Dave Chappelle: the comedic innovator returns

The genius comedian is back after a decade in the wilderness with two Netflix specials

   Dave Chappelle: Age of Spin   (Netflix)

Dave Chappelle: Age of Spin (Netflix)

One of the fondest memories I have of my family is visiting relatives in Birmingham, over many weekends and school holidays in my teenage years. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because every British Asian in this country has at least one relative in the Midlands. During one visit, my cousin slipped in a DVD of something called Chappelle’s Show and minutes later, we fell off the sofa with tears streaming down our faces from laughter.

Fast forward a decade and Dave Chappelle’s long, painful absence is broken with two Netflix comedy specials. And the way he tackles topics with his vulgar yet insightful signature humour is still there. It’s why he’s regarded as one of the finest alive today, if not ever.

This can be seen in Deep in the Heart of Texas, recorded two years ago, where race takes centre stage. His jokes remain playful and avoids expressing the unsurprising rage black comedians feel when discussing matters of police brutality and every day discrimination. Age of Spin on the other hand, was recorded last year in Los Angeles and tackles numerous topics structured around the four times Chappelle has met OJ Simpson.

A lot has been made as to whether Chappelle’s comedic innovation has stagnated or remains an artifact of a bygone era. An example of this is his comments on transgendered individuals and using preferred pronouns. Although he makes his point crudely, Chappelle is clearly taking aim at the greater inherent discrimination faced by black people instead, saying they’re being beaten in the “discrimination Olympics”.

The nuances of creating satire on sensitive topics can be difficult, as even mere conversation has proved this in recent past. Take the comments made by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on this exact topic comparing the discrimination faced by a transgendered individual to females. Stand-up comedy can’t provide the right context for every tricky subject that we must discuss today and these delicate areas are where Chappelle has failed to satisfy all fans, like many other comedians.

He's much clearer when it comes to sexism, avoiding the trap of equating racism with sexism that many inadvertently (or purposefully) end up doing. “You suffer, I suffer,” is how he describes the challenge of equality, deflating the tension by discussing arguments of suffering between black Americans and Jews.

His inclusive nature is something he notices and celebrates, declaring himself an ally to the gay community. However, he states they need to “pace themselves” towards equality, comparing how the landmark Brown vs Board of Education ruling was made in 1955 yet he was called “a nigger in traffic last Wednesday, it takes a minute.”

There’s no denying his continued popularity, and the first two of his three new specials have been, well, special. They’re the most watched comedy specials Netflix has ever showcased. It's an odd feat given his declaration in his second special that we’re now living in "an age of spin", where “nobody knows what the fuck they’re even looking at” during a rant about the ubiquity of screens and technology.

He continues, railing at younger members of his audience, “you had to Google shit I lived through,” which is an unusual remark from someone in their early 40s. But it’s an attack on our growing attention deficits, where a million things seem to happen every single day in our world. “It’s like the space shuttle blows up every fucking day. How can you care about anything when you know every goddamn thing?” I'm glad Chappelle is back to tell us what we should care about during our ever-shrinking attention spans.