Dave Chappelle Defends Trans Jokes in Surprise New Netflix Release

In ”What’s in a Name?,” the funnyman defends his transgender jokes and addresses why his alma mater’s school theater isn’t named after him

Netflix quietly unveiled a new release from Dave Chappelle on Thursday, consisting of a speech in which the comedian addresses the recent pushback he’s received for including what some have deemed transphobic jokes in his standup.

The project, dubbed What’s in a Name?, includes a 40-minute speech that Chappelle gave at his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C., in June during a planned ceremony to rename the school’s theater after him, Variety reports. The school’s decision to commemorate Chappelle—who helped raise money for the construction of the building—was met with criticism following the release of his 2021 standup special, The Closer, which included jokes about transgender women.

In his latest Netflix release, Chappelle began his speech by announcing that he decided against allowing the theater to be named after him amid the controversy, and the venue was ultimately named Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. But in the final minutes of his speech, he spoke about a heated Q&A debate he had with students prior to the ceremony.

“All the kids were screaming and yelling,” Chappelle said, according to Variety. “I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, okay, well what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art.”

Chappelle continued, “And this is my biggest gripe with this whole controversy with The Closer: That you cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words. It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, ‘Man Shot in the Face by a Six-Foot Rabbit Expected to Survive,’ you’d be like, ‘Oh my god,’ and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon.”

Chappelle continued, saying the student’s comments “hurt” him, and argued that their objections were attacking his “freedom of artistic expression.”

“When I heard those talking points coming out of these children’s faces, that really, sincerely, hurt me. Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words. I’ve heard those words before. The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it,” Chappelle said. “And it has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right, my freedom, of artistic expression. That is valuable to me. That is not severed from me. It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble, noble professions.”

In Chappelle’s opinion, the teenagers “didn’t understand they were instruments of oppression.”

“And I didn’t get mad at them,” he said. “They’re kids. They’re freshmen. They’re not ready yet. They don’t know.”

Chappelle has been called out for his use of transgender jokes prior to the release of The Closer, but that controversy was further compounded by criticism surrounding how Netflix leadership handled internal discussions about the material.

In May, the comedian was attacked onstage by an armed audience member—who claimed he was “triggered” by his jokes about the LGBTC community—during the “Netflix Is A Joke” comedy festival at the Hollywood Bowl.

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