bunch of lies, it’s only a matter of time before they make a big enough fool out of themselves that making fun of them becomes shooting fish in a barrel. Why do you think Washington D.C. has become a content honey hole for every comedian in existence? It’s because they’re lying every chance they get, and we all know it! Of course the problem is that most comedians don’t understand the foundation of truth, and therefore are often horribly wrong, but not always.
For whatever reason, Dave Chappelle has found himself motivated to make transgender beliefs the target of his jokes to the tune of about one-third of this hour-long show being about them. He walked out in a shirt that read,
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”,
and proceeded to tell this collection of transgender jokes from a perspective of someone fully aware of the oppression his own people faced for centuries, and who doesn’t always appreciate the plight of transgenders being equated to it. There were jokes highlighting it clearly being a choice, and as you can imagine, the notion that once we decide we can be trans-something we’ll decide we can be trans-anything.
It was interesting to witness, and the tagline “it’s funny cause it’s true” was the sentiment of the room. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I didn’t get my fair share of laughs in, but I walked away realizing what I had seen, and knowing that the world doesn’t need this sort of brutal honesty. As he detailed for us, the transgender community is currently not happy at all with Dave. He has this massive platform that’s capable of real influence, and some resemblance of the truth is coming from it, but it’s not going to get anywhere. Humans tend to foolishly measure influence by how much attention we can get, but God wants to know what we’ll actually do with it once we have it.
Of course, defending the truth is probably not Dave’s goal, but as Christians, it’s ours and we have a responsibility to study how to handle it. He’s up there with a watered down version of the truth, and to say it with grace and love is nowhere on the radar of possibilities. We have to tell the whole truth, and if we don’t include a heaping dose of both grace and love then it’s not going anywhere for us either.
If Dave was coming from any sort of notion of needing to defend the truth, it was as a black man. I not being one, make no attempt to sit here and pretend I understand a pair of shoes I’ve never taken a step in. What I do have is a multitude of African-American friends who tell me they’re tired of watching socially conscious messages fail their people because they don’t carry the power of the Gospel with them. I get it though, and if in his shoes I’d be strongly tempted to say everything Dave said, but as is often the case with God, the conversation has to be bigger.
Perhaps comedy isn’t a good medium for it. I’m the type to want to believe it could be, but I simply don’t know. At this point, I’ve never witnessed a Christian attempt comedy where they specifically did so in a way that highlighted hard truths about culture through the Christian worldview. Please let me know in the comments if I just haven’t found it yet, because I genuinely believe that would be an amazing accomplishment. Our culture is looking incredibly foolish, but for those who genuinely want to see change, we’re going to have to do a whole lot more than make fun of it.