Dave Chappelle: The Closer

Written by Taylor Baker

90/100

Mark Twain Award Winning humorist and self aware greatest of all time(GOAT) comedian Dave Chappelle returns to Netflix to have his patented open conversations with himself – sharing some laughs, some hurt – all while inhaling some smoke. Dave has long talked of his place in our global community of Earth, national community of America, and, especially since The Chappelle Show, how he feels in his skin, in his circumstances. And he’s never been shy about translating that feeling to the larger demographics he considers himself a part of. Whether African-American, Black, Man, Ohioan, Comedian, Artist, or Human Being. Dave has zeroed in on providing perspectives from personal angles and done so loquaciously. Albeit with occasional cultural backlash if not turmoil.

The thing about comedy, and comedians is they’re using words to debate culture, to keep a check and balance on it. They’re fighting ideas and improvising outloud to make their personal experiences mappable to you, with the structured up front goal of making you laugh. If they succeed, they did their job. If they didn’t, they failed. Simple. Men like Gilbert Gottfried have done it for years with use of his harsh tone of voice and clever black comedy lines that you couldn’t repeat to your grandmother. More recently Taylor Tomlinson has expressed moments of her personal life history to enormous effect. Kathrine Ryan has done the same with a totally different personal story. Comedy has always been about the personal, if not directly as reference material for a comedian’s act. It’s what one finds funny. 

So what’s different? Why is The Closer hitting “differently” than Chappelle’s other work? It’s because he’s talking about his emotions and viewpoint from what he might call in his previous special Sticks and Stones, his seat in the car. While the LGBTQ+ community after the release of the special sits center to the conversation about it, they’re one of many groups and individuals Dave speaks on. Naturally a political and cultural battleground is a draw for critics and commentators. Where duty and topical melt into each other, and what is a comedian if not a critic and a commentator at once, giving us a performative art that reflects the very identity of who we are right now?

Dave eschews the LGBTQ+ community at large within The Closer – as he’s done with almost every single larger community. A running theme from almost all great comedians has always been to disregard, if not disrespect, the larger groups in favor of persons and personal stories. Dave, like so many before him, focuses on what is personal and meaningful to him. Drawing a distinction between groupthink and social cohesion by focusing on the people he cares about, the people he loves. These are individuals with messy lives that don’t fit the molds of our cultural conversation. Dave knows our society’s larger groupings are ugly, and rather than turning away from one of the most vibrant and flourishing communities today, he looks directly at them, despite any dangers of an inevitable backlash or controversy. Following the proverb, “Excluding someone from a joke is worse than a joke about them.” 

I can’t say that you won’t have a negative reaction to some of Dave’s material, or that you won’t be hurt by it. What I can say is Dave’s entire body of work demonstrates an immense belief foundationally in equality. Dave’s friend Daphne Dorman committed suicide shortly after the release of his previous special Sticks and Stones. And it seems as if everything uttered before he recounts her tale in the special is exclusively in service to this final piece of the act working. Not just as “material” for laughs but for the audience, emotionally, so we take it seriously and so we take Daphne seriously. He recounts a brief personal story about her and in it delivers the climax of the special. The climax isn’t simply the story about Daphne herself, it’s what she tells Dave while he’s on stage after they’ve dialogued and he says he just can’t understand her. To which she replies, “I don’t need you to understand me. I just need you to understand that I’m having a human experience.” I don’t think there’s anything else I can say that is more important in unlocking this special or Dave as a person. This is the baby in the bathwater. If you can accept that Dave is operating in good faith and compassion, then I think you’ll have a memorable time with this piece. If you can’t, it’s easy to scroll to Netflix “New Releases”.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer Trailer

Dave Chappelle: The Closer is currently streaming on Netflix.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.