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Dave Chappelle is denying claims that he declined to speak with Netflix’s transgender employees regarding controversial comments he made in The Closer, but said he’s aware of the outcry and he’s now ready for a meeting — under certain conditions that include that those who participate must watch his special in full.
In a new video posted Monday on Instagram, the comedian, currently on a nationwide tour, addresses the situation while seated at center stage. “It’s been said in the press that I was invited to speak to the transgender employees of Netflix and I refused. That is not true,” says Chappelle during the five-minute clip, during which he holds a drink and receives cheers from the crowd. “If they had invited me, I would have accepted it, although I am confused about what we would be speaking about. I said what I said, and boy, I heard what you said. My God, how could I not? You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. It seems like I’m the only one who can’t go to the office.”
He went on to speak directly to the transgender community by saying he’s willing to give them an audience, but “you will not summon me.” He offered specific conditions: “I am not bending to anyone’s demands. And if you want to meet with me, I am more than willing to, but I have some conditions. First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing, and thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.”
Gadsby was among the high-profile stars and comedians who joined organizations like GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition that, following the Oct. 5 debut of The Closer, denounced Chappelle’s commentary, which included statements siding with J.K. Rowling as “team TERF,” an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” an ideology that excludes trans women as women. He also stated that “gender is a fact” and went on to poke fun at trans bodies and the cultural sensitivities of his previous jokes aimed at the LGBTQ community. The outcry inspired a walkout last week (virtual and in-person) that saw Netflix employees and allies take to the streets outside the streamer’s Hollywood offices for a demonstration.
“I want everyone in this audience to know that even though the media frames it that it’s me versus that community, that’s not what it is,” Chappelle continued in today’s clip, shared to 2.3 million followers with comments turned off. “Do not blame the LGBTQ community for any of this. It’s about corporate interests, and what I can say, and what I cannot say. For the record, and I need you to know this, everyone I know from that community has been loving and supportive, so I don’t know what this nonsense is about.”
He went on to say that the documentary he’s been shopping — a well-received examination of his 2020 “Summer Camp” comedy series that he mounted near his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio — has now suffered because of the Closer controversy. “This film that I made was invited to every film festival in the United States. Some of those invitations I accepted. When this controversy came out about The Closer, they began disinviting me from these film festivals, and now, today, not a film company, not a movie studio, not a film festival, nobody will touch this film. Thank God for Ted Sarandos and Netflix, he’s the only one that didn’t cancel me yet.”
Chappelle closes the video by saying that since no one will touch the untitled documentary, he plans to self-distribute it with screenings scheduled for the 10 cities that are listed in the caption of today’s clip, locations that coincide with remaining November tour dates. Those cities include: San Francisco (Nov. 4), Minneapolis (Nov. 7), Des Moines (Nov. 9), Indianapolis (Nov. 12), Cleveland (Nov. 14), Toronto (Nov. 15), Cincinnati (Nov. 17), Columbus (Nov. 19), Atlanta (Nov. 21) and New York (Nov. 22).
Sarandos did not cancel Chappelle, but he did acknowledge that he “screwed up” in two memos that were issued following the controversy. In one of those communications, Sarandos said that the special would not be removed from the streamer. “It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues, so I wanted to give you some additional context. You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do,” Sarandos wrote. “Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him. … As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful, like Cuties, 365 Days, 13 Reasons Why or My Unorthodox Life.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the employee walkout last week, Sarandos said that the memos were clumsy communications, and he wished to clarify those remarks. “When we think about this challenge we have to entertain the world, part of that challenge means that you’ve got audiences with various taste, various sensibilities, various beliefs. You really can’t please everybody or the content would be pretty dull,” he said. “And we do tell our employees upfront that we are trying to entertain our members, and that some of the content on Netflix you’re not going to like, and so this kind of commitment to artistic expression and free artistic expression is sometimes in conflict with people feeling protected and safe. I do think that that’s something that we struggle with all the time when these two values bump up against each other.”
It’s not the first time Chappelle has been the center of controversy, particularly with the LGBTQ community and in previous stand-up specials for Netflix. However, during a recent appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, Chappelle appeared to be taking it all in stride. “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” the 48-year-old said in front of Brad Pitt, Tiffany Haddish, Donnell Rawlings, Chuck Lorre, Sterling K. Brown and others. At another point, he was more blunt: “Fuck Twitter. Fuck NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid ass networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.”
Netflix had no comment.
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