JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a visit with
comedian Dave Chappelle, and how he’s returned
in a major way this past year.
Jeffrey Brown has a look at how Chappelle’s
stand-up shows on Netflix are getting lots
of attention, but are also the subject of
criticism in a way that is different from
JEFFREY BROWN: Ask Dave Chappelle about the
job of being a comedian, he says this:
DAVE CHAPPELLE, Comedian: I don’t think people
pay money to see a guy speak precisely and
I don’t think they want to pay to see somebody
worried about the repercussions of what they
They just want to see someone try to get at
something honest, or maybe something relatable,
or have some fun with something.
Don’t you think it’s like a suspicious, just
a little bit suspicious, that every dead black
person police find has crack sprinkled on
I mean, come on.
JEFFREY BROWN: Beginning in the mid-’90s,
in TV specials…
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Good evening, and welcome
to the first, and maybe only, racial draft
here in New York City.
JEFFREY BROWN: … and his brilliant Comedy
Central “Chappelle Show,” Dave Chappelle made
a name for himself as one of the smartest
and sharpest comedians around, always unpredictable,
but alive to the craziness and contradictions
of American culture, especially the way it
deals with race.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: For shizzle.
JEFFREY BROWN: He walked away from the limelight
for nearly a decade, making only occasional
DAVE CHAPPELLE: This is the age of spin.
JEFFREY BROWN: But starting last fall, he
returned in a big way, releasing four Netflix
specials, winning a Grammy for best comedy
album, and touring the country with his stand-up.
We talked recently before a show at San Francisco’s
historic Fillmore Auditorium.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: I started really young, so
you have got to think, like, this relationship
I have with an audience is one of the most
consistent relationships that I have in my
life at my age.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: This idea of talking to people
this way and them listening, and it means
a lot for people to be able to stand up somewhere
and say, this is what I think or this is how
I’m black, but I’m also Dave Chappelle.
JEFFREY BROWN: There’s still plenty of side-splitting
humor, and Chappelle’s continued to push buttons,
but now many are pushing back, critical of
his jokes involving transgender people, for
example, and parts of his routine that focus
on sexual misconduct charges against prominent
men, including fellow comedian Louis C.K.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: This is, like, where it’s
hard to be a man.
One lady said, Louis C.K. masturbated in front
of me, ruined my comedy dreams.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Well, then I dare say, madam,
you may have never had a dream.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Come on, man.
That’s a brittle spirit.
JEFFREY BROWN: A regular theme for Chappelle
now, that Americans today are overly sensitive
about what can and cannot be said in public.
I asked if he felt that way.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Yes and no.
Sometimes, I think that we’re painfully desensitized,
because we’re bombarded by so much information.
And then other times, I think people — it’s
just — there’s a lot to be mad at, especially
when you know so much.
So I think it’s a challenging time.
I think that, in a time like that, I, for
one, find solace in the arts.
I don’t have to agree with all the art I consume,
but it helps me understand how I actually
feel about it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are you surprised, though,
by the criticism that’s come your way?
DAVE CHAPPELLE: No.
And I don’t mind that people get upset.
Some of this criticism, like, it is helpful.
I get educated by it.
I don’t necessarily agree with all of it,
but I learn about a lot of things just from
JEFFREY BROWN: One recent special, titled
“Bird Revelation,” began with Chappelle thinking
aloud about humor’s boundaries.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: I say a lot of mean things,
but you guys got to remember, I’m not saying
it to be mean.
I’m saying it because it’s funny.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: And everything’s funny until
it happens to you.
JEFFREY BROWN: If bad things happen to someone
else, that’s not necessarily funny.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Look at it this way.
I grew up in the crack epidemic.
I tell jokes about it, growing up in the crack
And now there’s the opioid epidemic.
Are they treating the opioid epidemic the
way that they treated the crack epidemic?
No, this is a national health emergency.
When we were coming up, we were policed by
the National Guard, addicts were criminals.
Now they’re saying addicts are sick people.
And maybe it’s because the demographic of
the opioid epidemic is not the same demographic
of the crack epidemic.
JEFFREY BROWN: Racially.
You’re talking about race.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Right.
So now that your community is getting destroyed,
it’s then a whole other ball game.
And then you have — it’s a huge window of
oh, my God, we can see each other.
We both went through similar pain.
But I’m just saying, everything’s funny until
it happens to you is more about empathy, there
but for the grace of God.
Scary being a white dude now, isn’t it?
A little bit, no?
Well, you’re not going to get MeToo-ed.
It’s funny for a black dude to see white people
go through this, because this is how it always
is for us.
All my heroes is either murdered by the government
or registered sex offenders.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the MeToo moment, does that
change the line for you of what you feel you
can say or not say?
DAVE CHAPPELLE: Honestly speaking?
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: I have no idea.
JEFFREY BROWN: Really?
DAVE CHAPPELLE: I don’t know.
Like, we’re all figuring this out, I think,
at the same time together.
This is a huge collective moment.
But, as a comedian, that can be a very, very
difficult thing not to talk about.
As a human, it’s a very difficult thing not
to feel, to be indifferent to it.
Everywhere you look in America, everyone’s
pushing the line in one way or another.
We got this president because some people
said, we have got to push the line.
And we have this movement because people are
like, we have got to push the line.
And we another movement — this is a really
I don’t know what the line is.
But there’s a lot of change.
Obviously, Bill Cosby was a hero to me.
JEFFREY BROWN: Chappelle often talks of Bill
Cosby in his routines.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: My God, you can’t imagine.
It’d be as if you heard that chocolate ice
cream itself had raped 54 people.
DAVE CHAPPELLE: You would say to yourself,
oh, man, but I like chocolate ice cream.
I don’t want it to rape.
JEFFREY BROWN: Our conversation took place
soon after Cosby’s conviction, and Chappelle
spoke of watching one of his victims outside
DAVE CHAPPELLE: I remember seeing her sobbing.
And the emotional content of her crying, I
can’t — only she knows what that meant to
But justice was meted out for this woman.
And it didn’t look gleeful.
You know what I mean?
Like, it’s tough to see your heroes fall,
let alone be a villain.
I was explaining to some of my younger family
members, like, who he was at one point, juxtaposed
to what’s happened now.
And it’s sad for everybody.
It’s very, very, very, very — it felt like,
this is important.
JEFFREY BROWN: Dave Chappelle says that, while
he walked away from all this once, he continues
to enjoy getting up on stage.
“Sometimes,” he told me, “I have things to
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some sobering words.