Janelle James Says That Dave Chappelle Has Forgotten That He's a Clown
Abbott Elementary star Janelle James’ Emmy-nominated performance as the inept, outrageous and perpetually self-promoting public school principal Ava Coleman is the hit sitcom’s answer to the question, “What if the class clown ran the school?” On the other hand, Dave Chappelle’s last three stand-up specials play like the superstar comedian asked himself, “What if the class clown gave a TED Talk?”
A successful stand-up comic herself, James took issue with Chappelle’s laugh-track lectures in a recent profile for Variety as she gave a rare criticism of the Netflix darling that has nothing at all to do with his campaign against the transgender censors who he believes are silencing him in the midst of his eight-figure, four-special deal with the streaming giant. James, who previously toured with Chris Rock, believes that Chappelle’s contemporary comedy work is missing one key element – humor.
“I like silly Chappelle. He’s in his wisdom bag now,” James explained, “We’re clowns! Once we forget that we’re clowns, then it becomes bad,” she advised the Grammy-winner. Honestly, that’s good guidance for the rest of us, too.
“The last thing I watched of his was when he came out with all the specials at once,” James explained, presumably referencing Chappelle’s long-awaited return to stand-up specials when he released four separate sets in 2017. “Regardless of what he said, I thought it was boring.”
Though Chappelle has always been known as a social satirist, James objected to the self-serious tone that has taken over his specials as he uses his massive platform as a pulpit for preaching with the sparse punchline thrown in for pacing’s sake. “Your objective is to make people laugh and then sneak your thoughts in underneath the jokes,” James said of stand-up comedy, “If your thoughts are on top, that’s not funny or entertaining to me.”
Chappelle’s status as the most successful and culturally significant comic of his generation seems to have given him the impression that it is his duty to be comedy’s moral compass and political voice, à la the Carlins and Pryors of years past.
James disagrees. According to her, a stand-up comedian’s job description should be no longer than two words: “Be Funny.”