Dave Chappelle. (Getty/Eamonn M. McCormack)
Dave Chappelle clashed with students at his former high school who called him a “childish bigot” with a brittle ego.
After making cruel jabs against trans people in his latest Netflix special, The Closer, Chappelle has become a lightning rod for criticism.
Instead of apologising, he has instead leaned hard into the conflict and decried so-called “cancel culture” – even as The Closer touched off a walkout among Black and trans Netflix staff.
On Tuesday (23 November), Chappelle, 48, was lambasted by students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington DC.
The school had postponed his appearance at a fundraiser amid student uproar, but it happened nevertheless, Politico reported, to the surprise of students.
But the comedian, who graduated from the top school in 1991, ended up addressing more than 580 students inside the auditorium – then the questions and answers session happened.
Dave Chappelle called a ‘bigot’ by 16-year-old
“I’m 16 and I think you’re childish, you handled it like a child,” one student simmered, before calling him a “bigot”.
“My friend, with all due respect, I don’t believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day,” Chappelle replied, in comments confirmed by Chappelle’s spokesperson.
Another student bluntly heckled during the session: “Your comedy kills.”
“N****rs are killed every day,” Chappelle hit back. “The media’s not here, right?”
In response to another barbed question, Chappelle said: “I’m better than every instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you do in this school, right now, I’m better than all of you.
“I’m sure that will change. I’m sure you’ll be household names soon.”
But the mood in the auditorium did not always bristle with tension. When one of the eight students who asked Chappelle a question raised that they had received death threats for protesting against the comic, “his whole tone changed”.
“He said, ‘this is my family and whether they know it or not, I love these kids’,” one student recalled, “‘I don’t want to hear about any threats to these kids. These kids don’t deserve that’.”
“During the conversation with students and staff, Chappelle specifically invited the voices of discontent to ask questions,” a spokesperson for the school told Politico.
“However, as a result, the supporters of Chappelle became the silent majority.
“Our principal was approached by several students after the assembly who were disappointed that they were not able to voice their support for Chappelle in this forum.”
Top arts school will rename theatre over controversial comic
Duke Ellington renaming its theatre after Chappelle has proved a flashpoint among some students, alumni, parents and guardians who have sought to block the move.
Administrators say they are hoping to go ahead with the renaming even amid the ongoing controversy. Writing in a letter on the school’s website published earlier this month, said the renaming was to celebrate “one of our most distinguished alumni”.
Chappelle, who has donated thousands of dollars to the school, is an “important thought leader of our time”.
“The Closer – the most-watched comedy special in Netflix’s history, which has garnered a 96 per cent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes – has sparked a national debate around race, gender, sexuality and ‘cancel culture’,” the statement added.
“As a learning institution that champions inclusivity, diversity, equity, and belonging, we care deeply about protecting the well-being and dignity of every member of our student body, faculty, and community.”
In The Closer, which debuted on Netflix on 5 October, Dave Chappelle crudely commented on trans people’s genitals and said he supports JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author whose anti-trans views have drawn seismic criticism.
“They cancelled JK Rowling, my God,” he said. “Effectively, she said gender was fact, the trans community got mad as s**t, they started calling her a TERF. I’m Team TERF.”
Chappelle then defended Kevin Hart and DaBaby, who have both faced accusations of homophobia. Neither has been “cancelled”, however – Hart remains one of the highest-paid comedians in the world, and DaBaby was this week nominated for a Grammy.
While across more recent shows, Chappelle has refused to “bend to anybody’s demands” and apologise for his anti-LGBT+ comments.
At another, he used the f-slur and made a potshot about identifying as a woman to get an easier prison sentence.