I’m a proud, “out” Jewish American comedian (out as a Jewish person). And I find myself confused after seeing Dave Chappelle’s monologue on Saturday Night Live.
I loved the bits about Trump. But I’m talking specifically about the part of the set that deals with Kanye, Kyrie, and Jewish people.
As I watched, I puzzled. What is he actually saying? Is he on the side of prejudice? Or understanding? I’ve been guilty – and proud at times – of writing jokes about controversial issues, without actually intimating what I believe about the controversy. I like both joking and not joking at the same time. I like walking the tightrope.
It seems that’s what Chappelle is trying to do here. To try to make space to talk about something without upsetting every “side”. To speak truths that are usually frowned upon speaking, using the trope and sometimes the guise of comedy. Yes, there are a lot of Jews in Hollywood. But if they’re running everything, I should be a little more famous by now.
Some moments made me chuckle. “I would see if you had some kind of issue, you might go out to Hollywood, you might start connecting some kind of lines, and you could maybe adopt the delusion that the Jews run showbusiness. It’s not a crazy thing to think. But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.” Cute, but isn’t the idea in comedy to say something new or original or at least in a new way? And isn’t this about the oldest joke in the book?
On the other hand, I agree with his statement at the end that not being allowed to even talk about things makes my job hard. There are a lot of things I’d like to talk about that I don’t because it’s not “allowed”.
So, yes, being able to comment without having an opinion is a great skill. But I was left actually confused. What is he really saying? Is he dog whistling? Is he honestly questioning things? I mean, the existence of the Holocaust shouldn’t be a “controversial” topic on any level. He mentions that Kyrie doesn’t think it happened. He doesn’t remind people who don’t know that in fact it did happen. Maybe he thinks something like this is obvious or overwriting, but every person is coming from a different place, and a lot of his audience might take what he doesn’t say to mean something.
When you leave an audience not just “thinking” but literally confused, and the audience has to keep asking themselves – and talking for days – “What he was saying? What did he mean?” Honestly, I think it’s lazy comedy writing. Chappelle has often been a comic genius: incisive, blunt, and clever…
But like, the line, “Jews have had hard times, but why do they have to blame black people for it (the holocaust)?” comes completely out of the blue and feels like a pretty huge blanket statement. I think he’s referring to Kanye and Kyrie? That’s two people – not all people, and they’re being invited to look at their contribution to widespread misconceptions. Not blamed for our history of oppression. (He also doesn’t mention Kanye admires Hitler… where are the jokes about that?)
Yes, he switched the monologue at the last minute without telling anyone, but that’s not an excuse to be less than impeccable on national live TV. And I know he’s capable of being much more deft at walking that tightrope.
Often, scientists write in ways that obscure what they’re saying. Because we don’t understand what they’re saying, we think they sound smart. But really, they’re being pompous and unclear. It’s lazy science. Does talking openly about a subject need to be so confusing that it increases ignorance about it? Anti-semitic incidents are up 34% since just last year! By co-incidence, “nuance” is up 34% too!
I think when analyzing political comedy, we finally arrive at what seems to be the most important question: “Is this comic ‘punching up’ or ‘punching down’?” Finding out the answer will solve it all and tell us what to think! But intersectionality waives its wiggly hand and whispers, “Dun dun dun!! YOU think (know) they’re punching down, but THEY think (know) they’re punching up!” So we got ourselves a conundrum, and we’re back for another round of the oppression olympics…
Surprise: *Even* wealthy straight white men FEEL like they got the short end of the stick… maybe dad was drunk and mom was doing the pool boy. We all want to be loved and understood, full stop! And apparently even Kanye knows something about this because he said it recently… “Hurt people hurt people.”
I want speech to be FREE-FLOWING. And it IS hard to talk and joke openly these days. I am against censorship in comedy. But I am FOR stating one’s opinion about the comedy, after it’s over. (You know, unless it’s about MY set, and then I might have to call a gang or a mafia over to take care of it. )
Jon Stewart has the best response I’ve seen so far, and it comes from a place of authentic relating. No more cancelling. Let’s sit down with folks who don’t know, understand where they’re coming from and why, and then educate them about misconceptions. Not in a didactic, belittling, “you’re-wrong-about-the-vaccine” kind of way (that’s me not actually giving my opinion), but in a truly open-hearted place of listening. Even if there’s no change as a result, there’s connection, and that is change. If there’s any time Black people and Jewish people should unite in support of one another, it’s like… well, always. But especially now.