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Netflix has quietly released a new 40-minute video of Dave Chappelle lecturing a bunch of school children about why it’s unfair for them to criticize him for making transphobic jokes.
What’s in a Name?, which is ostensibly being promoted as a stand-up special through Netflix’s comedy wing, captures a speech Chappelle gave at his old high school, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., back on June 20. The event was part of a renaming ceremony for the school’s theater, which was supposed to be named after Chappelle, but will now instead be known as the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.
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The theater saga kicked off back in November 2021: After the Duke Ellington School announced that it would name the space after Chappelle, the comedian took part in a contentious Q&A with students, who confronted him over the controversial content of his recent specials. After calling the kids’ concerns “immature,” Chappelle said it wasn’t even his idea to name the theater after him; the outrageously wealthy comedian then decided to launch a contest of sorts, saying: “If you are in favor of the theater being named ‘Chappelle,’ I urge you to donate to the school, noting your approval. Whichever opinion donated the highest collective dollar amount, wins.”
There’s no reference to who won that contest in What’s in a Name?, though in declining the honor of having the theater literally named after him, Chappelle managed to make an even more sanctimonious decision by giving it the name, the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. “Rather than give this theater my name, I would like to give these students my message,” Chappelle said in his speech.
As for the content of What’s In a Name?, a good chunk of it finds Chappelle reflecting on his time at the Duke Ellington School and paying tribute to old teachers, as well as recounting the familiar tale of his career and his decision to leave Chappelle’s Show. Eventually, however, he got to defending his controversial special The Closer — which sparked protests and a walk-out at Netflix — calling it a misunderstood “masterpiece.”
He also got down to moralizing, saying he was “sincerely hurt” by the students’ critiques, but then suggesting they didn’t even know what they were talking about. In doing so, Chappelle offered some insight into the rather shallow reason he continues to use his comedy these days to punch-down at the LGBTQ community: “The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right and my freedom of artistic expression. It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble professions. These kids didn’t understand that they were instruments of oppression.”
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