Review of Chappelle’s Show (2003)

Moving picture, 12 hours

Seen in 2021.

An absorbing superimposition of Schadenfreude, playing toward stereotype, and extraordinarily smooth satire. The sketches are Brechtian rather than illusionistic, perhaps to acknowledge how ridiculous the stereotypes are. They’re full of tiny inversions, details and asides. Chappelle’s own brief incidental lines often put a brilliant spin on a scene that is otherwise simple.

It’s amazing to see Chappelle speaking openly and easily about reparations for slavery and getting immensely popular doing it, at the same time that Jon Stewart hit his stride critiquing other fundamental injustices at The Daily Show (1996). Chappelle, too, addresses the “War on Terror” and Bush II, but focuses on race. I think it’s obvious that joking about such things, the way these two men did it, is important and largely beneficial. Both were similarly influential, ushering in a new era of US comedy. However, characters like Tyrone Biggums, the crack cocaine addict, seem barely removed from the stereotypes of white-run minstrel shows. With that and the constant derogation of “bitches”, I can’t avoid the impression that Chappelle’s comedy helped reinforce stereotypes by making them more available. An optimist might see that derogatory humour as the cost of bringing countercultural points of view, like pushing for reparations, into the mainstream.

References here: Django Unchained (2012), Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021).

moving picture fiction series