On August 26, 2019, famous comedian Dave Chappelle released a new Netflix special titled ‘Sticks and Stones’. His fifth special on the streaming platform, Sticks and Stones follows the conventions of Chappelle’s particular brand of both shocking and insightful comedy, which has always been met with some controversy. Though his recent stand-up routines critique our current, ever-shifting society, this time around Chappelle directly targets politically correct (PC) culture. The special has been met with mixed reviews, many of which are not very flattering. Vox.com states that, “Critics have found the brand of shock humor Chappelle uses as ‘tired’ and ‘regressive, exclusionary and cruel.’ The content of Chappelle’s special has sparked discussion on what we can and cannot laugh at, however, it is neither new nor surprising considering this has been an ongoing debate for a few decades now.
In ‘Sticks and Stones’, Chappelle touches upon cancel culture in regards to Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Kevin Hart, Louie C.K., #MeToo, and the LGBTQA+ community. His views seem misguided, misinformed and tone deaf due to some jokes delving into molestation and harmful stereotypes. His previous Netflix specials, such as ‘The Age of Spin’, ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’, and ‘Equanimity & The Bird Revelation’, have incorporated some of the same subjects, but the material was not as blatantly offensive as in ‘Sticks and Stones’. Chappelle comes for PC culture in this special to combat the backlash he has been receiving from critics and audiences for years. There is even a joke in the special where he calls out the audience for their haste to expose or cancel people without thoughtful consideration.
The driving force behind a lot of comedy is misery; there has to be a sense of tragedy or misfortune in order for the joke to work. Doug Walker of Channel Awesome on Youtube.com made a compelling argument in his video editorial, ‘When Does a Joke Go Too Far?’ He states, “Somebody’s pride has to be challenged in order for it to work.” Meaning that for comedy to work effectively, it must address certain topics that are either taboo, racist, sexist or homophobic. Instead of simply making fun of these uncomfortable topics, great comedians will raise the audiences’ awareness or even initiate a call to action. The intent is positive, not negative.
Sometimes this is done through imposing rationale. Other times it is by flipping the script on those in society, causing problems and perpetuating less enlightened ideas. The aim is to help one think critically and to observe what is happening in an evolving society. And while uncomfortable, it can also help the audience to look inward and consider their own thoughts, actions, and amount of privilege in society.
Comedians have a very tricky job, with a platform that can be used to spark change for the better. Most likely, someone will be offended in the process, but for us to completely sanitize comedy is an injustice. There are merits to PC culture; it provides visible space and demands respect for oppressed and marginalized groups in society. However, performed carelessly, a routine such as Chappelle’s latest effort may hinder the discussions that desperately need to take place in our culture in order to right obvious wrongs.
I encourage you to watch “Sticks and Stones”, or the work of any comedian that you like or do not like. When judging a comedian’s routine you do not have to be an expert of joke structure or comedic critique. You just have to use common sense. That itself is comedy’s hidden ability beside provocation. It challenges us to confront difficult topics. It implores us to change things that are wrong in society. In watching and considering the jokes being told, maybe you will think they are offensive, maybe you will not. Either way I hope the comedian provides the challenge.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment