Hannah Gadbsy Says Dave Chappelle Shouldn’t Lead the Comedic Conversation on Trans Rights Because He Has Nothing New to Say
At the end of his 2021 Netflix special The Closer, Dave Chappelle issued a challenge to critics in the trans community who had publicly taken umbrage with the tone, intention and volume of his jokes targeting them. The Grammy-winner agreed to a sit-down with trans activists on three conditions: they must watch The Closer from beginning to end, they must meet with Chappelle at a time and place of his choosing and, finally, “(they) must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.” To which Gadsby might retort, “We’ll meet once you admit that you’re not original.”
Chappelle’s offer was not made in good faith as he never did actually specify that time and place where trans activists and allies could explain to him exactly why they take issue with his spearheading of the movement amongst comics to delegitimize the push for trans acceptance. The talk never materialized, but Chappelle’s facade of earnest engagement validated his status as the loudest and most authoritative voice in a conversation that, frankly, never should have involved him in the first place.
Gadsby, fresh off the release of their newest Netflix hour Something Special, spoke to The Rolling Stone in an interview released this morning wherein the introspective Australian comic behind the Emmy-winning 2018 special Nanette addressed her controversial colleague for his influence on the dialogue surrounding trans issues and comedy. Gadsby says that her biggest knock on Chappelle isn’t that he’s offensive, boundary-pushing or unflinching (as he prefers to think his critics describe him) but that he has absolutely nothing novel to say about these issues. Said Gadsby, “I don’t hear anything from him that I haven’t heard from everywhere.”
“I’m really, really resistant to the idea that Dave Chappelle should lead this conversation and it’s very frustrating that he is,” Gadsby told their interviewer when asked about the alarming trend of comedy stages becoming battlegrounds for debates over transgender rights. “I don’t want my art to center around his voice,” they clarified, “I can mouth off as much as ya like. And I have opinions. But I don’t feel the need to put all my opinions out all at once — and certainly not through my art.”
When the in-company controversy over gender-critical content in The Closer boiled over in 2021, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos invoked Nanette and Gadsby’s name in an internal memo as proof that he was “working hard to ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story.” Upon the leaking of the memo, Gadsby reacted unambiguously to being used as a meat shield for a transphobe, calling Sarandos out on Instagram, ““Fuck you and your amoral algorithm cult.”
“I’m not privy to all the decisions they make or why they make them. I’m not afraid of biting the hand that feeds me,” Gadsby told The Rolling Stone about the spat with her once-and-current employer, “And so I did. I gave it a go. And it worked out well for me.” Gadsby recalled the contract talks she had with Sarandos and Netflix post-Closer controversy, saying, “In the negotiation for this special, we put in to make another special that we’re doing later on this year.” Gadsby explained, “It’s platforming a diverse group of genderqueer performers from around the world. I can talk around the drain of what’s already out there. But I feel like perhaps the better use of my platform is to share it,” then reflecting, “I don’t think it’s easy to be a trans performer now coming up through the ranks. I hope that what I do is perhaps giving a few people a safer place to perform, even if it is just for a little while.”
This, sadly, is what’s missing from stand-up comedy’s “debate” over trans issues — actual trans people. Despite his repeated invocation of the name of his late friend, trans comic Daphne Dorman, Chappelle’s willful ignorance of the trans experience makes his recent takes on the matter as unoriginal and mean-spirited as the rest of the edgelord jokes that online transphobes have been making since “I identify as an attack helicopter” took the internet’s comment sections by storm, seven years before The Closer.