Dave Chappelle announces near the beginning of his Netflix New Year’s Eve special The Dreamer, that he likes punching down. And his targets for the evening include the downtrodden: transsexuals and LGBTQ people, the handicapped and Baltimore. Except the targets are really gay rapper Lil Nas X or progressive LGBTQ “allies” who police speech, handicapped former Rep. Madison Cawthorn, and buppies and yuppies at Chris Rock’s comedy special filmed in Baltimore.
My favorite joke is: “I wrote a play about it [transgenders] because you know how gays like plays. It’s about a Black transgender woman. It’s very sad, but it’s moving. Her pronoun is ‘nigger.' She’s very lonely. White liberals don’t know how to talk to her.” Obviously speech police, and not the black trans woman, are the butt of this joke.
The special begins with an extended story about how he was on stage in the Lincoln Theater 24 years ago. His father had just died and he was inconsolable. His friend, the late Norm Macdonald, called him and asked him if he’d like to meet Jim Carey (Chappelle is a giant Carey fan—“That’s God-given talent… you can’t learn it or practice it”). Macdonald takes him to the set of Man on the Moon, where Carey was portraying Andy Kaufman. Unbeknownst to Chappelle, Carey’s being Andy Kaufman 24/7, never breaking character even after filming is done for the day. Everyone on set insists Chappelle call him “Andy.” Chappelle doesn’t know any of this and finds Carey pretending to be Andy Kaufman very confusing. The punch line: “And that’s how transgenders make me feel.”
When he was attacked on stage at Hollywood Bowl he was touring with Chris Rock. Chappelle tries to go on with his set, but is tongue-tied. Rock comes out, grabs his mike, and says to the crowd “Was that Will Smith?” When it’s later discovered that the attacker’s gun was actually, like a Looney Tunes cartoon gun that doesn’t shoot bullets but extends a flag that says “Bang,” in this case extending a knife blade, Chappelle gets more bad press for his comment: “My attacker had a knife that identified as a gun.”
The Dreamer was filmed in the Lincoln Theatre on the same block of U St. that’s home to the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl and a few blocks from Howard University, and surrounded by DC’s gayer neighborhoods. I’m sure many assume that the Lincoln is where Abraham Lincoln was shot. It’s not. It was built in 1921 and pre-Depression was part of Washington’s “Black Broadway,” a theater, jazz club and restaurant area almost totally wiped out by the 1968 civil rights riots. More recently, the Lincoln for about a decade (1999-2008), was the home to Reel Affirmations, DC’s gay and lesbian film festival, one of the nation’s largest, before streaming and cable made them almost extinct. It’s also one of the gayest areas in D.C., which is one of America’s gayest cities. But Chappelle didn’t film at the Lincoln because it has a gay history or even a much longer black history. He filmed here because his first special was filmed here 24 years ago.
And so Chappelle gives a sermon enveloping the jokes on the power of dreams. It’s Martin Luther King meets Marianne Williamson meets Robert Nozick on how you can’t be it unless you dream it and we should let a thousand dreams bloom. On transgender dreams: “Men make boundaries. And men test boundaries. And a man in a dress is really testing the boundaries.”
One of Chappelle’s current dreams is to open a comedy club and restaurant less than two blocks from the Lincoln. Given that there is currently a major exodus of restaurants from DC due to its horrific crime and the city council’s new regulations on tipped wage workers, this better be a powerful dream and that comedy club better have A-list performers.