Dave Chappelle releases new Netflix special, ‘The Dreamer’

The wildest moment in Dave Chappelle’s new special, “The Dreamer” (Netflix), comes about two-thirds of the way through the end when the comedian says he’s about to tell a long story. That’s not the unusual part.

Some 36 years into her comedy career, Chappelle, 50, is better known for controversial stories than carefully thought-out jokes. At this point in the special, she tells the crowd in her hometown of Washington, DC, that she is going to smoke a cigarette backstage, asks them to act as if she is done, and says that she would prefer a standing ovation. standing. She then does something I’ve never seen in a Netflix special: she leaves to smoke and change costumes, leaving the stage empty. He returns while everyone waits, applauding politely. Nobody stands up. She sits down and even mentions that she didn’t get the ovation, in a bad mood.

He could have deleted it, but he didn’t. Because? Was it to reveal that his audience refused to be told what to do, that he doesn’t care, as he said another time, that most people don’t laugh at some jokes? Was it to include a momentary respite from the self-aggrandizing tone of the hour, which begins with rock-star footage of Chappelle walking onto the stage in slow motion and ends with a montage of him with everyone from Bono and Mike Tyson to Netflix? CEO Ted Sarandos? I have no idea, but what sticks with you on Chappelle’s sets these days are less the jokes than other things, the punchlines, the celebrity gossip, the weirdo flourishes.

Later, Chappelle says, “Sometimes I feel normal.” As an example, he describes his shyness in a club where a rich Persian man surrounded by women recognizes him and the comedian imagines him telling the story of seeing Dave Chappelle the next day. The idea that this is Chappelle’s idea of ​​a regular is fun.

He last released a Netflix special on New Year’s Eve in 2017, which now appears to be a turning point in his career. After disappearing from popular culture for a decade, Chappelle released four specials that year, a radically productive run that was the beginning of a stand-up phase that would grow to overwhelm the memory of his great sketch show, which later dominated his legacy. .

“Chappelle’s Show,” now two decades ago, began with a brilliant sketch about a blind black and white supremacist named Clayton Bigsby. It was inspired in part by Chappelle’s grandfather, a blind man named George Raymond Reed, who had served on the D.C. mayor’s commission for the disabled. Reed was funny. The Washington Post’s obituary of him reported that when describing how to spell his name, he joked: “Eyeless Reed.”

In 2017, Chappelle started making jokes about transgender people and hasn’t stopped, special after special, show after show. How you feel about this fixation is built into this point. He begins his new hour with a complicated trans joke, before saying that he’s done making them. (Big possibility: They’re as much a part of his brand as his name on his jacket.) He then says that he has a new angle: handicap jokes. “They’re not as organized as gays,” he says. “And I love to hit.”

Covers other topics. There’s a great scene about Chris Rock getting slapped at the Oscars, the hottest comedy topic of 2023, and he makes some cheap racial jokes, like an elaborate bit that’s simply meant for an Asian voice to do.

At one point, he tells the audience that people in comedy think he’s lazy because he tells a joke to a crowd of 20,000 that only makes two or three people laugh, but they’ll laugh a lot. He goes on to tell that joke, an impression of the dead on the Titanic watching the doomed OceanGate submersible bearing down on them, and it’s silly and funny, a throwback to earlier days. The truth is that the most common criticism heard today is not that Chappelle is looking for a niche, but that he seems to prefer standing out rather than making people laugh.

This happens to some comic stars. This month, Ricky Gervais published a collection of dutifully predictable jokes about supposedly taboo topics. That special, Netflix’s “Armageddon,” makes Chappelle seem fascinating and unexpected by comparison.

Gervais trots out complaints that people are easily offended, before setting up passages that rely so heavily on the assumption of that response that there’s not much else to them. His fans eat him up. But what is surprising about his time are the justifications, the defensive explanations, the detailed explanation of the issues. Okay, make your jokes about the Holocaust and pedophilia. But how about: show, don’t tell?

Comedy is a crowded field, but for most audiences, it’s still defined by its biggest stars. Chappelle and Gervais are part of that elite, and the distance between them and the rest of the stand-up world seems greater than ever. That growing inequality is one of the themes of Gary Gulman’s new special, “Born on 3rd Base” (Max), a meticulously funny hour that delves into the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

He attacks this topic in a variety of ways, with jokes that dissect the world of comedy, an inspired bit about how people order at Chipotle, and a rebuttal to the argument that welfare payments destroy initiative. As different as Gulman is from Chappelle in choice of goals, style, and level of fame, they share some qualities. Gulman, 53, also likes jokes that only a few understand, and he has a clear sense of the moment that insists the crowd adapt to him. He begins his special with the word “Anyway.” Is he in the middle of a thought or at the end? Either way, we are disoriented. He likes us there. He plays at his own pace.

One tactic is the intermittent movement of slowing down to allow spectators to get ahead of him. He announces that he has a one-man show called “Mommy, Look” and the title, he explains, comes from his theory of “pretty much all one-man shows.” He then pauses and holds, and the crowd’s laughter grows as they anticipate his point about the origin of the artistic impulse. “Show me a 4-year-old child on a trampoline in front of an unreceptive audience,” he says, “I’ll show you a theater specialty.”

But Gulman also likes to get ahead of his audience, with sentences drunk with language, references that he tries to gloss over (“bandicoot”, “paramecium”) and others that revel in wordplay. He gives the impression that he has whole jokes that serve, among other things, as an excuse to say words like “thief” or “guillotine.”

This is the only special that dares to engage in this debate: What is the most pretentious suffix in the English language?

You’ll have to watch to find out. But the second most pretentious, she maintains, is “-esque,” before qualifying the point in the most pretentious way possible: “Unless you’re talking about something French.”

“I please my base,” Gulman confesses, “which is the librarians.”

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