Views on the News: Comedy and Social Responsibility
Critics and fans alike have much to say on Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special, “The Closer.” Netflix is facing pushback, including a planned walkout organized by its own employees, one of whom Netflix suspended in the process. But Chappelle is far from the only performer in recent years to use language that is perceived as demeaning to a particular group of people in the name of comedy and to receive a platform to do so.
When and how does comedy toe the line between humor and violence or bullying? Do comics have any social responsibility to fulfill on the stage? Do media, television and streaming companies have any social responsibility in promoting and funding content?
Prof. David Sherman (ENG)
Chapelle's special is tedious and self-important. I regret watching it, but I teach courses on comedy so I felt like I should. He jokes about gender non-conforming people: cutting-edge for 1950. Jokes about closted gays: cutting edge for 1960. Jokes about campaigns for LGBTQ rights: cutting edge for never. He couldn't figure out any other way to be relevant, so he indulged in this gleeful insulting of people he doesn't know or understand. His attempts to do political analysis and cultural observation are mortifying, and, at the end, patronizing. Netflix will do whatever makes money, but many of the talented employees there may now move on to make more interesting contributions to comedy and art somewhere else.
David Sherman is an associate professor of English and a cofounder of the Brandeis Justice Initiative. He lectures in global modernism, the politics of commemoration, comedy, literature in the criminal justice system and other topics.