Dave Chappelle on ‘SNL’: A timeline of the controversy around his transgender jokes
Tonight Dave Chappelle will host “Saturday Night Live” for the third time – an appearance that is courting controversy before he even takes the stage.
The comedian has drawn increasing ire in recent years for making jokes aimed at transgender people, and the outcry grew louder last fall when Netflix released a Chappelle special, “The Closer,” in which he doubled down on his comments.
Netflix stood by Chappelle, who went on a national tour after the special and largely ignored the controversy after addressing it in his act.
But his comments were criticized by fellow comics, fans, trans advocates and some Netflix employees, and a Minnesota venue canceled a Chappelle show this year over the controversy.
Given that context, it was surprising to some “SNL” viewers to see him invited back to Studio 8H. Here’s a look at Chappelle’s recent history of jokes about trans people – and the resulting backlash.
August: In a series of stand-up shows at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, Chappelle made jokes aimed at trans people for at least 20 minutes, Vulture reported. He made explicit jokes about trans people’s bodies and referred to trans people as “transgenders,” among other comments, Vulture said.
These weren’t the first jokes Chappelle had made at trans people’s expense. But he delivered them in New York after drawing some backlash for earlier comments.
“That joke and others in this section suffer from the same problems as those from his specials – they are rooted in disgust and generalization,” Vulture wrote of a Chappelle joke about ISIS fighters being horrified by transgender soldiers. “They’re just not good.”
August 26: Netflix released a stand-up special, “Sticks and Stones,” in which Chappelle performed more material about trans people, including some content from his Radio City shows. In an epilogue to the special, he brought up his friend Daphne Dorman, a trans comedian, whom he said laughed hardest at his jokes about trans people.
October 5: Netflix released Chappelle’s special “The Closer.” In it, he goes on an extended tangent about transgender people and makes several jokes at their expense. He misgenders a trans comedian, once again makes explicit jokes about trans women’s bodies and defends TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists.
He also referred to trans people as “transgenders,” states that “gender is a fact” and later says that Dorman died by suicide shortly after she was criticized by other trans people for defending Chappelle after “Sticks and Stones.”
At the time Chappelle’s special was released, at least 33 states had introduced anti-transgender legislation, much of it aimed at young trans people.
October 13: Amid calls from LGBTQ advocates, fellow comedians, Netflix employees and social justice organizations to pull the special, Netflix stood by Chappelle.
In a letter obtained by the Verge and Variety, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos told employees that the special will remain available to stream.
“We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line … 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,” Sarandos wrote.
Netflix suspended three employees for attending a virtual meeting of directors to discuss the special without notifying the meeting organizer in advance. Among them was Terra Field, a trans senior software engineer who had publicly criticized the special and Netflix. Her suspension was later reversed.
October 19: Sarandos told Variety he “screwed up” his communications with Netflix employees but reaffirmed he did not believe the special qualifies as “hate speech.”
October 20: Around 65 demonstrators, including Netflix employees and trans advocates, participated in a walkout in protest of Netflix’s support of “The Closer.” The demonstrators called on Netflix to hire more trans and non-binary executives and fund more trans and non-binary talent.
October 24: Three trans stand-up comics told CNN they were disappointed by Chappelle’s jokes, even though all three said they once considered the celebrated performer as a comedy inspiration. While all of them agreed that jokes about trans people aren’t inherently offensive, they said Chappelle’s set was infused with the same hateful rhetoric and language used by anti-transgender critics.
“When he talks about the trans community, he’s not talking about them, he’s speaking out against them,” comedian Nat Puff told CNN. “And that’s the difference between saying something funny about the trans community and saying something offensive about the trans community.”
A fourth comic, Flame Monroe, one of the only trans comics whose material is streaming on Netflix, told CNN she believes Chappelle should be allowed to joke about trans people, even though she initially was taken aback by some of his comments.
October 25: Chappelle addressed critics at a show in Nashville, appearing alongside Joe Rogan, the podcast host who’s been criticized for dismissing the effectiveness of vaccines and using racial slurs, among other controversies.
Chappelle released videos on his official Instagram account from the set, in which he seemingly addressed the trans employees at Netflix who participated in the walkout over “The Closer.”
“It seems like I’m the only one who can’t go to the office anymore,” he said.
“I want everyone in this audience to know that even though the media frames it as though it’s me versus that community, that’s not what it is,” Chappelle went on. “Do not blame the LBGTQ (sic) community for any of this s—. This has nothing to do with them. It’s about corporate interest and what I can say and what I cannot say.”
“For the record – and I need you to know this – everyone I know from that community has been nothing but loving and supportive. So I don’t know what all this nonsense is about.”
July 12: “The Closer” was nominated for two Emmys, including “outstanding variety special (pre-recorded).” Adele later won the category.
July 21: A Minneapolis venue canceled Chappelle’s sold-out show hours before its doors were set to open, apologizing to “staff, artists and our community” after receiving criticism for hosting Chappelle.
“We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have,” wrote First Avenue, the venue famous for being featured in Prince’s “Purple Rain” film.
Field joked on Twitter: “Wait I thought I cancelled (sic) him. Is it possible cancel culture isn’t a real thing??”
November 10: After the New York Post reported that several “SNL” writers are boycotting Saturday’s episode, Chappelle’s representatives told CNN there are no issues with writers or cast members. “SNL’s” current staff includes nonbinary cast member Molly Kearney and nonbinary writer Celeste Yim.
Chappelle will take the stage live Saturday at 11:30 p.m. ET.