The Closer: Dave Chappelle’s Controversial Netflix Special Explained

Dave Chappelle is not new to transphobic commentary but his latest special has rubbed some people the wrong way.

News Brian Webb

This article was published on October 26th, 2021

Over the past few weeks, there has been a hue and cry over comedian Dave Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special, The Closer, due to his comments about transgender people. The stand-up comedy special, which debuted on Oct. 5, has led to a series of protests from the LGBTQ community, including Netflix’s transgender employees. 

So much has been the backlash that Netflix has been coerced to remove the program from its streaming service. However, the company’s co-CEO, Ted Sarandos, has backed Chappelle, citing his right to “creative freedom and artistic expression.” On the other hand, Dave Chappelle has slammed the cancel culture, saying recently: “If this is what being cancelled is about, I love it.”

Here’s all you need to know about the special and why Chappelle is not likely to bow down to the backlash anytime soon.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni.

‘The Closer’ and the trans controversy

Dave Chappelle is not new to telling transphobic jokes. Some of his recent stand-up shows have been criticized for being heavily laced with transphobic and homophobic commentary.

In 2016, he said he didn’t want “a woman with a dick” using the urinal next to him in the bathroom. He also defended former U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military. 

The 48-year-old then made fun of Caitlyn Jenner’s idea of posing nude on the cover of Sports Illustrated, saying: “I read in the paper that Caitlyn Jenner was contemplating posing nude in an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated…F***, man, I just want to read some stats, like why are you cramming man-pu*sy in the middle of the sports page like that?” 

Chappelle also called transgender people “confusing” in his 2019 Netflix special Sticks and Stones.

And so it doesn’t come as a surprise that his latest special carries on with the deep transphobic onslaught. In the 70-minute show, Chappelle doubles down on transphobic jokes while defending author JK Rowling’s comments about trans people. He announces that he is “team TERF”, adding that “gender is a fact”, and he agrees with Rowling. 

‘Team TERF’

“They cancelled J.K. Rowling – my God,” Chappelle says. “Effectively, she said gender was a fact. The trans community got mad as f—, they started calling her a TERF. I’m Team TERF. I agree. I agree, man. Gender is a fact.”

The term TERF is an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” and refers to transphobic feminists.

Throughout the special, Chappelle makes tongue-in-cheek jokes about race and faults the LGBTQ+ community for “punching down” on Black people by creating a “cancel culture”, as was the case with rapper Dababy who stirred a storm after making homophobic remarks. 

He argues that his jokes target queer white people who still ill-treat Black people. “I have never had a problem with transgender people. If you listen to what I’m saying clearly, my problem has always been with white people,” he says.

At the end of The Closer, Chappelle pledges not to be making jokes about the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I am not telling another joke about you until we are both sure that we are laughing together.

“I’m done talking about it. All I ask of your community, with all humility: Will you please stop punching down on my people?”

Protests and the Netflix firestorm

The show drew a lot of criticism online just days after its release. Many people have called on Netflix to take down the special. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Netflix employees walked out of work in protest of Chappelle’s special. The organizers said that the rally aimed to “underscore the importance of responsible content offerings that prioritize the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities.”

Media watchdog group GLAAD is among a host of organizations that lauded Netflix’s employees, allies and LGBTQ and Black advocates “calling for accountability and change within Netflix and in the entertainment industry as a whole.”

The Netflix top brass has, however, continued defending the special with Sarandos, claiming in an email: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.

“Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others.” 

In the wake of the protests, the company suspended a trans employee for making comments about the stand-up special. In a series of tweets, Terra Field, a software engineer, said that Chappelle “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness,” in The Closer. Netflix, however, denied suspending Terra on the basis of her tweets.

‘Not bending to anyone’s demands’

Amidst all the controversy surrounding the show, Dave Chappelle said this week that he is willing to meet with the transgender community but won’t ‘bend to anyone’s demands.’

“To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody’s demands,” Chappelle said in a clip posted Monday on Instagram. He also set out certain conditions for meeting with trans Netflix employees.

“First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing, at a time of my choosing. And thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.” Gadsby, an out Australian comedian, was recently critical of Chappelle and Netflix for airing the special which she labelled “hate speech”.

What next for Dave Chappelle?

The Closer, the sixth installment in Chappelle’s Netflix deal, will be his last special for a while. 

For now, the comedian plans to bring a documentary about him across ten cities in the U.S. The documentary, he said in the Instagram video, is being shunned by film distributors after the controversy surrounding ‘The Closer’ special.

“I desperately want people to see this movie but I understand why investors would be nervous,” Chappelle said in the video. 

He thanked Netflix and its co-CEO for defending him despite the outrage. “Thank God for Ted Sarandos and Netflix. He’s the only one that didn’t cancel me yet.”

Chappelle promised his fans: “You will be able to see this movie in its entirety and you can see what they’re trying to obstruct you from seeing and you can judge for yourself.”

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