TEN THINGS EVERYONE GOT WRONG ABOUT DAVE CHAPPELLE’S “Sticks and Stones” SPECIAL.
Will Smith desperately needed advice. He was terrified about something he was about to do.
He said, “So I have to visit the master.” He called Dave Chappelle.
His challenge: to do three minutes of standup comedy at a comedy club.
I get it. When I had to do six minutes the first time, I thought I was going to DIE.
It’s a different experience. I’m not sure why. It’s not the same as a funny talk. It’s not the same as being funny in front of your friends. It’s not being the class clown.
People are judging you. And they are rejecting you or liking you on a deep personal level. I think. I don’t know. Maybe thats just what it feels like.
So Will Smith called Dave Chappelle. He needed help.
One Dave Chappelle story: he randomly went to a club, performed, and then hung out with the comedians afterwards.
At one in the morning, one comedian suggested, let’s go to a party.
Dave Chappelle said, “Let’s go back to the club, there’s another show about to happen. We can go up on stage”
The others said, “Dave! There will be six people in the audience. Let’s go to the party.”
Dave said, “You’re not going to get better at comedy going to a party. You’ll get better at the club and going on stage.”
So they went back to the club. And he killed for six people.
Dave said to Will Smith, “this is the most important rule…”
Dave said, “Better to be interesting than funny.”
If you read the news, you’d think Dave Chappelle’s career is over after his recent special, “Sticks and Stones”.
According to the various critics (I read about a dozen or more articles and they all said the same thing):
“he was unfunny”, “boring”, “tone deaf to suffering”, “wrong about Michael Jackson”, “he’s stuck in the last century”.
For awhile, on Rotten Tomatoes, he had a ZERO percent critic’s score.
People HATED him. People said, “his career is over!”
I didn’t understand. I watched the same special they did. But maybe I didn’t. So I watched it again. And again. And again.
TEN THINGS EVERYONE GOT WRONG
Not sure why a critic who wasn’t there and wasn’t a comedian would say this.
The evidence is the opposite.
Everyone in the audience was laughing the ENTIRE time.
I’ve seen some specials where there really is nobody laughing for some jokes And that’s after enormous preparation and hundreds of performances testing each joke.
But in “Sticks and Stones” people were laughing throughout.
It’s also one thing if they are only laughing at the punchlines.
But they were laughing the entire time.
When the Rotten Tomatoes “Critic’s Score” was zero percent, the audience score was 99%.
- — — -
I’ve seen more articles written about this comedy special than any other comedy special.
Just judging by the number of articles written about this one special (and zero articles written about pretty much every other special ever), clearly the critics didn’t find this “boring” so I’m surprised they wrote that.
C) “OLD FASHIONED”
Some critics said this is old fashioned.
I own a comedy club.
I see 5–10 comedians perform almost every night. This is just my anecdotal experience but many of the topics he broached are common topics TODAY for comedians in clubs.
And he took it five steps further, gave an opinion, gave the opposite opinion, made it funny, fought for both sides.
But got destroyed for only one side. His point: cancel culture let’s you express only one side.
Nobody really knows what comedy is.
Just when I think I have an idea, someone says something to me that blows my mind and makes me re-think what comedy is.
But I will offer an approach: it has to be funny (not everyone agrees), and it usually unveils a hidden truth about a topic that we all relate to.
Or offers a point of view that we can all relate to an maybe haven’t thought about in that exact way.
Or he’s dealing with many valid points that come into conflict and trying to figure out, on stage, which feels authentic to him.
Perhaps this gives the audience permission to think more broadly than they were used to.
I don’t know. Nobody knows.
E) “CANCEL CULTURE”
Dave Chappelle says he’s going to do impressions.
Even though he’s done voices in almost every act I’ve ever seen him in, he announces he doesn’t do impressions often and he implicitly asks the audience if it’s ok if he does some impressions.
Two things about that:
1) Of course they will shout and cheer and say “Yes”.
2) By giving them the choice (even though he knows what they will choose), the audience will feel more like they are in charge and are then more likely to enjoy what is coming next.
He takes on a voice that sounds stupid and says, “Uh, duh. Hey! Durr! If you do anything wrong in your life, duh, and I find out about it, I’m gonna try to take everything away from you, and I don’t care when I find out. Could be today, tomorrow, 15, 20 years from now. If I find out, you’re duh-finished.”
He asks the audience who he was doing an impression of. A couple of people yelled out, “Trump!’
And then he said, “It’s YOU! That’s what the audience sounds like to me.”
It’s his first real joke in the special. Everyone laughs.
And then people did exactly what he predicted. They tried to cancel him.
100s of articles trashed Chappelle on the topics below. And not a single one mentioned this joke.
He was funny. And dead on accurate. That’s comedy.
F) “MICHAEL JACKSON”
He said, “I don’t think Michael Jackson did it” about molesting the two kids featured in the “Leaving Neverland” documentary.
He even said, “I know more than half the people in this room have been molested in their lives. But it wasn’t no goddamn Michael Jackson, was it? This kid got his dick sucked by the King of Pop. All we get is awkward Thanksgivings for the rest of our lives.”
Even the families of the two kids came out and said his comments were insensitive.
The critics were all outraged.
But…the critics seemed to ignore his very next line:
“But you know what? Even if he did do it…”
Implying that his opinion could easily be wrong. So he was going to take a look at both sides of the story.
Forget about the humor in this. He brought up several questions that were on his mind.
He’s not saying molestation is good.
But more importantly, he’s asking the question, with all that’s going on in the world, did we really need another shock and awe documentary about a guy who’s been dead for ten years?
He said, “Michael Jackson has been dead for ten years and [he] has two new cases. And if you haven’t watched that documentary… uh, then I’m begging you, don’t watch it. It’s f**ng gross. I felt like HBO was sticking baby dicks in my ears for four hours straight. Really nasty s*. I don’t want to know all these things.”
He’s basically saying, “There’s been a billion articles about this and the guy is dead. We can move on already. There’s more important things.”
G) “Ls Bs Ts Qs”
A few specials ago Chappelle made some jokes about transgender people. He got a lot of criticism.
In the next special he talked about it and told a story where he slept with someone who was transgender.
It was a funny story and shocked some people in the audience (“oh get over it, I was just borrowing friction”).
In this special, he mentions that transgenders don’t like him but he still thinks the whole concept is funny even though people have every right to do whatever they want to do.
He then went into the history of the LGBTQ+ movement, correctly pointing out that the “Ls” and “Gs” and “Ts” didn’t always get along.
i looked at a 2014 article in OUT magazine which had the following quote about another article written in the 1980s about the movement: “At the time, a gay pundit wrote a stinging magazine article wondering why lesbians were so involved in ACT UP”.
Chappelle is making the deeper point that these groups are becoming more unified but they haven’t always been that way and that they occasionally still have different issues that concern them.
Which is normal for any movement. Chappelle is saying that being unified is fine, but don’t fall for groupthink. Individuals still might have issues that differ from the group.
He says about friends of his who are gay, “All of them, 100% of them, all have told me f*in’ horror stories about the shit they had to go through just to be themselves. Crazy, crazy stories”.
He also says, “But the T’s hate my fuckin’ guts. And I don’t blame ’em. It’s not their fault. It’s mine. I can’t stop telling jokes about these niggas. I don’t want to write these jokes, but I just can’t stop!”
He’s taking responsibility. He thinks it’s funny. And he admits not everyone does.
In his last special Dave Chappelle specifically said he was in support of everything the #MeToo movement was saying.
But they needed to be careful on their tactics.
Not bad advice for any social movement throughout history. MLK and Malcom X, for instance, had very different views on how the Civil Rights movement should be conducted.
And only later, when Malcolm X was convinced a more peaceful approach was called for (and then Malcom X was killed by former followers for this change in approach) did the two sides start to unify. (Credit to Ta-Nehisi Coates for explaining all of this in, “Between the World and Me”).
In this special, Chappelle points out that since his last special, the lack of a unified agenda has undermined the exact rights that women are hoping for:
“What the f* is your agenda, ladies? Is– Is sexism dead? No, in fact, the opposite happened. I said it was gonna get worse, and they said I was tone deaf. But eight states, including your state, have passed the most stringent anti-abortion laws this nation has seen since Roe v. Wade.”
Not everyone might agree with his opinion. But it’s a valid opinion. And borrows from the histories of just about every serious political movement of all time.
I) “LOUIS CK”
“Louis C.K. was a very good friend of mine before he died in that terrible masturbation accident. And it was his room. You read the story. He was masturbating in his own room. That’s where you supposed to masturbate. … And he came on his own stomach. There it is. What is the threat? Have any women ever seen a guy that just came on his own stomach? This is the least threatening mf the Earth has ever seen. All you see is shame in their face and…”
He basically makes fun of Louis CK.
Is he right about the “threat” part? Or is that just a joke? Do we have to agree to think it’s funny. Is it dangerous to joke about?
He’s raising the point. It’s a point many people have raised.
But he is also posing the larger question of: are we allowed to say when someone’s career is over?
Certainly the market is. If nobody wants to see Louis CK, nobody will show up for his acts.
I’ve seen Louis CK do a “drop-in” at a comedy club. He was so funny I thought I would have to leave the room my stomach was in so much pain. There were men and women (and Chris Rock) in the room.
Everyone was laughing. The next day, the newspaper said, “nobody was laughing.”
I was there! Everyone was laughing. Nobody booed even though it was a total surprise.
Individuals make up the market. That’s how people will vote, despite any articles by the critics.
J) ANTHONY BOURDAIN’S SUICIDE
“Good people of Atlanta, we must never forget that Anthony Bourdain killed himself,” Chappelle says. “Anthony Bourdain had the greatest job that show biz has ever produced. This man flew around the world and ate delicious meals with outstanding people. That man, with that job, hung himself in a luxury suite in France.”
The critics were furious:
“Chappelle’s joke can move the conversation on mental health backward.”
“Chappelle MOCKED Bourdain’s suicide.”
Another critic: ““It’s not cutting edge. It’s not creative. It doesn’t push political or comedic boundaries. It’s stale, and it’s lazy.””
It sounds to me like he’s saying that if someone as successful as Bourdain can kill hijmself, then that means anyone can.
That means you have to really look for the clues in the people you love to see what might be going on on the inside and how we can help.
I’m pretty sure he’s not making fun of Bourdain for killing himself.
Again, he’s pointing out something that I even thought when the news came out that Bourdain had committed suicide. The question of “Why?”
Such an important question to ask so we can help others, or even ourselves.
Why can’t he point this out without people saying he’s insensitive?
There’s much more in the special that people were critical of.
Chappelle was basically challenging people (as he announced in his first joke he was going to do) to #cancel him.
He planned to take it to the limit. He raised all the questions, opinions, and history that many people were thinking but were afraid to say. He was authentic to himself.
He didn’t actually say many of the things the critics said he said (e.g. Michael Jackson, suicide, “Ts”, etc) if you actually dig down on the words he used in the special.
And the critics fell for it. They did exactly what Chappelle said they would do.
They fell for every trap.
I often tell people, “don’t publish an article UNLESS you are afraid what people wlll think of you. Then you know it’s different and expands the discussion about the topics you care about. Else, it’s just one more bland article or book among millions.”
Chappelle went beyond that and dived into territory many other people, comedians, columnists, etc are afraid to do.
This is just my opinion. And, of course, some disagreed (0% critics score) but most didn’t (99% audience score.)
And he made it funny. People laughed.
The most important rule of comedy, Dave Chappelle said to Will Smith, is that ‘interesting’ is more important than ‘funny’.
He did both.