Will Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais Have their Eddie Murphy Moment?

Comedy has been here before.
Will Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais Have their Eddie Murphy Moment?

Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais are at it again.  

Chappelle, a target of online scorn after multiple Netflix specials poking at the transgender community, was tackled on stage during his May performance at the Netflix is a Joke festival. When security hauled away his attacker, he doubled down with another 'witty' joke: “It was a trans man.”

Gervais, who just dropped his SuperNature special on Netflix, once again spewed transgender jokes for no other reason than “you can’t tell me what to do!” Surely other subjects deserve Ricky’s comedy attention, but none bring him as much notoriety.  This from a comic who preaches against punching down or “laugh(ing) at something they can’t help”:   


If Gervais says it, it must be a joke – so no harm, no foul?

You mustn’t make those things the target to be ridiculed,” Gervais says, apparently with a straight face. “Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good rule. Again, it’s not a rule of comedy. It’s my personal rule.” 

But despite the apparent hypocrisy, don’t expect mea culpas from either comic anytime soon. Chappelle appeared to offer regrets late last year in his speech inducting Jay Z into the Rock and Roll of Fame. And then yoinks!, he pulled the rug out.

“I would like to apologise… nah, I’m just f***ing with y’all.” 

Gervais prefers to blame the offended for not being able to take a joke. “People like the idea of freedom of speech until they hear something they don’t like.”

But it’s not like comedy hasn’t been here before.

Like Chappelle and Gervais, Eddie Murphy was once the face of outrageous comedy. And in the 1980s, gay people were a frequent target. “I’m afraid of gay people,” he confessed. “I have nightmares about gay people.”

He got big laughs in 1983 reimagining macho Mr. T as a gay man (“Hey boy, you look mighty cute in them jeans”), calling him the f-slur for good measure.  Even worse, he spread misinformation about AIDS at a time when education was one of the biggest tools for prevention. One bit had Eddie concerned about women who kiss their gay friends, then “come home with AIDS on their lips” to infect unsuspecting straight men.

And like Chappelle and Gervais, Murphy was subject to furious criticism. “I was controversial. Whenever I would do anything, there would be picketing, negative backlash,” Murphy told Rolling Stone in 2011.  

But then -- something happened.  You can call it bowing to pressure (although it happened so many years after the fact, that’s unlikely).  Call it a man in search of good PR.  Or call it what it most likely was -- maturation.

In 1996, Murphy released a statement owning up to his own ignorance. "I deeply regret any pain all this has caused," he wrote. "Just like the rest of the world, I am more educated about AIDS in 1996 than I was in 1981. I know how serious an issue AIDS is the world over. I know that AIDS isn't funny. It's 1996 and I'm a lot smarter about AIDS now."

It’s a shame it took Murphy 15 years to get there.  But "it's important for people in the public eye like Eddie Murphy to recognize they set a tone for the general public,” said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund. “ While (the apology) is late, it's a step in the right direction."

So a note to Chappelle and Gervais -- you can always step back and reconsider your comedy material.  And even if it takes years, you can still admit to growing up.

For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:

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