There's a point about halfway through Dave Chappelle's new Netflix special, The Age of Spin: Live at the Hollywood Palladium, when the comedian gives us a front-row view of his dual nature. The revelatory contradictory moment arrives during a riff on Bruce Jenner vs Caitlyn Jenner.
Chappelle admits he was shocked by how easily everyone accepted transgender Caitlyn. Then the controversial stand-up, whose squirm-inducing comedy has been branded both homophobic and transphobic in the past, puts an unexpected positive spin on Caitlyn's unexpected heroine's welcome.
"I was shocked," he says. "Is this happening? Wait a minute. Is this a time in American history when an American can make a decision for themselves, and even though other Americans don't understand it, they'll support it and let this person live a happy life?
"Is this what's happening? If it is, then good for America. That's Dave Chappelle, the American."
Cue audience applause. But hold on – he isn't quite finished.
"Although Dave Chappelle, the black American, he was a little jealous," he continues. "I said, how the f*** are transgender people beating black people in the discrimination Olympics. If the police shot half as many transgenders as they did n****s last year, there'd be a fucking war in LA."
Naturally, it's Dave Chappelle, the black American, who once again has stirred up controversy. Social media lit up after last week's Netflix debut of his two specials, The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas: Live at Austin City Limits, which were taped in March 2016 and April 2015, respectively. A number of viewers and critics excoriated Chappelle over several "homophobic" and "transphobic" bits where gays are reduced to tired old queens and "trans" is tantamount to "women with d***s".
But after watching the special, this fellow black American, who also happens to be gay, doesn't think Chappelle's latest act is as out of line as some are claiming. If nothing else, it highlights minority divides that nearly everyone has been ignoring for years.
As different disenfranchised groups slowly made gains in the pre-Donald Trump era, other disenfranchised groups looked on, not always rooting for progress that didn't benefit them. Several years ago, former Charmed actress Rose McGowan blasted gay men for being, in her opinion, drug-abusing exhibitionists who revel in misogyny and pretend the women's movement doesn't exist.
Meanwhile, racism against blacks and Asians has continued to fester in the gay community, masquerading as "preferences", especially on hook-up apps like Grindr. And let's not forget the longstanding and ongoing marginalisation of biracial people by monoracial minorities.
In some ways, the current wave of resurgent political incorrectness has widened the divides between minority groups. Rather than banding together, they struggle apart. Victims become victimisers, and the implication seems to be that disrespect is somehow justified when it comes from outside the privileged majority.
If David Chappelle is guilty of anything, it's of chipping away at those minority-vs-minority divides by clinging to crusty stereotypes and simplifying what it means to be gay and transgender. He actually seems to have some affection for transgender people, whom he describes as being "gangsters" (in a good way) in the board room. And when he says he doesn't like his wife's gay friends, it's not an opinion about gays in general but a dismissal of a certain snarky, snobby – and, OK, stereotypical – gay type we all know exists.
Chappelle's biggest problem isn't hate or phobia. There's no malice or fear here. His biggest problem is ignorance and being frighteningly out of touch. Caitlyn Jenner's celebrity had everything to do with her warm welcome. It wasn't mass acceptance of transgenderism. Everyday transgender people don't have it nearly as easy as Jenner. Perhaps Chappelle is too narrowly focused on black fatalities at the hands of white cops to realise that trans women are being slaughtered, too. (According to GLAAD, eight trans women of colour have been killed in the US so far this year.)
The gross simplification is not unlike what many whites in the gay community do with black and Asian men on a daily basis, and what black stand-ups have been doing to other minority groups, especially gays, for decades. From Eddie Murphy in the '80s to In Living Color's Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier in the '90s to Tracy Morgan and Steve Harvey in the 2000s, black comedians have long been ruthless when it comes to slamming other minority groups for a laugh.
Should they get a free pass because blacks have been through so much? Chappelle certainly implies as much. He talks about "comparative suffering" and how there's this unspoken contest between different minority groups over who suffers most. Although he seems to reject the concept, he nevertheless keeps falling back on it (see the comments of Dave Chappelle, the black American, above). It's clear he thinks blacks win the "comparative suffering" game over the LGBTQ community, presumably making gay men and trans women fair comedic game.
That said, he's an equal-opportunity mocker. Black people don't escape his comedy routine unscathed. Chappelle goes after pretty much everything and everyone: OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, white privilege, police brutality, Dancing with the Stars and even his own wobbly reputation. But for any comic, entering the PC minefield by joking about certain topics – rape, blacks and LGBTQ issues, which were all touched on by Chappelle at the Palladium – almost guarantees things will start blowing up in your face.
His gay and trans humour reflects the contradictions of minority activism today. Gay men can clamour for equality while putting "no Asians" in their Grindr profiles and equating black men with "BBC" (big black c***). Meanwhile, rappers and black comedians denounce racism while mining LGBTQ culture for material and often paying it very little respect.
Chappelle's comedy can be sharp and insightful, but his take on discrimination is all over the place. He criticises Filipino boxer Manny Pacquaio for the anti-gay comments that lost him his lucrative Nike endorsement deal while praising him for improving the self-image of Asian men, whom he characterises as being basically emasculated. (Chappelle's wife, by the way, is Filipino.) Then he interrupts his LGBTQ riffing to offer both support and advice to gay activists:
"I understand why gay people are mad, and I empathise. I'm just telling you this as a black dude - I support your movement. But if you want to take some advice from a negro, pace yourself. These things take a while."
It's hard to argue with that. Progress can indeed be slow. But while we're all racing toward the finish line, Chappelle's comedy can be a cautionary tale of what happens when we turn minority suffering into a "discrimination Olympics". People may laugh, but nobody wins.