Dave Chappelle is back. The acclaimed comedian debuted a pair of stand-up sets on Netflix this week, marking his first televised comedy specials in a dozen years. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the pair of stand-up specials bring a semi-serious undertone to the topics he will discuss.
Unlike the man himself, the legacy of Chappelle’s comedy never faded from the public eye. Countless impressionists have mimicked the entertainer’s signature catchphrases, and his observations on race, politics and pop culture still resonate after a decade full of rapid change. Many of the comedian’s best-known bits hail from his landmark sketch comedy show, Chappelle’s Show, which is still syndicated across a variety of networks despite its brief lifespan on Comedy Central in the early 2000s.
Dave Chappelle’s two new standup specials The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas debuted on the streaming network today, and so far critics are showering Chappelle’s big comeback with mostly positive reviews — though there are a few critics who have called out some of Chappelle’s more questionable bits as transphobic, “unfortunate,” and even “cruel.” The specials were filmed in 2016 and 2015, respectively, and they precede a third, brand new Chappelle special that will debut sometime later this year.
Here’s what the critics are saying about Dave Chappelle’s Netflix Standup Specials. And by the way, Netflix is the best reason to be a cord-cutter.
Complex: “The ability to be important in two mediums is rare for a stand-up comic. Only a few are able to be legends in two games. I’m not sure if he’ll ever get back into movies or television, but Chappelle’s current stand-up run is that of the goats. I can only imagine how ridiculous the third installment of this series is going to be.”
Slate: “The specials were shot in front of thousands, but Chappelle seems most on his game when he’s playing to himself rather than the crowd; he’s his own best audience. As engaging as it is to see him perform, it’s even more electrifying to watch him think.”
Paste: “Chappelle’s reputation rests heavily on the notion that he’s smarter and funnier than anyone else in the game. This… is not smart. It’s ignorant. It’s lazy. It’s cruel. We could write it off as the sort of character flaw all our favorite artists have one or two of, but that sort of denial is why famous people get to keep saying hateful things to large paying audiences. If Chappelle indeed made $20 million for each of these specials, then he made $1.7 million to call someone a tranny. I don’t know what’s worse—the market value for a famous man’s intolerance or the joyous laughter his intolerance received. Neither bodes very well at all.”
Vulture: “If one thing is clear in his two Netflix specials, Dave Chappelle is having fun. There are frequent occurrences of Chappelle’s signature performance tic of saying a punch line, then laughing at it so hard that he lets the mic drop and hit his leg. It might seem minor, but it is at the heart of Chappelle’s comedy. Laughing at your own jokes used to be seen as hack — or at least, uncool — but after Chappelle it became much more commonplace. (Just watch Kevin Hart.) Chappelle laughs a lot through both of these specials.”
Variety: “Time and again, Chappelle shows a willingness to dissect his own thinking, share his own foibles and be honest about his mistakes and doubts. He talks at length about a woman who took him to task during a live performance, and he also discusses LGBTQ commentators who have taken issue with the way he addressed topics of interest to their community. In typical Chappelle form, he finds an oblique way to come at the latter situation: He says he has no problem with gay people, but adds, ‘I hate bloggers.’”
Entertainment Weekly: “Throughout the past decade or so, there have been plenty of moments when events in the news would make fans wonder, ‘What would Dave Chappelle say about this?’ His fiery delivery and knack for re-framing social issues couldn’t have returned any sooner. In times like these, there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that one the greatest comedians alive is back to keep a keen eye on things.”
Yahoo: “There are some viewers of these specials who are going to take offense at Chappelle’s politically-incorrect thoughts about society’s current definitions of masculine and feminine, and many probably won’t agree with me about my admiration for his Cosby analysis. But that’s what makes venturesome comedy so exhilarating: You laugh — sometimes at things your conscience says you shouldn’t find funny — but you also have to think through your positions on uncomfortable issues.”
The New York Times: “Is Mr. Chappelle about to be the first major comic to defend Mr. Cosby? He is not, but what he does do is articulate more passionately than anyone else in popular culture what a devastating loss it is that the cultural legacy of Mr. Cosby is being wiped away from popular memory. As a comic who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, Mr. Chappelle explains how much Mr. Cosby meant to him without playing down the accusations. Still, it takes guts to close a show, as he does, with an argument for complexity in our assessment of Mr. Cosby, and Mr. Chappelle’s daring, his insistence on challenging his audience, his eagerness to go there, is what makes the arrival of these specials such an invigorating — and possibly polarizing — event.”
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