The LGBTQ+ Demographic Chappelle Dissed that No One's Talking About

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 21, 2021

Dave Chappelle's controversial Netflix special "The Closer'' may have had something to offend much of the LGBTQ+ community, but a CNN analysis piece argues there's a key group he insulted that's been overlooked.

Entertainment writer John Blake makes says that in addition to joking at the expense of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and, especially, transgender people, Chappelle slighted "The long list of iconic Black comics who affirmed gender nonconforming people or were members of the LGBTQ community themselves."

Blake points to Richard Pryor, who "was bisexual" and who spoke publicly about enjoying sex with other men, and to Moms Mabley, "who was the first Black female standup comic to go mainstream" and whose career was unimpeded by her openness about being a lesbian.

Blake recalled other Black entertainers as well, citing "Josephine Baker, who was dubbed a 'radical bisexual performer and activist,' and Ma Rainey, the blues singer dubbed the 'Mother of the Blues,' upended gender tropes."

When it comes to gender-nonconforming people, Blake suggests that Black comedians were effectively advocating for them before that phrase even existed in the popular lexicon. "Cross-dressing Black men have created some of the enduring comic characters in Black comic history," Blake notes, "from comedian Flip Wilson's sassy 'The Devil Made Me Do it' character of 'Geraldine' to Tyler Perry's 'Madea,'" Blake adds, going on to argue that "the stage has been one of those few places in the Black community where LGBTQ members had some measure of freedom to be themselves — or to escape the cruelty they faced in the outside world."

"Chappelle has taken some of that space away," Blake says.

Blake quotes author Marlon M. Bailey, whose book "Butch Queens Up in Pumps" examines Detroit's ballroom scene: "There's a long tradition of trans and non-gender conforming performers in our history, from the Harlem Renaissance throughout our performing history.''

Blake posits that this segment of the entertainment world, and of the population in general, has been lost in the glare of outrage over "Chappelle [joking] about trans women's genitalia and [telling] a story about beating up a lesbian woman" in the course of "The Closer."

Blake reflects that "Timing, it's been said, is everything in comedy, and the timing for 'The Closer' is awful."

Blake points out that Chappelle's comedy special and its anti-LGBTQ+ material comes against a backdrop of seemingly relentless legislative attacks against non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people — particularly trans youth — while an epidemic of murderous violence most heavily impacting trans women of color continues to worsen.

Those greats from decades past embodied a very different philosophy, Blake says, quoting from Charles Bramesco's 2019 response to an earlier anti-LGTBQ+ broadside in which Chappelle dismissed sexual minorities as "alphabet people."

"Forefathers like Bruce and Pryor reveled in infiltrating the mainstream with beliefs so progressive about sex, race, and culture as to be dangerous," Bramesco wrote.

"Chappelle's beef with the LBGQT community dishonors the memory of all those Black comic greats who made his career — and millions — possible," Blake declared.

Check out Blake's CNN piece here.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.