Dave Chappelle is no stranger to controversy. Since becoming famous in the early 2000s, the comic has delighted in pushing the envelope. Celebrities, race, drugs — there is basically no topic Dave considers off-limits… and because of that, he’s earned his fair share of haters and critics.
None of Dave’s jokes have been as strong cultural lightning rod as his bits about transgender people. As the trans community has become more visible, the Emmy winner’s focus on them has sharpened as well. He’s made countless digs at trans people on stage and in his specials, mostly claiming it’s all in good fun.
But beyond punchlines, the star has refused to support trans people, declaring, “gender is a fact” and calling himself a “TERF” in his 2021 special The Closer. In response, trans activists and LGBTQ rights organizations have threatened walk-outs and boycotts for anyone working with Chappelle.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight again in late 2022, after Saturday Night Live writers reportedly threatened to boycott Dave’s Nov. 12 episode of the sketch show, according to Page Six. His camp denied there were any issues, telling TMZ they’d heard nothing of the sort.
Whether you’re a Dave devotee or a committed critic, it seems everyone has a take. Ahead of his SNL hosting gig, we’re looking back at all the controversies that lead up to this point.
Dave’s Special ‘Sticks & Stones’
Dave’s 2019 special Sticks & Stones was his fifth collaboration with Netflix. The special covers a range of topics, including celebrity scandals, the 2nd amendment, and the LGBTQ community, particularly trans people.
While he was criticized for picking on the trans community, people also cringed at jokes defending Dave’s friend and accused creep Louis C.K. There were also riffs about Michael Jackson‘s child abuse allegations, and about convicted sex offender R. Kelly, who is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence.
The critical reception was mixed, with Rotten Tomatoes ranking the special at 35%. Still, Sticks & Stones earned the comic his third consecutive Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album as well as his third and fourth Primetime Emmys.
‘The Closer’ Special & Transphobic Remarks
While the backlash against Sticks & Stones was tepid, Dave doubled down on his opinions regarding trans people in his next Netflix special, 2021’s The Closer. Much of his 75-minute-long musing mocked trans people.
In The Closer, Dave claims he was “tricked” into calling a trans woman attractive and likens trans women to white people wearing blackface. He also voiced his support for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, proudly calling himself “Team TERF” and stating, “gender is a fact.”
In the special, Dave denies having any “problem” with trans people but says he is making a larger point about white privilege. “Gay people are minorities until they need to be white again,” he tries to explain.
The response from LGBTQ organizations was loud. GLAAD rallied for a Netflix boycott, noting (in a statement to Deadline) how the platform “has a policy that content ‘designed to incite hate or violence’ is not allowed on the platform, but we all know that anti-LGBTQ content does exactly that.”
In response, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos defended Dave’s jokes as edgy. In an email to employees, shared on The Verge, he wrote, “Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
The controversy flared up again in Nov. 2022 ahead of Dave’s third SNL hosting gig. The writers’ room was reportedly ready to boycott the episode, with an insider telling Page Six, “They’re not going to do the show, But none of the actors are boycotting.” Elsewhere, reports of any conflict were dismissed with Chappelle insiders telling TMZ he and the writers were well into their productive third day of meetings.
His Future With Netflix
Dave’s relationship with Netflix doesn’t appear to be in any danger. The streamer teamed up with Chappelle in 2022 to produce a quartet of specials called Chappelle’s Home Team, featuring four of the comic’s own favorite acts, according to Indiewire.
While the details of the deal weren’t reported, it was probably a nice payday from the star. His previous six specials were part of a $20-million-per-release comedy-special deal, which began in 2016.